For Black (Grad) students when your financial aid package ain't enuf....
Now this essay I am sure could help many people out there. I know that students of all creeds and colors struggle with paying for higher education; however, this essay is for us black folks.
It's for us who may not eat ramen noodles every night (because sodium) but peanut butter and bread have made a gourmet dinner a many a night. This is for us who ran outta swipes in the cafeteria but we are still hungry. It is for us who have had to decide to eat dinner or put gas in the tank so we can get to class or work. This is for us who have stood in line at our institutions like it was Black Friday to make sure financial aid has our forms that they never got, but we all know that means they lost them. This is for us who's decided to go to an HBCU is looked down on. And its for those of us who chose to go to a PWI and may feel outta place, but know they made the right decision.
In short, this is for us. You can read it if you would like, but do not say "what about white people," or "Ahh, this is racist!" Save me your bullshit. And just read and respect our lived experience.
I can say that I would not have gotten to graduate school without the spiritual, mental, and financial support of my "village." But what happens when your village doesn't have much to give either.
I am currently an unfunded Master's Student. And of course, whenever I tell people that their first response is "have you tried to find a teaching assistantship?" Or my favorite "have you applied for jobs? And do not get me wrong, those are all valid points but that's not what I am talking about right now Susan!
I have worked on campus since I came to graduate school. I have had a research assistantship that was only for 9 months. Then I had a summer job as a program assistant. And then I found a job on campus that could only offer me 10 hours a week at $10/hr. I have been willing to apply and take any job available. Because I do not have the luxury to pick and choose jobs, because money. And rent won't pay itself.
And if you want me to be extremely honest, I would have had to go home and back to Texas and leave my program because I would not have been able to afford to live in Iowa City if I and my boyfriend didn't decide to move in together. Literally, I am not exaggerating. Granted, Iowa City is not a NYC or Chicago or LA; which makes me be concerned for those who do live in areas like that.
Do not get me wrong, I know that everyone has money troubles at some level but it is different when you are a student. It truly feels like one of those memes about trying to get 8 hours of sleep, workout, remain financially stable, and pass all your class in a 24-hour span. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE.
No one truly discusses the mental toll that having a financially uncertain future takes on you. But I will. Let me tell you how many major anxiety attacks that I have had because I did not get the job that would help cover my health insurance? Or the time the University overpaid me from a job and neither of us noticed until 2 months later, and then they took my entire paychecks until they were paid off. So basically that meant, I was barely able to break even all summer (thats three months).
And the worst part about it is when people ask how you are doing, they rarely care to hear the truth. So I answer "I am alright, thanks for asking." As a graduate student, I know that there is a large number of other graduate students going through the same thing so I do not want to speak up about my struggles because I do not want to seem like I am whining. But I am learning closed mouths do not get fed.
On top of all these financial problems, I somehow have to navigate being one of few Black students at the university and being broke while doing it. Whew! I got so many things to say about that. I have to figure out how to not be "aggressive" to the Kelly and not too smart for the Robert and not too "sassy" for the professor. And my personal favorite, I had to curtail my aspirations for one professor who told me that I wouldn't get into a program because he was unable to get in during his graduate school career. I ask myself daily, how I do it. And to be honest, I do not have an answer for you other than the fact I go to church AND i go to therapy.
Being a (grad) student is to have your life be a constant conundrum! I know I want my doctorate. I know I want to become a knowledge creator. To become this, I have to travel and I have to attend to conferences. Even more than my white counterparts do. In case you forgot, this post was about me being broke in graduate school. So how am I going to get all these things done?
That is a good question. I had to miss two weeks of my 10 hours a week job to travel. I traveled on a fully funded Ph.D. visit and I almost had to pass it up because I would be missing work. Unfortunately, when I asked my sister to borrow money she referred to this trip and a conference trip as a vacation--but it was work! And i know she meant well because she was trying to understand why i chose to miss work and where my money went. But my money aint go anywhere because I never had any.
Do not get me wrong, I know that I have made financial missteps in my life just like many of you all. I am trying my hardest not to beat myself up in my head about it. But I know that I have been making changes in my spending habits. My credit score has gone up a few points. But that credit score ain't gonna put any money in bank account. But hey, I could get an apartment without a co-signer.
I wish i was writing this post with some type of knowledge, but I am just writing my truth in hopes to give us Black folk some solace in the fact that we are not alone. I can handle the struggles that I face as a black woman in academia. I can handle the stress of having four final papers that I should be writing instead of this post. But the one thing that seems to be crippling in all of this is the financial instability that being a student carriers.
It does not help that I know that I will have student loan debt to pay off from my undergrad and now my master's degree. I know this is many of us. I also know that I accepted a job at a local grocery store because they pay more than the campus and have more hours to let me work. Is that not a shame. I am working for a grocery store that is employee owned, has scholarships for its employees, as well as tuition reimbursement. I am working for a grocery store that seems to care more about my financial state of being than my own university.
I want to be a knowledge creator. Thats what we do best. Black folks' creativity has driven this country forward year after year after year. Our inventions. Our art. Our music. Our athletic ability. Our everything. But as academics, we are the most undercited. The fight we are facing is a fight that is beyond the fact that we are not funded. It is a fight that is determined to be a barrier for us. To keep us out of the rooms where the decisions are made. This fight has us exhausted because we are working 2-3 jobs. It has us depressed because we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. It has us anxious because we do not know if we will have the time or energy to finish the assignment that is due tomorrow, that we know we should have started last week but we didn't.
This fight is trying to break us. It is trying to make sure we are unable to the generators of future research and knowledge. And maybe I decided to write this post to let you know that we cannot let them break us. We never have. We have become resourceful. We have become stronger. We have become wiser.
This is for Black (grad) students when your financial aid package ain't enuf. For those of us who have shared our Paypal link and Cash App screenname and our Venmo ID in hopes, someone could bless you with $5. For those of us who have created a GoFundMe page in hopes to pay off that last semester so you can graduate.
I see you! I hear you! And I wish i had $5 to send you to make it through. But I don't. But know that your village may not be able to give you physical money, but maybe they can cook you a meal. Maybe they can give you some extra scarves and gloves they found in their house, cause winter is upon us and Iowa is cold. Maybe your village can just ask how you are doing and actually mean it. But know if they cannot do any of that, they are supporting you with prayers, good vibes, and advice. We will be the architects of the future.