August 2, 2010

First Person: Lauren Hayden Dyer

How can we support struggling students?

A book club discussion inspired Lauren Hayden Dyer (second from left) to reach out to Emory students.

Lauren Hayden Dyer is an area director for Residence Life & Housing and organizer of the Campus Life Book Club.

As we prepare for a new school year, I’d like to encourage you to take a few moments to think about a topic that is on the minds of many of our students: money and finances. While this is something that may be on all of our minds, the Emory community sometimes gets lost in its own world, forgetting that while we are lucky enough to work at a top-tier institution with talented students, many of them are struggling to pay for basic needs.

As an area director for Residence Life, I hear firsthand from students about the stress they feel when it comes to finances. In order to start a conversation about this topic with my colleagues, I suggested that the Campus Life Book Club read “The Broke Diaries: the Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke” by Angela Nissel for our summer meeting. This is a humorous true story about a woman who struggled to pay her way through her undergraduate years at UPenn.

In preparation for our meet-ing, I came up with discussion questions that would help our group to connect this topic to Emory. I wanted us to think about what resources we have at Emory to help our “broke” students and to reflect on our programs and activities that cost students money.

Then, while brainstorming with my supervisor about the meeting, we decided that it might be a good idea to get some firsthand accounts from students depicting their struggles. We realized that while it would be easy for me to tell stories of the struggles I’ve heard from students, it would probably be more effective to have book club attendees hear their stories in the student’s voices.

I reached out to six students who had disclosed financial struggles to me and asked if they’d be willing to anonymously share their stories; the responses I received were more than I could have hoped for. The stud-ents were candid about what opportunities they wished they could afford and where they feel the most peer pressure.  Here are some quotes from the responses I received:

• “[One of the hardest parts for me is] grocery shopping. I go in armed with my million coupons, my Kroger Plus card, and whatever [money] I’ve managed to save from my two jobs. I distinctly remember the day I walked into the condiment aisle and realized I could no longer afford both peanut butter and jelly. I think at the point where you feel guilty for ‘indulging’ in basic needs, there’s a problem.” —Female, class of 2012

• “Looking back at [my experience], the most difficult thing for me was vacationing. I never had an extravagant spring break. Also, studying abroad would have placed a bigger burden on my family, so I never considered going. A lot of people around me were easily able to afford these trips and it was hard to relate to some my peers in that sense. And that is my biggest regret in college: not studying abroad.” —Male, class of 2010

• “[In regards] to peer pressure, I would have had to dress a certain way, drive a certain car, and have certain gadgets in order to fit the Emory scenes.” —Male, class of 2010

• “My parents don’t have the luxury of paying for Emory’s tuition (so thank goodness for Emory Advantage!) The cost of attendance at Emory is higher than my parents’ income put together. Just keeping up with basics has been the hardest for me. I personally never joined sorority life because I knew the fees were high each year. [Also,] I love fashion and seeing [students] with brand name stuff as if it’s nothing, I do turn a little green with envy.” —Female, class of 2010

As you can see, our students may appear to have it all together, but many of them experience a culture of haves and have nots while at Emory.

While the Emory community does a good job of supporting our students, there is always more we can do. Some of the ideas that surfaced during our book club discussion included referring students to the new Emory Employee Student Job Network, planning more off-campus events that are free of charge, and providing more education around budget management and the dangers of credit card debt. 

On a closing note, I’d like to encourage you to think of ways you can help our “broke” students. Need help mowing your lawn? Post on the employee student job network! Know of scholarships that your students would be eligible for? Pass them along! 

As our mission says, the intellectual and social energy that results from diversity is a primary asset of the University. Make it a goal to live our mission and make all of our students feel welcomed and comfortable in our community.

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