Darius Aikens – Member of Students Rising Above

Can you tell us about your history and experience as a student who has been homeless and/or faced basic needs insecurity? What did these challenges teach you? How did you overcome them?

I overcame my challenges by forgiving myself for self-imposed trauma of blaming myself for my circumstance. Additionally, I utilized all the lessons that I learned and applied them to new experiences.

Were there academic challenges that you faced that your peers did not experience, given your housing situation?

My K-12 education did not play the most import role in terms of my intellect. Thus, it was more of a game, and the truth of the matter is that I didn’t put in enough effort to showcase my academic abilities. My living situation did make it difficult, but not impossible.

What don’t people understand about homelessness and specifically students who are homeless or face basic needs insecurity?

People don’t understand that it can be very difficult for someone to ask for help. Additionally, there is no homogenous basic needs insecurity narrative. Everyone’s experience is different. Lastly, people who are experiencing basic needs insecurity do not want people to apply the savior mentality with their efforts to assist the community. It’s imperative that the root cause of why they experience basic needs insecurity or homelessness is addressed because otherwise it will continue to happen.

How can high schools or communities provide support to students who face basic needs insecurity or homelessness?

Do not assume that everyone is not experiencing needs insecurity unless they ask for assistance. That can be very problematic because, as mentioned earlier, it can be extremely uncomfortable and potentially unsafe to seek help.

How did being homeless and/or facing basic needs insecurity affect your applying to college?

As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Fortunately, when it came to submitting college applications, I had the Students Rising Above village to support me through the entire process.

What would you say to fellow students who have faced homelessness or basic needs insecurity who do not believe it is possible to attend college?

I would encourage them to not make the experience of difficulty synonymous with the nature of impossibility.

How do you find, if at all, were the best ways to address the subject of homelessness or basic needs insecurity with universities while you were applying?

UCLA has a wonderful program called Bruin Guardian Scholars, which is open for current and former students, as well as former foster youth. This program provides great resources such as paying for textbooks, and even permitting priority enrollment for students who are a part of the program.

What are some strategies students can use to address their homelessness or basic needs insecurity with universities, professors, and their peers?

It varies based on the circumstance and where they attend school. Thus, it is imperative that institutions of higher education be more supportive of students of all familial and social backgrounds.

What are some ways universities and fellow students can help students who have faced homelessness or basic needs insecurities during this time transition in college?

Allow students to know that they are not alone and ensure that those words are matched with action by educating them about the various resources available to them. They must be accessible.