Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Little History

In October I visited UW-Madison to speak at events that WCSU hosted for their Working Class Celebration Month. Before traveling to Madison, I web searched information about the class origins of UW undergraduates. Among others, I found Richard Kahlenberg's review of data that led him to conclude that the "University of Wisconsin – Madison [r]anks [p]oorly on SES [d]iversity." He based this claim, in part, on information showing that in 2007 only 13.1% of these students were receiving Pell Grants, placing UW 41st out of 43 of the nation's flagship universities on this measure of social class diversity. Elsewhere, Kahlenberg determined that UW ranked 30th out of 43 of the nation's major campuses on what he called the Low-Income Student Access Ratio at Selected Flagship Public Universities, another measure of equal opportunity in higher learning. Finally, Kahlenberg recommended that UW abandon its practice of favoring alumni children when deciding admissions. According to the title of a book he edited, he deems this practice Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions (2010). UW officials still favor legacies, notwithstanding Kahlenberg's recommendation as well as its stated devotion to: "Equal Opportunity: The UW System is committed to equal opportunity for all. No student may be denied admission to, participation in or the benefits of, or be discriminated against in any service, program, course or facility of the system or its institutions because of the student's race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, disability, ancestry, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status or PARENTAL STATUS" (emphasis added).

After reviewing Kahlenberg's writings, I read an earlier study that concluded:

Over the past decade, the percentage of low-income students on this campus (small to begin with) has fallen sharply. In the class entering in 2002, fewer than 7 percent came from families earning $28,000 or less [the lowest quintile] while more than 34 per cent came from families earning $87,000 or more [the highest quintile] (2005).

In other words, there were five times more instate UW freshmen from families in the top income quintile than students from families in the lowest income quintile. Moreover, the report showed a strong relationship between family income and the percent of students in each quintile. **See quintile graph.

These disparities have likely understated the true extent of socioeconomic inequalities among UW undergraduates, as research shows that students from lower income families are more likely to drop out sometime before graduating compared to their cohorts of wealthier origins.

In Engines of Inequality: Diminishing Equity in the Nation’s Premier Public Universities (2006), Gerald and Haycock gave UW an F grade for both "Low-Income Access" and "Progress in Low-Income Access."
Working Toward the Future

I offer the preceding facts and comments to say the Working Class Student Union (WCSU) is a welcomed addition to the UW campus. I applaud Chynna Haas for founding WCSU in 2007. After spending time with Dena Ohlinger, WCSU's current president, and Lori Randall, its outreach director, I know the organization has strong leadership. Based on my readings about UW and my various interactions while on campus, I offer the following suggestions for further expanding WCSU operations:

First, I urge current and future WCSU members to recruit more UW faculty, administrators, and staff to their cause. These individuals can offer WCSU members invaluable insights about issues ranging from student recruitment, to financial aid, study skills, selecting academic majors and minors, career options, resume and cover letter writing, simulating job and professional school interviews, attending graduate and professional schools via fellowships and assistant-ships and so forth.

Second, WCSU's leadership should press UW officials to include socioeconomic origins among the university's "affirmative action" and "diversity" concerns. Expanding these definitions in this way would give further impetus to many recommendations listed in Restoring Access at UW-Madison: A Report from the 2004-05 Committee on Undergraduate Recruitment, Admissions, and Financial Aid (2005), including specialized outreach programs directed toward bringing more working class students to campus and once enrolled offering them the attention and resources necessary for success.

Third, the WCSU leadership should work with University officials to begin gathering more detailed information about the socioeconomic origins of UW students. The current application form simply asks "Has either of your parents earned a four-year college/university degree? Yes or No." UW should revise its application form to include detailed questions about parental education, occupation, and family income. I would ask all UW applicants to voluntarily provide this socioeconomic information about both parents (stepparents, caretakers, or guardians).

Fourth, university officials should annually provide WCSU with a data set containing this more detailed information about parental occupation, income, and education. WCSU should task one or two of its student members with analyzing these statistics with an eye toward identifying major trends and relevant concerns. After just one year of gathering and studying this quantitative information, WCSU members will appreciate even more the power derived from having and knowing statistics relevant to the organization's objectives.

