Correction Appended: An earlier version on this article incorrectly stated that Lucas Brody felt there wasn’t socioeconomic diversity at the University.
The socioeconomic status of University students is often a taboo topic, but a recent YouTube video , “University of Michigan Pursuit of Jappiness,” produced by three University students, addresses this topic head-on with satirical references to JAPs (an acronym for Jewish American Princess or Prince) on campus. The stereotype depicts a person from a wealthy family background who has money to spend.
The video sheds light — though viewers dispute whether it is positive or negative — on cultural stereotypes.
LSA sophomore Skyler Fulton directed and edited the video and wrote the lyrics to the song over the beat to Kid Cudi’s hit single “Pursuit of Happiness.” Devin Rossinsky, Music, Theater & Dance sophomore, and Lucas Brody, LSA sophomore, helped with the lyrics and video montage.
Fulton said the video received 30,000 views within 24 hours of being uploaded on Feb. 10. As of 10:30 p.m. last night, the video had more than 140,000 views .
While some viewers have expressed that they are upset by the stereotypes, Fulton said he has experienced overwhelming support for the video. However, he added that he knew some people would take offense to the lyrics and video.
“I figured that could happen, but like, we do mean no harm by it,” Fulton said.
Fulton said that being Jewish, a resident of Massachusetts and a member of Greek Life at the University also places him under the title of “JAP.” While the acronym originated as a descriptive idiom for Jewish women, Fulton said it now applies to men because they are subject to the same stereotypes.
“We’re very well-acquainted with that socioeconomic class, and we’re kind of just making light of it,” he said.
Brody said he wasn’t familiar with the “JAP” lifestyle until he came to the University and joined a fraternity.
“It’s definitely a diverse school, but in terms of social groupings, it’s absolutely not diverse,” Brody said.
While Fulton said class divides exist at the University and other colleges, he doesn’t think the video alienates anyone. Brody said he doesn’t think the video creates new separations, but that it does reinforce the divides that already exist on campus.
Fulton said the video should be taken as satirical of a type of person that students recognize.
“When I say JAP I don’t mean the Japanese/ I mean the chicks takin’ pics at the frat parties/ and dudes at the Scarsdale driving range/ new Beamer, pocket change,” Fulton raps near the end of the video.
The video references clothing brands including Ed Hardy and Abercrombie & Fitch, as well as Ann Arbor-specific references to residences such as fraternity houses and the Zaragon Place Apartments on East University Avenue.
The University often boasts that students have the opportunity to interact with students of all backgrounds, but some say this is more a goal than reality. Kinesiology senior Adam Leyton said he thinks college students tend to stick with people who belong to their own socioeconomic class.
According to Leyton, tuition is expensive at the University, and he doesn’t understand why students shell out a lot of money to live in Zaragon Place, for example.
“I think that there’s a good trend of students that flock to, you know, people that are of the same socioeconomic class,” Leyton said. “The Greek Life system brings people of similar backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses together.”
Leyton said he lived in residence halls for the first two years of his time as an undergraduate student, but has opted for cheaper, off-campus housing for the last year and a half.
Leyton works part-time at Five Guys Burgers and Fries restaurant on State Street and explained that he tries to limit himself to spending $10 or less per day. He said he might buy a cup of coffee a day and another meal, but he tries to keep spending to a minimum.
“You don’t go to college to, like, live a lavish, luxury lifestyle,” Leyton said. “I kind of always thought of college as a time to ‘rough it.’”
Leyton expressed that he is content living without luxuries in college, and he is put off when people try to brag about their possessions.
Other than taking a few shifts a week at Five Guys, Leyton said he works in the fall as a football referee in his hometown of Flint, Mich. He said he made the hour-long drive almost every weekend to work and make money to pay his utilities and afford other life expenses.
He said when going out with friends, he feels that he spends less on alcohol than his peers and is more conscious of his spending.
“Whenever I do go out, a lot of my friends probably spend a lot more at the bars,” Leyton said.
As the youngest of four, Leyton said he feels lucky to have parents who pay for most of his collegiate expenses so he won’t be in debt after college.
“I’d say I’m an exception to the rule,” he said.
A trivial difference
LSA freshmen Lucie Herold and Abigail Waters are friends and coxswains on the University’s rowing team. The two have a lot in common, including their financial background.
Both said their parents are responsible for paying their out-of-state tuition. Herold is from California and plans to attend law school, while Waters hails from Virginia and plans to go to medical school in the future.
Waters said that while she feels lucky her parents are ready and willing to pay her tuition and room and board to live in a residence hall, she would be responsible for paying her way through medical school.
In order to fund her education, she said she plans to take out “massive” student loans.
