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Episode 27: Being not-rich at U-M

Episode 27: Lauren Schandevel — “Being not-rich at U-M”

Hi, I’m Deborah Holdship, editor of Michigan Today.

In this episode of “Listen in Michigan,” my guest is Lauren Schandevel, a senior in the Ford School of Public Policy, who, with her friend Griffin St. Onge, uploaded a google document titled “Being not rich at U-M,” to aid low-income students seeking housing, jobs, and internships, not to mention cheap eats and free happy hours. Since they created the open-access, crowd-sourced doc last year, it has grown to more than a hundred pages — and hundreds of students, faculty, and alumni have contributed practical tips to surviving college on a low income, from how to buy or repair a laptop to managing debt, receiving food assistance, and finding affordable books.

The guide has inspired students at other universities to produce their own versions. Gaining information like this from one’s peers lends credibility and provides a sense of community, Lauren says.

The college “admissions scandal” splashed across the headlines of late has focused on the nation’s wealthy parents basically buying their kids’ ways into our elite institutions. But Lauren says the real admissions scandal is not about bribes and cheating, but about the ways in which wealth tips the scales in education.

As a low-income student, herself, she decided to create some balance at U-M. She wanted to help other low-income students navigate the “hidden curriculum” of unwritten campus norms, values, and expectations. In a recent Conversation piece, U-M Flint Chancellor Susan Borrego wrote that too often the literature about low-income students is deficit-based, that is, talking about what low-income students need to overcome. Instead, she noted, we should focus on the assets they deliver: critical consciousness, resilience, brilliance.

I think after you listen to this episode you’ll agree that Lauren Schandevel delivered all of those assets and more at Michigan. What a legacy she leaves after commencement this month. Here’s Lauren —

Lauren Schandevel: A lot of these kids on campus think that you know, their status here or the fact that they are here is purely the result of hard work. And they can sort of tout that over low-income students who already feel alienated and left out and like they don’t belong here. And it’s not intentional but, you know, I think it’s a societal thing where we attribute wealth to merit and poverty to personal deficiency. You know, poor people are seen as being less than and it’s no different on campus where you have very high-income students who have had a lot of privileges saying “oh but I worked so hard and it was all the result of my hard work and that’s why I’m here and that’s why I deserve to be here.”

And a lot of the time that results in pointing the finger at low-income students and students of color and students who are on their campus who are deemed quote-unquote affirmative action cases and are made to feel like they don’t belong here when they’ve actually worked really really hard and haven’t had those advantages. I remember when I was a freshman and talking to so many of my low-income friends who were first arriving on this campus. They didn’t know why they felt so left out and alienated. Like they didn’t realize that it was…

Holdship: Hmm that’s interesting

Schandevel: … their socio-economic background. They got here and they were like “everyone’s so different from me, you know they’ve had this really great education. They go on all these fancy trips and can afford all these fancy things and I just don’t know why I feel so left out.” And so, being able to name that and say like no, it’s actually disparate class backgrounds and there’s a reason for that and that’s not something you should be ashamed of is something that’s really important for those students.

I’m of the opinion, being a low-income student myself, that low-income students work so hard to get into elite colleges because you have so many students on —  I can speak for this campus but I know it’s the case on other campuses as well — where kind of their entire lives they’ve been goated in the direction of high education. Either their parents were alums or they went to a really good high school that had great college counseling and the counselors were telling them that they could go to these elite places whereas low-income students haven’t had that experience growing up so they really pushed hard to get here. Sometimes without help from anyone. So, I take great pride in being a low-income student and knowing that a lot of my hard work was hard work. Not to undermine the hard work of high-income students but I feel like there is much acknowledgment that goes toward the privileges that some students have. Umm because the education system in America is so unequal. I’ve really adopted the term low-income and working-class as a point of pride for me and I hope that others can do the same.

Holdship: Have you found that having created this guide and distributed it that it has become a thing? Has that helped? Is there kind of a little more understanding on campus? Like do you feel a shift has been made or is it just same as ever but there is more information out there now for low-income people?  

Schandevel: I definitely feel a shift. It started with the guide and that’s when more affordability issues started to be adopted by CSG so I chair their affordability task force and hopefully they’ll be a commission next year. There’s been a lot of talk about affordability in general, but then there is also — and I don’t know if you know about this other project that I helped get off the ground but — my friend and I helped create a minor in “class and inequality studies” in the women studies department.

Holdship: Well congratulations! Wow!

Schandevel: Yeah, thank you! It passed in January and it’s like…

Holdship: Good for you!

Schandevel:… and it’s like the first of it’s kind in the country…

Holdship: Oh my gosh!

Schandevel: …so that’s a way for students to study social class in conjunction with race and gender and sexuality and really learn about how it impacts outcomes and get a better understanding about what social class is and how it may have affected them. All of those conversations have sort of happened while I’ve been here which has been great

Holdship: It’s so often that we get so caught up in diversity as being a racial thing or religious thing and we forget and it’s only recently that we have been reminded that it’s economic as well.

