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Students create guide to “Being Not-Rich at Carleton”

Oniday, May 11, Lillie Schneyer ’18 and Gray Babbs ’18 released a document called “Being Not-Rich at Carleton.” The 24-page guide, which is broken into categories “Emergencies,” “Living,” “Health,” “Academics” and “Employment,” lists campus resources that can make Carleton more affordable.

“As low and middle income students, we want to pass on our knowledge and tricks of the trade to the next generations of Carls,” reads the document’s intro. “Not-rich people have to consider how much things cost and, to varying degrees, how to get the resources they need. This guide is intended to assist them in making informed decisions.”

Schneyer and Babbs began work on the guide midway through Spring term, and published to class-themed Facebook pages a few weeks later. The document is currently available on “suggest” mode to anyone with a gmail address, and has been made “editable” to a number of specific users, said Schneyer.

Schneyer first came up with the idea upon coming across the University of Michigan’s “Being Not-Rich at UM: A Guide.” This past winter, Michigan’s student government created an affordability guide, which included items like “skip your daily coffee” and “invest in the stock market,” according to Schneyer. “These are tips that do not help low-income students,” she said. “So the ‘Not-Rich Guide’ came out of a grassroots response effort.”

Upon first release, the Carleton guide was 16 pages long, said Babbs. Since then, a few dozen Carleton students have made suggestions and edits. Babbs and Schneyer review people’s suggestions before incorporating them into the document. “We’ve done a little bit of editing just for language, a little bit of reorganizing,” said Schneyer.

“Sometimes people kind of go off on their own thing and they write two hundred words about something that’s very specific,” added Babbs. “So sometimes it’s just about keeping it readable.”

Schneyer and Babbs created a list of rules for contributors, which can be found at the top of the document. One of these rules requires that contributions take the form of “resources and information” rather than advice.
“We thought that if it were a place for people to share advice, it could really become patronizing,” said Babbs. “Sharing advice also has a tendency to be targeting a certain group of students. Having as much information as you can to make informed decisions allows it to be open.”

While similar guides (like Michigan’s and University of Texas at Austin’s, as cited on the Carleton document) include general money-saving tips, Schneyer and Babbs’ “Not-Rich Guide” is Carleton-specific. “There are other guides that exist for that kind of thing,” said Babbs. “And it’s really easy to Google ‘Where can I get cheap, healthy food?’ But it’s not as easy to Google ‘Will SHAC cut me off after a certain number of appointments?’ So it’s Carleton-specific questions that are difficult to find other ways.”

Though the guide has grown since its release, Schneyer sees room for improvement. “It’d be great if people add more stuff,” said Schneyer. “The ultimate goal is that people will add things that I can’t even imagine. The idea is that everyone has different knowledge, and different experiences with Carleton—so hopefully there are some things people will add that I don’t even know about!”

Schneyer said that the document could use more information about work-study jobs. “It’s awesome for people to be able to know the possibilities for work-study jobs and be able to think: What’s in line with my interests? Maybe I know I want to work over winter break, so what’s going to allow that?” said Schneyer.

“A lot of it is information people hear through friends or the grapevine,” said Babbs. “For instance, one thing that surprised me this year is that I didn’t realize that the Career Center had interview funding. There are definitely points at which that kind of thing would have been really useful to know. A friend just brought it up—I wouldn’t have gone to the Career Center website to seek that out.”

Schneyer and Babbs define “not-rich” as “people who have to worry about money,” a framework that casts an “intentionally wide net,” said Babbs. 

“Some students who do have a lot of financial need have a little more backing from the Dean’s office, or organizations like TRIO,” they continued. “And we wanted this to be a more expansive definition. So we don’t say low-income, for instance. It’s anyone for whom money is a thing that they are thinking about and trying to navigate. It was really intentional language to try to help as many people as possible.”

Though Schneyer and Babbs laid the groundwork, they see the guide as a collective project. “It’s kind of about expanding the great thing about small liberal-arts colleges, which is that everybody’s super connected and can give each other information—but making that shared resource a larger net,” said Babbs.

“I think all of the lovely resources that exist at Carleton are doing their best to get the word out,” said Schneyer. “But it’s just really hard when there are so many different offices, and so much bureaucracy, and so many different groups of students and needs.

“I think there’s just a bunch of different resources on campus, and it’s really hard to find them,” Schneyer continued. “I think that everyone should be able to find all the resources—no matter their social network, no matter whether they know seniors, no matter whether they’re in the know. Everyone should get equal access to those resources. There are ways in which a student-generated, grassroots document like this can give access in a way that putting stuff up on different department websites won’t.”

Babbs pointed to Northfield Option housing as an example. “You can’t publish anywhere the amount rent is per month for living in a house,” they said. “So to figure out how feasible a financial option that is for you, you need to know seniors who have Northfield Option. There’s no reason that’s such private information, and this kind of guide allows for information that wouldn’t normally be able to be shared.”

Schneyer and Babbs, both seniors, are currently in the process of finding people to take the reins next year.
The two hope the guide remains unaffiliated with any Carleton organization. “I don’t even know what something like this would function out of, office-wise,” said Babbs. “Because it is so interconnected.”

“That’s kind of an ongoing conversation,” Babbs continued. “How do we get it to people without trying to make it through an office where the Carleton bureaucracy gets tied up with it? How do we keep it an accessible resource for the most people while maintaining the beauty of it being outsourced and kind of unedited?”

“I think in its present state, it’s already really helpful,” noted Schneyer. “But if it gets more helpful, that’s even better!”

“I think the reach it’s already had at this point has made it more than worth it,” added Babbs. “There are people who now know about things that they didn’t know that can be really beneficial to their lives.”

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