“After a certain point, the difference between $200,000 in student loans and $250,000 in student loans becomes sort of trivial,” Waters said. “It’s kind of like, ‘Oh, I just got a lot of debt, and I’m just going to be paying this off for 20 years.’ ”
Herold said she will also have to pay for her graduate school education. She said she is confident that she and Waters will be able to pay off their debt because they are going into fields — law and medicine — that have well-paying jobs.
While Herold said her parents fund her undergraduate education, she said there’s an unwritten rule between her and her parents that she has to have a paid job or internship every summer to save up for her future.
She said that her mother once considered buying a residence in Michigan because it would be cheaper to maintain than continuing to pay out-of-state tuition. As an only child, Herold said she is lucky because her parents can afford to send her to the University.
Herold said she chose to attend the University because she heard of its great academic and social reputation. She added that she had a desire to go to an out-of-state school.
“I kind of wanted to get away because I know I’m going to end up in California because once you live there, it’s kind of hard not to live there for the rest of your life,” Herold said. “I wanted to try something new.”
Waters was also drawn to the University because her parents attended the school when they lived in Michigan. She considered attending the University of Virginia, which would have been cheaper, but she said she is happy with her decision.
Herold and Waters said they go out about once a week and try to limit spending. Herold said she avoids shopping in Ann Arbor because it’s expensive, much like her hometown of Paulo Alto, Calif.
Waters has a meal plan and tries to take advantage of it. She said she calculated that each meal costs about $11, which she thinks is too costly.
“I like go for one meal and steal three,” Waters said. “I don’t really need to eat that much, and it seems like a waste for me to spend.”
With a scholarship for rowing, Waters said she is able to save extra money to pay for expenses outside tuition, like going out with friends.
The tuition problem
According to estimates by the Office of the Registrar, the total expense of a University undergraduate student is approximately $25,000 for in-state students and $50,000 for out-of-state students. This estimated budget includes tuition, room and board, books and personal expenses.
About 16,545 undergraduates and 13,262 graduate students — more than half of each group — received financial aid in some form, including grants, scholarships, loans and work-study programs, for the 2009-2010 academic year.
Sandra Crump, the assistant director for communications at the Office of Financial Aid, wrote that many students take advantage of the financial aid services offered by the University.
“We encourage all students who think they might need financial assistance to apply for financial aid,” Crump wrote in an e-mail interview.
At a Jan. 24 University of Michigan Senate Assembly meeting, University Provost Philip Hanlon told the University’s lead faculty governing body that he wants to increase the amount of financial aid available to University students.
“The whole funding model for higher education is really, I think, unsustainable,” Hanlon said, noting increases over the past decade in the three higher education sectors: in-state public tuition, out-of-state public tuition and private tuition.
Hanlon said these three sectors have increases at an annual rate of five to seven percent per year, which he said cannot continue without making a college education unaffordable.
“This is not a University of Michigan problem,” Hanlon said. “It’s a higher education problem.”
While Hanlon said he is concerned about the affordability of higher education, Pamela Fowler, executive director of the Office of Financial Aid, said the office is committed to helping students obtain the financial assistance they need to reach their educational goals.
“I’m proud of what we do,” Fowler said. “You will not find another university in the state that goes above and beyond.”
She maintained that the University receives unwarranted criticism for being expensive, and that paying for tuition is more feasible at the University than other universities in the state. She attributes this feasibility to the unrelenting efforts of Office of Financial Aid.
“People think the University is too expensive,” Fowler said. “We are actually the cheapest university in the state.”
Crump wrote that federal financial aid is based on an “estimated family contribution.”
“The EFC takes into account not only the family’s income but also the number of family members, the number of family members in college and other variables,” Crump wrote.
Despite Fowler’s opinion of the University’s affordability, LSA sophomore Ari Kaye said he thinks out-of-state tuition is too pricy.
Kaye said though he thinks it’s expensive, the high cost doesn’t affect him much because of his financial status.
Kaye explained that a trust fund set up by his grandparents pays for most of his expenses. Because of his financial position, he said he doesn’t care if he pays more for school than other students.
“I don’t have a,like, big problem with it if it’s helping pay subsidy for poorer people in state,” Kaye said. “That’s fine with me. I don’t really care that much.”
Kaye said he has an older brother in graduate school at the University and another brother in undergraduate school at the University of Chicago. He said he doesn’t have to worry about debt and that he has some of his own money to spend.
“I’m aware that I am of a small percentage of people that are just like, ‘I’ve got everything under control,’ ” Kaye said.
Regardless of payment methods, every student is required to pay a substantial tuition to attend the University. According to students who have noticed class differences among their peers, the ability to pay this fee doesn’t put everyone on equal economic ground.
Fulton said the YouTube video ultimately calls attention to and starts conversations about what University students already know, whether they’re in the “Pursuit of Jappiness” or the pursuit of something else.
“We would like to point out the things that people might have noticed and put them all together in a fun way,” Fulton said.