“Seeing inequality first hand and experiencing it, it brings your attention to these larger issues and it makes you sympathize with people who are going through different kinds of injustices,” Public Policy junior Lauren Schandevel said on her role as a student activist.
In just three years at the University of Michigan, Schandevel has created a money-saving survival guide, an organization dedicated to addressing the needs of low-income students and is in the process of creating a minor devoted to social class and inequality. Schandevel is a go-getter, not for herself, but for the community.
“I’m not a super ambitious person, in the sense that a lot of the work I do isn’t for my own gain,” she said. “I prefer to talk about it in the terms of the community and the specific policies that I’m tackling, and less about my role within facilitating that.”
Schandevel identifies as an activist by necessity. Having grown up in the Detroit suburb of Warren, a largely working-class community, she is one of few students who come to the University from lower and middle-income backgrounds. At a university where 66 percent of the student population hails from the top 20 percent income bracket, Schandevel has had to navigate herself across situations that were uncommon in her hometown.
“A lot of the experiences that lower and middle-income students face kind of fall by the wayside when you have an overwhelmingly wealthy campus,” she said.
Schandevel created “Being Not-Rich at UM,” a comprehensive, crowd-sourced Google document on ways in which students and families can save money on campus. The document has gained widespread popularity with its large accumulation of student advice and comments.
“It’s been really cool seeing people coming together to write it because I feel like a lot of these resources are scattered throughout the University and it’s hard to find a place to centralize them,” she said.
As an expansion from the document, Schandevel and LSA junior Griffin St. Onge recently started the Michigan Affordability and Advocacy Coalition, a group dedicated to bettering the quality of life for low-income students by addressing issues ranging from renters’ rights, food insecurity and access to vaccines.
Seeing a need for resources that address individuals from lower socioeconomic statuses, Schandevel began to wonder why there wasn’t a space to study social class on campus. Together with LSA junior Meaghan Wheat, the two students gathered resources and support from University members to create a new minor called “Class & Inequality Studies.” The minor has yet to be approved, but according to Schandevel, it may be offered in fall 2019.
“Through the minor, I’ve talked to faculty who are really interested in the subject and don’t have a place to study it in a way that is interdisciplinary and intersectional,” she said. “When I’m gone, this minor will be a space for people to do that, something that will outlast me.”
Schandevel’s background has encouraged her to go into public service and politics, with the plan of helping others who have faced challenges similar to hers. She has even been nationally recognized for her work, earning a place as a finalist for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship.
Next year, Schandevel will graduate from the University and sees herself in the community. Schandevel said working alongside those whose passion for helping others will only amplify hers.
“Some of my biggest heroes are the community organizers and nonprofit managers,” she said. “People don’t even realize how much time, effort, energy and how much of themselves they put into it. That’s how you know they’re genuine and really care because they’re not working toward an elected office or a high paying job. They’re just doing the work because they think it’s the right thing to do.”