Matthew Friend: In defense of the “Campus Affordability Guide”
The Central Student Government recently published a “Campus Affordability Guide,” a now-deleted document that consists of advice and resources to help students more effectively control their spending during their time in Ann Arbor. The guide was quickly met with criticism by some students who felt both the material and CSG as a whole were out of touch with students’ needs and reality, especially students from low-income backgrounds.
While I disagree with some of the arguments made by critics of this guide, they were certainly right about one thing: CSG is comprised of a relatively demographically-privileged population. According to a survey completed by CSG last year, their membership is nearly 70 percent white, 58 percent male and 37.2 percent come from households making $250,000 or more per year.
When these figures are compared with the University of Michigan’s overall demographics, though, a different picture is painted. The University’s student body is 56.2 percent white, students come from a median household income of $154,000 and the student body is 51.8 percent male. So yes, while CSG may, in fact, be comprised of a more socioeconomically-privileged group, the University as a whole does not differ greatly.
In consideration of whether this Campus Affordability Guide is condescending and out of touch with low-income students, or whether it was produced to apply to the greatest number of students, we arrive at the broader, underlying question. CSG is a democratically-elected institution meant to reflect the demographics and needs of the student body. The question — a question that applies to really any governing body — is how should CSG be directing their power in order to best represent their constituents. Should CSG focus on the issues and concerns that affect the majority of those they were elected to represent, or should they focus on supporting the communities on campus that may benefit from resources the most?
The answer to this depends on one’s view of government and what its role should be in our school and society as a whole. In my opinion, a democratically-elected body should exist in order to help manage and support the entire community. In our situation, the community we are talking about is the student body of the University. In the case of this Campus Affordability Guide, CSG decided to tackle a problem within our campus community that affects, what I would assume to be, the majority of students. Even if you come from a household of means, Ann Arbor is still an expensive town, and I do not believe many students come to school with a blank check (even if it may seem like that to some).
Reading through the guide, it seems that the majority of topics seem to be relatable to most students. These topics include which neighborhoods are more expensive than others, how to shop and cook more efficiently and various ways to reuse or borrow resources instead of frequently buying new products.
Then, there are the parts of the guide deemed to be offensive, such as the notion that students could save money by doing their own laundry rather than using a paid laundry service. Another recommendation that received negative feedback was regarding certain recipes to make meals in bulk, some of which included more high-end ingredients such as quinoa and feta cheese.
I understand how one could feel offended or disenfranchised when they are told budgeting means to do your own laundry instead of hiring a service, especially to an individual working multiple jobs just to keep the heat on. With that said, this guide, and CSG’s initiatives as a whole, are meant for all students, including those with financial means. And the reality is that many students, myself included, could certainly benefit from much of the advice offered in the guide.
I am not suggesting that any group on this campus does not deserve to have equal resources allocated to them, or that they should not have their voices heard. Rather, I am stating the opposite — that even those that come from privileged backgrounds deserve the school’s resources and to have their voices heard as well. In a similar note to my last column, there is a balance between the two extremes of supporting communities on our campus that may need more help than others, and supporting the groups that comprise the majority of our campus.
Perhaps this is a balance the University and CSG have not yet found. At the end of the day, CSG is a student organization, consisting of individuals with limited experience, who are learning every day how to better do their job. But their intentions are clear; they are working to make our campus community a safer and better place, and I urge them to continue with their goal of supporting the entire student body.
Matt Friend can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org