Fifth, I encourage WCSU members to work with university officials to recruit and hire more faculty and administrators who were first-generation college and of working class origins. As various studies have shown, socioeconomic background strongly predicts who will become a college professor or administrator. Currently, university officials collect and hold various demographic statistics about UW faculty and administrators, but they gather no information about their socioeconomic origins. As part of its diversity efforts, university officials should gather and maintain class background information about these individuals. Each year, the assembled data should be made available to the WCSU members responsible for conducting the statistical studies mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Sixth, I urge the WCSU leadership to direct a special effort toward enrolling members who are studying for the PhD. Most doctoral students have acquired considerable research skills that will allow them to write dissertations on topics relevant to WCSU concerns, such as developing policies meant to bring more working class students to the UM campus. The list of possible research topics is limitless.

Finally, according to Opportunity Adrift: Our Flagship Universities are Straying from Their Public Mission (2010, p. 10), "Several flagship universities have recognized the need to increase the access and success of low-income and minority students and are making concerted efforts to improve." UW is one of the roughly dozen colleges participating in "Access to Success Initiative." Members of this collective are committed to "pursu[ing] aggressive goals aimed at improving student success and cutting in half by 2015 the gaps in college-going and completion that separate low income and minority students from their peers." I urge WCSU members to work closely with UW officials who are part of this Access to Success Initiative in terms of recruiting and admitting more working class students to the Madison campus. WCSU members can provide invaluable insights to the university's leadership in regard to achieving these worthwhile objectives.

As I was driving home from Madison, I kept wondering why most campuses, especially the country's other flagship universities and most of its leading private colleges, do not have their own versions of WCSU. As various published studies show, the time is right for all democratic minded students, faculty and administrators to contact WCSU for advice about establishing a similar organization on their campuses. Lead on WCSU. You are on the right side of history.

Kahlenberg, R. Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy preferences in college admissions. 2010. New York: Century Foundation Press.

Restoring Access at UW-Madison: A report from the 2004-05 committee on undergraduate recruitment, admissions and financial aid. 2005.

Gerald & Haycock. Engines of Inequality: Diminishing Equity in the Nation’s Premier Public Universities. 2006.

Written by our Working Class Celebration Month Keynote speaker, Kenneth Oldfield, an emeritus professor of public administration at the University of Illinois-Springfield. He has spent the last decade publishing articles and a book (with co-editor Richard Johnson) about first generation college students of working class origins.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Class Diversity on Campus

What comes to mind when the word diversity comes up? Words that are typically mentioned include race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion. Many times class is forgotten in the diversity discussion. Why is this? The Working Class Student Union continues to ask the campus community this question.

Class & Diversity

Anyone can see from past events - one as recently as September when Roger Clegg, president and general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity, visited the campus and was greeted by protestors - that the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus has a long background in standing up for diversity.* And, while the UW-Madison administrators are constantly working on improving the diversity climate on campus, class is still rarely, if at all, mentioned in the diversity dialogue. Even recently when The Daily Cardinal ran an article titled “Diversity Committee asks Student Groups for Input,” they explained that “the committee sent out a questionnaire to ethnically, religiously and sexually diverse groups on campus to better understand how ASM could improve its diversity efforts” (Duffin, p. 3). Unfortunately there was no mention of class in this article, although ASM did send a questionnaire to WCSU.

This is startling when 65 percent of the U.S. population is classified as working class or below (even if they do not associate themselves specifically with these classes) (U.S. Census Bureau. 2010). That is two thirds of the U.S.! Unfortunately, we do not have statistics currently for how many UW-Madison students are considered working class,* but the census information should still cause one to wonder why class is not a bigger topic of discussion on this campus. Students’ voices from certain classes are not being heard at this university and on top of that, many students and faculty alike are not aware of the issues and culture of the working class. Many well-educated people have never witnessed or experienced a working class culture and do not have the necessary means to understand it. College should be the perfect opportunity to learn about class consciousness, diversity and separations. It should be included in all of the rest of our liberal arts education, right? So why isn’t it and why isn’t it talked about more? There are courses about many different cultures and issues, but few that discuss class, let alone center around class, classism and the many issues that surround both. This needs to change and so does the vocabulary that surrounds class issues.*

WCSU is working to break down these barriers, but it is hard when class is seldom mentioned in campus lingo or policies. The Provost’s Diversity statement states, “We live in a diverse society that is … interconnected with the … economic interests of people in other parts of the world. … At UW-Madison we have made significant progress in our efforts to create a campus that reflects the diversity of our society and the world beyond it” (DeLuca, Provost’s Diversity Statement). While this is a step in the right direction of facing the issues of class, class is not specifically mentioned and the phrasing of these sentences makes it sound as though economics in other parts of the world are more important to learn about than what is happening in our own country. In defense of the statement though, it is overall very vague and neither highlights specific groups nor ignores them, and WCSU acknowledges it is impossible to include every topic of diversity in one statement. UW-Madison has also “increased need-based funding,” (DeLuca) which is fundamental for students from working class backgrounds.