Schandevel: You know two people who look the same or have similar racial or ethnic backgrounds can still have very different experiences in the world because of their class background. So I think adding that analysis to it lets people sort of figure out who they are and what they identity is and where they stand and what their position is in the world. And it can be very helpful.

Holdship: What possessed you to want — why don’t you tell me a little about your back story? I don’t know a whole lot about it. If you want.

Schandevel: Yeah! So, I grew up in Warren, Michigan so I don’t know if you are a native Michigander…

Holdship: yes I am! My college roommate is from Warren.

Schandevel: Really!?

Holdship: One of my besties! One of my besties ever!

Schandevel: I have never met another person from Warren on this campus and it is the third largest city in the state!

Holdship: You are kidding!

Schandevel: Which is absurd. I have met so many Bloomfield and Birminghams and Grosse Pointes but no Warrens. Yeah so, that’s where I’m from and neither of my parents has four-year degrees. My mom has an associates in secretarial science and my dad never went to college. So growing up was kind of tough because my dad was the only one with the job and my mom stayed home to take care of my brother and I and we were living like pretty close to the poverty line.

And I was in the Warren school system for most of my k-12 career up until my freshman year of high school after which I begged my parents to let me transfer to a school about 20 minutes away in Oakland County which is like a significantly wealthier county. And so for three years, I commuted to that school. There was a lot socioeconomic and racial diversity there because it pulled from a lot of different communities and in particular, there was an upper-middle-class community that went to that school and did a lot of the AP classes and the extracurriculars and went to the good colleges. And so, me not really understanding class dynamics I immediately, you know, went to that school and entered all the AP classes and started doing extracurriculars without really thinking about how I am different from my peers. And I made friends with a lot of people there and I had a really great experience but I think that’s when I started to have some class consciousness because I was like why is this school so much better than the school that I transferred from? You know? Not just resource-wise but also in terms of people’s attitudes about the students. People genuinely believed that these students could accomplish great things whereas at the school that I had transferred from it was just like “oh if you don’t get into college — which if you do get into college it probably won’t be a place like Michigan — but if you don’t, then you’ll go to trade school or community college or you’ll have kids or you’ll drop out you know that was sort of par for the course. But it was different there and so it was also a feeder school for Michigan so I followed about thirty of my peers from my graduating class here and that’s when all those class dynamics were sort of amplified.

Holdship: What advice do you have for parents who would be sending their kids here?

Schandevel: I would say just keep reminding them that they deserve to be here just as much as anyone else, especially in those moments where they feel that they don’t belong or this place wasn’t built for them. Just keep being a support system for them.

Holdship: Well what’s beautiful is that guide was built for them. Have you done any kind of informal market research to see how people have been using it and what they are getting out of it?

Schandevel: I think there is an assumption that if we don’t have money on campus then we aren’t spending it wisely and that’s just not the case. A lot of low-income students work multiple jobs or you know they live off campus so it’s hard for them to commute over here and it gets expensive so there’s a huge debate in Ann Arbor is the affordable housing debate. There is a section in there that sort of rates landlords which is pretty cool and a good way because its hard for students to figure out if a landlord is a good landlord and you can only really know from word of mouth and usually you are scrambling to find a place and its getting late in the semester and you’ll take anything at that point. Until you have to buy eight mouse traps for your kitchen, which I had to do last semester, you haven’t lived as a college student.

I think one thing people have really liked, not just the financial aspect of it but the community aspect of it and so there is a lot in there about how to make friends with other low-income students or how to tell your friends that you can’t go out to eat because you can’t afford it. Or how to find mentors with professors who are also first gens. We have a list of first-gen low-income professors int here two. Some professors have actually gone in and added their names to it…

Holdship: That’s so great.

Schandevel: …making themselves a resource. So yeah, that’s been a really great community as well.

Holdship: I scanned it quickly myself but I was so impressed about all the tips about jobs and internships and scholarships and all the resources that you make available to people is really so valuable.

Schandevel: Oh, it wasn’t just me you know. Because of the nature of a crowdsourced document like so many people contribute. I started with the outline, I wrote the introductions and like some parts of the housing or job section but all of it was just the knowledge of other people which was probably the most incredible thing. Umm, it’s not only students but alumni and faculty and administrators but also community members. People not affiliated with the university in any way. It’s great. There is no way of tracking how many contributors we have had but people go in there and add little pieces to information or they comment on things or they will add entire sections so it’s been really great.

Holdship: What about for you? What little tips have you discovered in there? Is there the greatest, cheapest lunch in town or stuff like that?

Yeah! There are some great happy hour specials that I have definitely taken advantage of! So that’s been great

Holdship: Do you ever hear from maybe older people who would say “It’s so different now, man you guys got it bad!” Do you know what I mean? I’m trying to compare and contrast what students face today versus what they may have faced in the ’80s or something like that.

Schandevel: I actually, I appreciate people saying like you guys have it bad because a lot of the feedback I have gotten, especially as the news of the guide has sort of gone national, is like “well when I was in college I just worked through it and it was fine. Why can’t you do it? Stop whining.” You know? So I appreciate an adult who is willing to say it was so much cheaper when I was your age, and you guys are really screwed. Because I’m like, you are right we are! And I would rather have that discussion than try to convince someone that we are not whining, it is just excessively expensive and totally unattainable for people who don’t have the money to go to college.

