Tone deaf advice – What happens when we don’t listen to students
In January 2018, the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government issued an 87-page affordability guide for students that contained cost-cutting suggestions along the lines of “Fire your maid,” and “Do your own laundry instead of hiring a service.”
Senior Lauren Schandevel was one of the many Michigan students who thought that advice was stunningly tone deaf, especially for low-income students struggling to get by.
The Warren, Michigan, native decided to bring together a coalition of students, faculty, staff and alumni to write their own guide to give practical financial advice. Together, this group—initially the Michigan Affordability and Advocacy Coalition, now called Affordable Michigan—has written a guide called “Being Not-Rich at Michigan” that includes practical advice on employment, housing, scholarships and financial aid, and more.
The guide is one of the ways students on campuses across the country are inserting and asserting themselves into policy and practice decisions.
Schandevel joined me on “Today’s Students/Tomorrow’s Talent,” the Lumina Foundation podcast, and said that policymakers at all levels, including student government, need to hear from those who are affected by the policies they enact.
“I really do believe in community-based participatory research and making sure that students are at the table when you’re having these conversations about affordability,” she said, “There are new barriers that are surfacing all the time for students these days that weren’t there when recently graduated students were in college.”
And Schandevel suggested that when it comes to discussions about affordability, when low-income students are brought into the conversation, they should be compensated for their participation.
“Make it a job for them,” she said. “Lower-income students have a million other things they have to worry about.”
The Affordable Michigan guide is about the University of Michigan, but it’s become a model for similar publications at schools such as Carleton College, George Washington University, University of Arizona and others. The common thread is that students are speaking up and helping guide the conversation.
On a national level, organizations such as Young Invincibles (YI) are helping students get their voices heard and build power on their campuses. Executive Director Rachel Fleischer told me that YI already has established the largest student-voter engagement effort in the country, and the organization is working on areas such as healthcare, workforce and finances, and civic engagement to benefit people ages 18 to 34.
Fleischer said YI is working with college students who are trying to advocate for policy changes like affordable childcare on campus. One in four of today’s students is already a parent, she said.
Administrators need to understand that and “create pathways that allow people to work and do their studies and take care of the family all at the same time, in really practical ways.”
She said creating a culture to support all students also includes things like streamlining the process of applying for aid, making sure students understand the debt they’re taking on, and dealing with equity issues so that everyone has the same opportunity to graduate from college and make a living.
“Young people are not just thinking about themselves and their individual lives,” she said. “They’re thinking about their friends and their communities and want to make sure that whatever we do from a policy perspective supports young people as a whole.”