For Public Policy senior Lauren Schandevel and LSA senior Meaghan Wheat, creating a minor focused on the study of socioeconomic class has been a project that spanned their undergraduate careers — and it’s now finally coming to fruition. The proposed minor of class and inequality studies recently passed a faculty vote in the Women’s Studies Department and is awaiting approval from the LSA Curriculum Committee.
Schandevel first had the idea for an area of study on class during a discussion with Sociology Lecturer Dwight Lang three years ago. Since then, she has teamed up with students and faculty to draft the proposal. If the minor is approved, it would be the first study of social class at a university in the U.S., according to Schandevel.
“We did a lot of research when we were drafting the proposal and we were trying to see if there were similar programs at different universities that would just be studying class more broadly, and there weren’t any,” Schandevel said. “It’s another way to make sense of the world, and having a space to study it as its own minor gives it some credibility. And, hopefully, we’ll attract people across the country who are studying it in their own ways to come to the University and have this be a central location for analyzing those types of things.”
When Schandevel started looking into creating a new minor, she met with Wheat at the end of their freshman year. They discussed the idea further that summer, then began emailing faculty in different departments to gauge interest. After talking with people from various academic fields, Schandevel said she and Wheat met with Rosario Ceballo, who was the Women’s Studies chair in the 2017 winter term. Schandevel said Ceballo expressed interest in housing a program of class studies as a minor within the department.
From there, Schandevel said this partnership turned into a task force comprised of faculty from the Residential College and the Sociology Department. In addition, the task force had representation from different groups on campus, including the Program on Intergroup Relations, First-Generation College Students, Black-Asian Student Coalition, South Asian Awareness Network and Native American Student Association. The group met monthly to create the proposal for the minor.
“We found all the people for the task force: the faculty and the students,” Wheat said. “We really had a goal of having students who have different identities and different experiences … so that we weren’t just getting the same story about social class over and over and over again. We wanted to have that diversity and breadth of experience, and I think that we did succeed in that in the best of our ability. It was a lot of brainstorming among people who are super passionate, which was super empowering to be there and to listen.”
The task force finished its work at the end of the Winter 2017 term. To get the minor approved, it would have to take its proposal to the Women’s Studies faculty for a vote and the LSA Curriculum Committee to be approved.
Schandevel said the proposal almost failed the full-faculty vote because of concerns about the curriculum requirements from some staff members. One of the key reasons it passed was because of faculty like Abby Stewart, a Sandra Schwartz Tangri distinguished university professor of psychology and women’s studies, who helped garner faculty support for the minor.
Stewart worked with the Women’s Studies faculty and edited the proposal based on their input. In October 2018, the proposal passed the faculty vote and now awaits a decision from the LSA Curriculum Committee.
“The task force asked Women’s Studies to consider sponsoring the minor, and the Department held discussions of it last spring, and then discussed it again this fall and voted to sponsor it,” Stewart wrote in an email. “We will propose it to LSA this semester for their consideration, which will take place on their timeline.”
In April 2018, former LSA Dean Andrew Martin emailed department chairs about the LSA Executive Committee’s decision to place a hold on new minors housed within LSA. The reasoning, according to the email, was to halt the production of new minors and instead focus on reviewing existing minors. At the time of the decision, there were 111 minors available in LSA.
Though the Executive Committee’s ruling stands through this semester — theoretically barring approval of the proposal — Schandevel said the class minor will receive a decision thanks to help from LSA Associate Dean Angela Dillard and other administrators.
Now, Schandevel said what happens to the minor is mostly out of the students’ hands. She said the Women’s Studies administrators are tweaking the proposal based off concerns from faculty. Then, the administrators themselves will present it to the LSA Curriculum Committee. Schandevel said Dillard is advising the administrators on the presentation.
While the minor would be housed in LSA if approved, it is not restricted to students in other schools. Schandevel has had interest from students in the Ford School of Public Policy and Ross School of Business, in addition to students pursuing a variety of majors within LSA.
Schandevel said she and Wheat are still in disbelief that the minor is in its final stages. While she has had support, she said there have been people who questioned the necessity of the minor. Schandevel, however, sees the minor as the first step in making the University of Michigan a leader in studying socioeconomic class and the intersections of its implications.
“There were a lot of supportive faculty and administrators, but then there were some not-so-supportive faculty and administrators who said, ‘We don’t need to be studying this,’” Schandevel said. “It was just great to see this thing that we think is really important, that students really need to be aware of and have a space to study. We’re excited to see it actually be happening and it would be the first of its kind in the country, and so to start that precedent here and to hopefully see it spread to other universities is really exciting.”