While the University of Michigan has the ninth highest endowment of universities in the world, many students say they see an apparent lack of collectivized resources for students of lower socioeconomic status on campus. To address this issue, the Inclusive Campus Corps held a workshop Tuesday for student leaders centered around “Low Socioeconomic Status on Campus.”
The workshop was led by three students who are a part of the Inclusive Campus Corps — Ryan Bennett, Ben Rosof and Aubrey Klein, all LSA sophomores. The students began with a discussion about the definition of low socioeconomic status, resources on campus and personal experiences at the University.
Bennett and Rosof shared their contrasting experiences growing up, and how their personal socioeconomic status has dictated how their lives operate at the University
Bennett explained why growing up in a low-income household has affected his life as a student.
“I come from a low socioeconomic status home,” Bennett said. “I was raised by a single mother, so I know what it is like to be raised in a household that lives on a week-to-week paycheck.”
Rosof then shared his experience of growing up in a high-income environment, and why he chose to get involved in the Inclusive Campus Corps.
“Only once I got to college did I realize how privileged I was,” he said. “I joined this workshop to educate myself because I know I have made numerous mistakes in the past. I personally feel this is something that the University does not talk enough about.”
Bennett and Rosof then shared statistical data of University students which clearly displays the economic disparities within the University student body.
One of the pieces of data shared was the median family income of University families as $154,000.
Bennett continued, emphasizing the discrepancies in percentages of students at the University who are in the top 1 percent of family income and those who are in the bottom 60 percent.
“Students in and above the 1 percent are 9.3 percent of students and those in the bottom 60 percent are 16.5 percent of students,” he said.
The participants were then separated into groups to discuss what being a low-SES student means and what the University can do to aid low-SES students.
Public Policy junior Lauren Schandevel shared her definition of low socioeconomic status and explained how it means more than low income, but also a lack of opportunity.
“I think it is someone’s income relative to everyone else’s,” she said. “But I also know that it’s more than just income and also about access to opportunity.”
The presentation then transitioned to a series of guest presenters who explained their work on improving the economic disparities on campus.
LSA senior Micah Griggs, former Central Student Government vice president, shared her experience of being a member of CSG and how she has worked to develop the Leadership Engagement Scholarship.
“I ran to be a member of Central Student Government and once I was elected, I realized that I was the only Black girl in the organization and that it was a pretty homogenous group,” Griggs said. “When our first demographic report was published, it showed that the majority of our organization was white, male and upper middle class.”
She then continued to explain why economic disparities play a large role in allowing the homogeneity of CSG and other student organizations.
“There are barriers within student leadership,” she said. “When you’re involved in student organizations, you’re involved maybe five to 10 hours a week. Other students cannot spend that time because they are working and because they cannot afford to.”
Griggs also explained how the divides she experienced in CSG motivated the Leadership Engagement Scholarship, which was released on April 2, 2018.
“These barriers are what led us to create the Leadership Engagement Scholarship,” she said. “This scholarship provides financial awards to emerging or established new leaders who are low-SES or facing some type of financial burden.”
Reginald Hammond Jr., the assistant director of the Kessler Presidential Scholars at the University, spoke about the different resources the scholarship office has like “Walk-in Wednesday” and peer tutoring.
“What we do is offer a drop-in period called ‘Walk-in Wednesday’ and we invite students every week, whether it’s about income, social, or something else, to come and troubleshoot ideas with us so they can help us help them,” Hammond said. “We also have the peer mentor program which is our one way of really getting to know the students. What we want to do is to help them set goals.”
Schandevel, one of the authors of the “Being Not-Rich at UM” Guide, explained why she decided to create this guide for low-SES students and why it is important that the issue of socioeconomic status is discussed since it often is an invisible identity.
“My document was in response to the CSG Affordability Guide, which had a lot of good information,” Schandevel said. “A lot of the criticism people had towards it was that it was geared towards all students on campus, and when you’re on a campus where 66 percent of people are a part of the top 20 percent, you’re going to have something that doesn’t quite match the needs of lower income students.”
She continued to explain why she felt that a resource such as the “Being Not-Rich at UM” is necessary for low-SES students.
“This document is so people can identify others who have had other experiences and learn from them,” she said.
Engineering junior Lindsay Rasmussen explained why she felt having events that increase awareness of low-SES identities is important.
“It’s important to come to these events because a lot of people at this school do have privilege and making people more aware is a good first step in getting the ball rolling so we can improve things for low-SES students on campus,” she said.