UofM GEO ON STRIKE, Day 1: The Problem

I do not come from wealth. I carry a much smaller privilege around than the sorts of students traditionally admitted to graduate programs. It is time that the University recognizes that not all of their graduate students come from wealth sufficient to keep them alive through their programs.

Let’s get specific. I was raised by a legal guardian, my grandmother, whose job as a secretary in the administration of the public school system I attended afforded us housing, food and basic clothing, but no more. The entire amount she had managed to save for a college fund for me was $10,000. It was gone by the end of my first year of college.

As a Ward of the Court, I had the privilege of federal funding through my undergraduate degree, though the majority of that consisted of debt, of which I accumulated over $90,000. I suppose I ought to have been paying these back while I’ve been in grad school, first for an MA and now for my PhD; at least that is what the lending institutions believe, to judge from the letters and whatnot they’re always sending me. (But pay them with what?)

The University of Michigan recognizes that a graduate student would need just over 40K a year to stay afloat. They pay us just over half of that. For the children of wealthy households, this is not a problem so much as an inconvenience. For me, it has been disastrous, so I’m going to take this opportunity while we’re on strike to document what exactly we’re striking for.

Let’s start with the student loans, which have gone unpaid for a decade—assuming I was actually supposed to begin to repay them as soon as I’d earned my BA in 2013. But what money could I have devoted to that? I wasn’t paid enough to afford my housing and utilities and food, let alone anything extra like a loan payment. Have I defaulted on those loans? I don’t know. I can’t bring myself to open the letters they so frequently send. What would be the point when I cannot send them a dime or even something as worthless as a penny, other than to depress myself even further?

We cannot ignore the real-world housing fiasco faced by students going to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan. Rents in Ann Arbor are out of control. What ought to have been $1,100/month max was rented to me for $1,800/month last July. That’s about par for the course. If you want to live where you learn and be able to take advantage of everything your campus has to offer, get ready to pay an exorbitant sum for housing. Groceries are more expensive in the city of Ann Arbor as well, so adjust for that. But how are we supposed to sustain ourselves on what the University has deigned to distribute?

If it weren’t for my grandmother taking out against her mortgage, I would never have survived all those years. The burden that ought rightly to have been borne by the University was instead offloaded onto a retiree with health problems. I am so thankful that she was there for me, that she had a mortgage to borrow against, that she was willing to help sustain me so many extra years; but it should never have been like this.

I know I am not alone in this struggle, that there are graduate students at this University who have it worse than I do, who don’t have a grandmother to turn to with a mortgage and good credit, or anyone at all; they are the reason I’ll be writing about my experience of poverty as a graduate student at the University of Michigan for the duration of the strike.

Ps, Separately from the strike, I’m calling for a Neurodiversity Constellation Center based on the results of a survey I conducted informally last fall. Read about it here: Call for a Neurodiversity Constellation Center at University of Michigan

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