By Lucas Southwell | Co-Editor-in-Chief
On Wednesday, Jan. 9, faculty and staff members attended a Learning Day at Grand Rapids Community College that centered around the economic hardships faced by students and how the college can help with those barriers.
Sara Goldrick-Rab, Professor of Higher Education Policy and Sociology at Temple University and author of “Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream,” was the keynote speaker for the event and gave a lecture to faculty and staff.
Before introducing Goldrick-Rab, Lina Blair, Director of Student Life and Conduct, talked about some personally moving stories of hardship that she had heard from students she worked with and also talked about the programs GRCC has and is looking to improve to help students who are facing personal and economic hardships.
Goldrick-Rab’s lecture focused on the many economic hardships college students face today that affect both their physical and mental health, as well as their pursuit of an education. These hardships included food insecurity, homlessness, lack of sleep due to busy work schedules, and many others.
She talked about the various causes for many of these issues and the problems colleges face trying to help solve these issues, including a lack of financial-aid, a decrease in wages compared to costs, state-defunding of colleges, and the butchering of safety-net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps.
She also focused heavily on the data surrounding the issues college students face and the need to not just gather information and data regarding these issues, but to then use that information to create and improve programs to try and solve the issues.
“(We) don’t do research for research’s sake,” said Goldrick-Rab, outlining her desire to put the information she and her team gathers into the hands of those who will use it to help change the world.
When attempting to understand students and help them with their struggles, Goldrick-Rab encouraged faculty and staff to ignore the often inaccurate stereotypes of the modern college student that is portrayed in media, and instead focus on what the data says and what the students themselves have to say.
She also talked about the importance of creating a welcoming environment in which students feel comfortable asking for help and aren’t made to feel embarrassed about or asked to prove their need for help.
“Do not ask them to perform their poverty when they ask for help,” said Goldrick-Rab.
Goldrick-Rab also pointed out that it wasn’t enough for a college to simply have programs in place to help students, but that faculty and students needed to know about a program’s existence and how to access it. She advised GRCC to constantly advertise its programs and diversify the type of advertising it uses in order to maximize audience size and impact.
Following the lecture, faculty and staff were also able to attend smaller sessions that continued the conversation of how to help students with hardships. They were than served lunch and helped to decorate bags and pack them with personal hygiene products to be handed out to students in need.
There was a bit of light-hearted fun added to the zero-waste event to go along with the serious topic of the day. This included a table at which attendees could dress up in school colors and have their picture taken and then added to the live Twitter feed that was projected above the stage, a group game that was played just prior to the lecture whos winners received Goldrick-Rab’s book and a T-shirt as prizes, and a T-shirt cannon that was brought out and used by a faculty member as the event drew to a close.