Holdship: It takes all of the meritocracy out of it because you know you deserve to be here yet you can’t afford it. It’s just bull.

Schandevel: I think a lot of the time — the thing with this college admission scam is that it’s so absurd and sensationalized that people are actually paying attention to it but — in a lot of cases parents do this in totally legal ways. And their kids aren’t dumb. They worked really hard and got good scores and didn’t have to forge their essays or their applications to get into these schools. But, they have had a leg up in a lot of ways and I feel like that’s the part of it that we are not really acknowledging. Like what are the legal ways and not absurd ways we can get these moderately smart but really wealthy kids into college and get away with it?

The meritocracy thing begins before college. I feel like people, when they are talking about student debt, they sort of center that in this college debate about equity in higher ed but it really starts in k-12 when automatically if you can afford a private school you are getting a better education most of the time. If you go to public school and live in a wealthy area your school will have better funding because those funds come from local taxes, which are higher in your area — so poor students are automatically set up to fail and there are all these other resources that you can buy for your kid to help them get into college that are totally legal.

Holdship: Tutors and test-prep and all that stuff. Right.

Schandevel: Right. So that’s like, college debt is absolutely ridiculous and college should be free in my opinion. Or at least very very cheap, but I think one of the biggest crimes that we can implicate this country with is the fact it is setting students up to fail from the beginning. From birth. And I think that is also a component that is very key because like who is getting into these universities? Who’s applying? Who is qualifying by virtue of these standards they have set up? And you know… Who is left out?
And I don’t want to generalize about low-income students but a lot of them that I know and myself included, like did not have parents hovering over us to do stuff for us because those parents were at work or they didn’t know how to guide us through the education process or help us register for classes. And so it seems really daunting. I remember when my parents dropped me off at college they were more scared then I was because they had never been to a place like this before. They had never been to a university so it wasn’t something they could really conceptualize. I wish I had a document like that my freshman year. Which like people have come up to me and said I wish I had that when I was in college and it’s a really good feeling to know that you helped create a resource that a lot of people can benefit from in that way.

Holdship: And you’ve already transported it to where — Princeton?

It’s been picked up by UT Austin, University of Nevada, George Washington University, University of Arizona. Like places all around the country. But, there are others that I just don’t know about which is fine. I didn’t copyright it and I don’t want to. So please spread the word.

Holdship: Well, you heard her. Start spreading the word.

Lauren is working with the administration now to produce the guide in a PDF form to distribute to all future admitted students. She and St. Onge have also produced a single-page document, “Being Not-Rich DIY,” to tell fellow students how to write their own Not-Rich guides.Lauren is hoping to pursue a career writing policy, and I know our society will be a better place for it.

Thank you for listening. You can find more Listen in, Michigan podcasts at  Google Play Music, iTunes, Tunein, and Stitcher. You can also find episodes at michigantoday.umich.edu; click the podcast tab on the top of the page. Well, that’s it for now. Till we meet again: Go Blue!

Scandal

The college “admissions scandal” splashed across recent headlines has focused on the nation’s wealthy parents basically buying their kids’ ways into our elite institutions. But the real scandal is not about cheating and bribery, says Ford School of Public Policy senior and all-around superstar Lauren Schandevel. It’s about how low-income students get lost amid the unwritten norms, values, and expectations on a wealthy college campus. So Schandevel co-created an online student guide, which now is gaining traction nationwide.

In this episode of Listen in Michigan, Schandevel talks about the always-expanding Google document titled “Being not-rich at U-M.” She uploaded the crowd-sourced resource guide to aid low-income students seeking housing, jobs, and internships, not to mention cheap eats and free happy hours. Since creating the open-access doc last year, it has grown to more than 100 pages — and hundreds of students, faculty, and alumni have contributed comprehensive and practical tips to surviving college on a low income, from how to buy or repair a laptop to managing debt, receiving food assistance, and finding affordable books.

The guide has inspired students at other universities to produce their own versions, and there’s now a “being not-rich DIY” one-pager if you want to make your own. Schandevel also is working with University administrators to offer a printed guide to future students.

As a low-income student, herself, Schandevel wanted to help other low-income students navigate the “hidden curriculum” of unwritten campus norms, values, and expectations. In a recent Conversation piece, U-M Flint Chancellor Susan Borrego wrote that too often the literature about low-income students is deficit-based, that is, talking about obstacles low-income students need to overcome. Instead, she noted, we should focus on the assets they deliver to the campus community: critical consciousness, resilience, brilliance, and more.

I think, after you listen to this episode, you’ll agree that Lauren Schandevel delivered all of those assets and more in her time at Michigan.

Comments

  1. Kat Wiles

    Thank you for sharing this guide! I’m a first gen staff and will share this with the students I work with.

    I made a shortened link to share: tiny.cc/notrich

    Reply

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