Students call CSG Campus Affordability Guide "out of touch"

Thursday, January 25, 2018 - 5:13pm

CSG Vice President Nadine Jawad during a CSG meeting in the Union.

CSG Vice President Nadine Jawad during a CSG meeting in the Union. Buy this photo
Haley McLaughlin/Daily

 

The University of Michigan’s Central Student Government released a Campus Affordability Guide Saturday and has since received backlash from many members of the student body. The online publication was widely touted as a “guide to cost-effective living at the University,” and lists a few dozen tips for students to cut down on costs in the face of rising living costs. 

Suggestions such as cutting down on housekeeping services, laundry delivery or limiting impulse purchases left low-income students incredulous.   

In a Facebook post that has been shared 27 times as of Thursday evening, LSA senior Zoe Proegler expressed her dissatisfaction with the way CSG approached affordability on campus.

“We all know Ann Arbor is expensive,” Proegler wrote. “Guides like this, which lecture to lower income students about how rich people think poor people can change a couple habits (or lightbulbs?) and not be poor anymore, do not help. Rather, they’re a slap in the face to people who fight every day to be here.”

A 2016 demographic self-survey conducted by CSG in 2016 found 74.4 percent of its members come from households that earn over $100,000 a year, and 37.2 percent have household incomes of over $250,000. According to a recent report, the University ranks last in economic mobility when compared to other top-ranked public universities.

“It was really immediate, the way that it hit me — something about the tone being off,” Proegler later said in an interview. “As I was reading it, it didn’t seem like something that had really taken into account the problems of students who are experiencing absolute issues with accessibility and affordability. It didn’t read like something that would actually be working towards improving accessibility for students who need it, and for CSG to push it that way was upsetting.”

Proegler brought up the specific points mentioned in the article, some of which she felt were out of touch and potentially dangerous to the students who would benefit most from this guide.

“It comes up twice in those first 50 points that students should get rid of cleaning or laundry service subscriptions in order to save money,” she said. “That, to me, doesn’t sound like they’re really addressing students who they intended to be targeting with that. The whole guide seemed to put CSG at a disadvantage in communicating what they were trying to do. There’s no way you can explain to somebody what a balance transfer is in two sentences. And to attempt to do so, is I think, grossly negligent.”

In a comment on Proegler’s Facebook post, CSG Vice President Nadine Jawad wrote she thought the numerous comments critiquing the guide misrepresented her years spent working with Ann Arbor City Council members, students and programs, such as the Ginsberg Center, in order to present options for students to live in Ann Arbor on a budget.

“As the director of this guide, and as a first-gen student who struggles with finances and costs here, this is a misrepresentative portrayal of two years of compiling research,” Jawad wrote. “My advocacy on affordable housing started with a journey through 15+ meetings with Ann Arbor commissioners and council members as well as several meetings with U-M Housing. CSG actually helped institute a student advisory board to City Council last winter as a result of some of this research. This guide is a compilation of notes, but doesn't erase the fear of prices in an ever-increasingly expensive city that doesn't feel like someone like me can fit in or afford. SES and inaccessibility to low-income students isn’t a joke and is worthy of more than a string of FB comments. This is a first proactive step I, and many others, took to starting to change something. I appreciate the feedback and this is a revolving document.”

A CSG senior cabinet member, who asked to remain anonymous, was concerned most of the suggestions — which included points such as buying items in bulk or selling a vehicle — were not addressing the real issues that students face with affordability on campus.

“I had generally known (the guide) was coming; it was something that had been in the works for a while, but most people hadn’t really seen the content of it,” he said. “I thought it was a good idea at first, trying to make campus more affordable is something I’m very passionate about, but I think this is a tonality issue. Reading through the pages, the suggestions seemed so glib and out of touch. I think the set of college students with a maid is incredibly small already and is not low-income students. It came across less as though it was intended to be aimed towards low-income students and more as a guide for fairly wealthy students.”

He also pointed out the guide was lengthy and filled with redundant material.

“It’s 80 pages long,” he said. “A lot of this is just hugely extraneous material that’s not relevant and is just taking up space. We’re all busy students — low-income students more than most of us. I don’t have time to read an 84-page pamphlet in detail. I’m doubtful that kids who are working two plus jobs to put themselves through college are able to do that.”

Public Policy junior Lauren Schandevel said she would have appreciated a more detailed focus on employment opportunities and ways to balance work and study schedules.

“I was so surprised to find that there was almost no mention of employment in the guide — after all, having a steady income can make all the difference for low-income and financially insecure students,” Schandevel wrote in an email interview. “Having information about job opportunities on and off campus, work-study, need- and merit-based scholarships and paid internships would be incredibly useful. Most importantly, I think clarifying the intended audience of this pamphlet is key because it is obviously not geared toward students who are experiencing the brunt of the affordability crisis in Ann Arbor.”

CSG communications director Cassandra Fields responded to the concerns and comments by emphasizing they were trying to address all students, regardless of their financial backgrounds.

“The goal of the Campus Affordability Guide is to provide a comprehensive resource for students from a wide range of backgrounds,” Fields wrote in an email interview. “What may come off as condescending or tone deaf for certain students, because some of the tips or resources are second-nature or obvious facts, is new information for many other students. We have an obligation to arm every student that we represent with information and resources that can help them budget their ways through college.”

Proegler brought up the fact that the guide should have included more real suggestions that weren’t focused solely on budgeting.

“To see this document come out with suggestions to making campus affordable being almost entirely suggestions that center around budgeting and not institutional change,” she said. “Makes it feel to me that this guide was targeted to CSG’s peers and other middle-income classmates who likely don’t have to struggle with absolute accessibility issues, and instead just need to determine better how to spend their allowances.”