1. Please tell us more about you. 

I'm originally from Warren, Michigan and graduated in May 2019 with a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan, where I majored in public policy and minored in community action and social change. 

I currently work part-time for Wayne State University as a technician and part-time for a nonprofit called We The People Michigan as a community organizer. In the latter role, I get to do really amazing racial and economic justice work in metro Detroit, which is something I'm very passionate about. After working for a couple of years, I plan to go on and get my master's degree in public policy.

2. Please describe the document "BNR@UM" was created in response to.  

In January 2018, the UM student government put out an 87-page Campus Affordability Guide, which actually had a lot of useful information. The first 10 pages were devoted to budgeting and included ~50 money-saving tips for students. Unfortunately, many of them were completely tone deaf and included suggestions such as fire your maid and cancel your laundry service. I think a lot of low-income students were frustrated and offended by that. 

I spoke with some of the people involved in writing it, and they were trying to appeal to the average UM student. According to a lot of reports I've read, the median annual family income here is $154,000. Maybe the average UM student would have cleaning and laundry services, but students who are genuinely worried about affordability don't have such luxuries. 

FirstGeneration
CollegeStudents.org

3. How did you originally find out about the CAG and is it still available?

It was a PDF on the student government website and I found out about it through a friend's (long) Facebook post about the budgeting section of it. After that, a lot of people were talking about it all over social media.

I'm not sure if the PDF was the final version but, if not, it was pretty close to it. I don't think the student government intended it to be so public so soon. But, because it was discovered and being talked (and joked) about by so many people, they eventually had to take it down.  

 

6. Why did you decide to make it a crowd-sourced document? 

It was totally not the plan. I had been talking to other campus activists and thought there would be a core group of people who would write it. But, as more and more people requested access, I thought let's just see where this goes. I changed the Google settings so that anyone with a link could contribute. That sort of opened the flood gates for people to come in.  

No one has deliberately trolled the document like I thought they would. The worse thing that happened was that someone almost accidentally deleted the whole thing while trying to copy and paste it somewhere else. The good news is that the way Google docs work is that everyone's edits are really just suggestions and the document owner has final approval over all edits. So, I just rejected that edit and all the red lines through everything  just disappeared. 

As it is right now, anyone can come in and suggest an edit that I have to approve. Or, they can make a comment. But, none of their edits automatically change the document. 

7. How did you distribute and publicize the doc?  

It was mostly on UM social media. I posted it, Griffin posted it, a bunch of my friends shared it with a link to the doc. After that, it sort of took off and our campus newspaper did a couple of articles about it. From there, some local media outlets reached out. Then, state and national media outlets did. And then everyone knew about it. I was really surprised. I thought I would have a hard time getting people to contribute to the guide, let alone cover it. I think the first person who wasn't from a local media outlet to reach out was with Inside HigherEd. Then someone from The Chronicle of Higher Ed, and then someone from NPR. 

8. What was the initial response of the university administration to your guide?

They wanted nothing to do with it. People would ask them about it and they would say they weren't going to comment on it. 

The student government, however, reached out to me right away. At the time, it was headed by two women of color, whom I had a lot of respect for. I don't think they had known anything about the budget section of the CAG and I don't think they would've approved of it if they had. 

They met with me and some of the people who contributed to my guide. We were all a little guarded. The student government representatives were worried I was going to yell at them and I was worried they were going to yell at me. But, it wasn't like that. They acknowledged that their guide was not good and said they would like to talk about how to make campus affordability a sustainable topic of discussion.

9. What has happened at UM as a result of "Being Not Rich at UM"?

A campus affordability task force was created and I was asked to chair it. Also, the director of the office of new student programs has been working to turn the How Not To Be Rich Guide into a PDF that can be endorsed by the unviersity.

In addition, the director has asked me to serve on a student support task force she commissioned, which has about 30-40 administrators on it. We've been talking about how to improve the low-income, first-generation student experience and not only make campus more affordable, but also establish a sense of belonging for these students. I don't know where that's going to go. We started meeting a few months ago and the task force's recommendatios are due in June.

The school has a goal of recruiting a student body with 20% Pell Grant-eligible students by 2020. Right now, our campus isn't hospitable to those students. Hopefully, this task force will help ensure those students are retained and not just recruited.

 

12. What else would you like students to know.

One thing I think about a lot is that this topic is so much bigger than what is happening on college campuses. Colleges are trying to mitigate the effects of inequality, which is hard to do because low-income students in the K-12 system are at such a disadvantge. Inevitably, those challenges are going to present themselves in higher education, if those students even make it there.

I think it's important to talk about college being affordable. It's important to talk about sense of belonging for low-income and first-generation students who don't make it to college. We have to be thinking about how we lift those students up befoe they get to high school--before they get to school at all. There's so much that needs to be done. By the time these students get to higher ed, these problems have already manifested. We need to think about how we can set these students up to succeed starting from day one.

I think 

5. How long did it take you to research and write it? What was the process like? 

Honestly, it was so easy. In addition to the introduction, the initial document had very basic headings like employment, housing, on-campus resources, and food.

I didn't write the whole thing myself. I set it up as a Google document and Griffin St. Onge was one of the first persons to contribute to it. Then, other people just filled in the rest. Some of it was pulled from university websites because a lot of that information is decentralized, and putting it in the guide was helpful because all the resources available were listed in one place.

Some of it was anecdotal. For example, some people would write things like "I tried this recipe and it's a good, cheap receipe for people to use" or "I work this job and it pays this much and the hours are pretty flexible". There were so many other people who contributed and I have no way of tracking all of them.

4. What was the goal of  "Being Not Rich at UM" and who was its intended audience?

I didn't really have a plan in mind when I started it. I wrote the introduction to set the tone and talked about who the guide was for. I think I wrote in the intro that it was for anyone who has ever felt marginalized on campus and particularly for students of color, whose economic discrimination is compounded by racial discrimination. It was also for first-generation students and undocumented students--basically, anyone who wasn't considered a traditional college student. But, there are also some middle- and upper-income students who could use this advice.

11. What advice do you have for students at other colleges who are considering writing a similar guide? 

I would say do it with a group. When I opened this document, I was alone in my room in bed getting ready to take a nap. I think that if you do it with a group of friends, there are more perspectives to be included and you can hold each other accountable for information and develop a strateogy for crowd sourcing. It will be more fun and you'll have a little more credibility.

Once you have enough content, reach out to your campus newspaper or a local newspaper and ask them to write stories about it. I think that helped get the word out for us because social media can only go so far. 

10. Were there any unintended consequences of your guide, either positive or negative?

Something I could have done better was to make it more inclusive, especially for students of color. Griffin and I are both white women and I think a lot of students of color felt like the document wasn't for them, which I can understand. I added a section later called "Being Not Rich and Not White". It's something I want to be more conscious about going forward in my work for economic justice.

Interview with FGLI Recent College Graduate,

Lauren Schandevel

Spotlight

on

Campus Activism

 Lauren:

  • graduated in May 2019 from U of Michigan
  • wrote "Being Not Rich at UM" in response to a student government "Campus Affordability Guide" 
  • received national media attention
  • was asked to chair a campus affordability task force
  • inspired similar guides at other colleges

Empowering FGLI students by connecting them to information, each other and colleges that value them.