What may add to the confusion is that the Office for Equity and Diversity has different sets of “guidelines” for students (current and applicants), employees (current and applicants) and visitors/guests “wishing to take part in university activities” ( The website states that, “The university is committed to providing equal opportunity and equal access” ( It goes on to state different “bases for covering” the aforementioned groups ( Each group has a different set of “bases” to cover them, but what does that mean? Does it mean that UW-Madison respects its students’ diversity more than its employees’ or guests’? Does it mean that guests should be treated differently than students or employees? Clarification would be helpful.

WCSU does applaud the work that the Division of Diversity and Campus Climate; the UW-Madison Provost, Paul M. DeLuca, Jr.; the Vice Provost for Diversity & Climate, Damon A Williams; and the Office for Equity and Diversity have accomplished. We simply hope that the issue of class will be included as the diversity conversation on this campus continues.

For further reading about diversity and a startling opinion from a UW-Madison professor emeritus, follow this link:

*Read this Channel3000 report about the protests regarding Clegg’s visit:
* Also visit the student Facebook event that was created to spread awareness:!/event.php?eid=194213517316120
* The use of working class in this article includes working class and all others classified
below working class as well.
* Stay tuned for a blog concerning different phrases and statements we have heard on
campus that can be considered hurtful, discriminatory, prejudiced and ignorant.

Works Cited
Duffin, A. (2011, October 26). Diversity Committee asks student groups for input.
The Daily Cardinal, p. 3.
DeLuca, Paul. M., Jr. (Date unknown). Provost’s Diversity Statement.
(n.d) Office for Equity and Diversity.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's Almost Here!

One of the most anticipated events of the 2010-11 school year is almost here, and it’s not the Mifflin Street Block Party.

The opening of the new Union South is on Friday, April 15th. The long awaited project is part of a plan to “Preserve the Past and Build the Future” in improving Memorial Union and create the new Union South.

Union South’s design is committed to sustainability and green design, and holds a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold standard. The Environmental Protection Agency defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Union South aims for this goal in order to build the future of the Wisconsin Union tradition.

The building project is paid for through student segregated fees, private donations, and other fundraising sources. No tuition or tax money was used in the construction of the Union.

Grand opening events range from art projects to concerts to movies to dance lessons. A full list of events and more information on the project can be found at

Take advantage of the beautiful project your segregated fees helped create and visit the new Union South when it opens! Hope to see you there!

Monday, March 28, 2011

It's an Art

In my experience, contemporary art, especially photography, is all about making you think. Seeing something you see every day presented in a new perspective makes it more significant. The artistic spin on a photograph or sculpture can change an object; it becomes art.

The Overture Center for the Arts is currently running an exhibit entitled “Wisconsin Labor: A Contemporary Portrait”, a showcase of photographs depicting the diversity of labor and workers throughout our state. The artists show their respect for their subjects and the labor force of the state through photographs. In light of recent political events, this exhibition is especially pertinent and something that should definitely make us think.

The exhibit runs through April 10th in the James Watrous Gallery of the Overture Center, on the 200 block of State Street. For more information, visit

WCSU is also exploring art this month, with another installment of Cultural Art Night this Thursday at 6:00 PM in SAC #3118. Join us in expressing your creative ideas through various artistic outlets!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Join Our Team - Help Our Cause!

The Working Class Student Union is hiring! Our organization supports and advocates for working class, first-generation, and non-traditional college students. We do this by helping members of the UW-Madison campus to embrace class diversity. If you are interested in working for our organization and promoting our cause, you can apply to be our Communications Director or Outreach Director.

Our Communications Director position includes managing our organization’s publicity. The Communications Director serves as the main media contact and prepares press releases. The position also includes responsibility for promoting WCSU’s events through various modes of advertising. The Communications Director keeps track of the organization’s history and past work and prepares agendas and other necessary materials for officer meetings.

