Book drive eases burden for first-generation students

by Jennifer Johnson,

For many students, buying textbooks is expensive. For others, the cost can be crippling.

First-generation student Emmanuel “Manny” Rodriguez ’15 discovered that while studying at Willamette. Navigating college and its cost can be a challenge for anyone, but first-generation students — often from low-income families — face additional pressures.

So, at the end of his final semester in 2015, Rodriguez posted a message on his personal Facebook page asking for book donations for first-generation students. That year, he collected about 200 from Willamette students. Since then, the drive has accumulated about 900 books.

First-generation students apply each year to receive at least one free donated textbook on a first-come, first-served basis. Demand for books continues to increase, and the drive reaches about 80 students per semester. The free books have saved some students more than $200.

Formerly a leader for Willamette’s multicultural pre-orientation program Ohana, Rodriguez had already started a similar book exchange with his students.

“There needed to be more mechanisms in place where first-generation students of color, in particular, felt supported and seen,” he says. “I wanted to leave Willamette doing something that had concrete impact and would help eliminate barriers to learning for underprivileged students.”

Marisol Garibay-Cervantes ’17, who currently organizes the program with support from other Office of Multicultural Affairs staff members, chose to get involved for reasons similar to Rodriguez. She finds the cost of textbooks a burden and knows that not everyone can afford these necessities.

“Being a first-generation student is a very important aspect of my identity,” she says, “so I want to provide that support to other first-generation students and empower them.”

The program has expanded this year, thanks to a $3,000 award from the student-run Green Fund. Garibay-Cervantes and Rebeca Lopez-Figueroa ’19, who also helps run the drive, have used the money to buy school supplies, books and a digital scanner.

Garibay-Cervantes also credits the program’s success to the hard work of Tiffany Chan ’16, Maribel Carrazco-Padilla ’18, Crystelle Baclig ’17 and Malorie Hill ’17.

The program organizers encourage faculty members to tell their classes about the book drive and students who normally might toss textbooks to consider donating, too.

The program accepts donations year-round. Drop-off bins are available at the end of each semester and located at the Writing Center in Ford Hall, outside the Equity and Empowerment Center in the Art Building and in the Office of Student Activities in Putnam University Center. If students want to donate at other points during the year, contact Lopez-Figueroa at

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