The Outreach Director is responsible for sorting and distributing the organization’s mail and sending a weekly listserve style email to members. Also, the Outreach Director fosters relationships with other campus organizations, as well as University Housing, private housing, the Greek system, and other organizations to schedule WCSU’s events and educational workshops.

Both positions are required to hold at least ten office hours per week. The total time commitment for both is about 20 hours per week. Both positions pay $9.19 an hour. Applications are due this Friday, March 25th at 5:00 PM. Those interested should contact for an application form.

These positions are a great way to get experience for a selective program or professional school and look great on an application or resume. They are a great way to earn some money while making a difference, doing something interesting with flexible scheduling. If you are passionate about helping others and helping better your campus community, consider applying for one of these positions!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Do You Do?

When I tell people that I’m interning with the Working Class Student Union, I often get some confused looks. “What do you do?” they often ask me. I give them specifics of my internship responsibilities, but the idea of our organization is still somewhat lost on them. The “short version” I usually give people is “Supporting and advocating for working class, non-traditional, and first-generation college students.” But what does that mean? Why is that necessary? What do we do?

As for the meaning of our quick tagline, it boils down to recognizing that everyone at this university does not come from the same background. Many students come from a variety of different class backgrounds, and that diversity does not need to be kept a secret; it shouldn’t be embarrassing. Working class students are doing an amazing thing by attending this university and creating a better future for themselves and their families, just like students of other social classes and backgrounds.

This support and advocacy are necessary. Statistically speaking, first-generation college students are at a disadvantage coming in to college, and typically receive average or below average grades and have a lower graduation rate than those students whose parents attended college, according to research done by the National Center for Education Statistics. ( ( Although students might not admit it, sometimes help is necessary, even if it’s just in the form of someone to talk to that understands their situation or some friendly advice.

On that note, now maybe it’s easier to understand what we do. We offer a support network of working class and first-generation college students and allies. Our members have gone through the complications involved with navigating college, tuition, and coursework, among other things. We want to offer students a safe place to talk, people to come to for help, and friends that understand them.

Our organization coordinates movie nights and discussions, issue meetings and forums, study tables, resources, and, most importantly, reaches out to students to help enhance their own “Wisconsin Experience”. Join us sometime for some of our events, we would love to have you!

The Working Class Student Union is hiring two paid positions for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Applications for Communications Director and Outreach Director are being accepted through March 25th. Email for more information!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Studying Abroad on a Budget

As a Spanish major, it’s almost expected of me to study abroad sometime during my college career. At first, I was wary of the idea, I have never been outside the country and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to spend that much time away from my friends and family in America. But after my cousin studied abroad in France and eventually joined the Peace Corps and got stationed in Cameroon, I began to think that maybe if she could do it I could too.

The next step should have been research, but all I could keep thinking about were my financial barriers. My advisor told me that this, my freshman year, was the year to dream big, get ideas about where I wanted to go and when, what kinds of classes I wanted to take, and how they would fit in with my plans to graduate. But before I could even begin to think about it, I was stopped short with thinking about how I would pay for it.

When I asked my advisor about it, she said that for many people, studying abroad isn’t that much more expensive. I found it hard to believe, but compared to out-of-state tuition at the UW, study abroad programs can be relatively affordable. Also, financial aid isn’t treated any differently for study abroad, and scholarships seem to be relatively available. The UW’s International Academic Programs website has a useful guide to researching the cost of programs, financial aid information, and creative fundraising strategies. (

My strategy includes a lot of planning on my part, along with hard work and saving. As a first-generation student, studying abroad is just another college experience that I feel entitled to, and I want to take advantage of the opportunity and hopefully make it work.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Standby Observer's View of the Protests

As a student journalist and communications intern, I’m naturally fascinated by political unrest. The recent rallies in protest of Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget repair bill ( have been a particularly interesting event for me to watch unfold.

But I have only been able to watch from the outside. During times of major protesting and rallies, I’ve been working. Perhaps it’s ironic, since the future cost of my tuition is uncertain, and I’m unable to stand up against it because I’m otherwise occupied trying to pay my current tuition. That aside, it’s been a fascinating experience to see as an observer.

I work two blocks from the Capitol on State Street, in a building with a wall of windows facing the street. Heavy foot traffic and high visibility have lent themselves to a good amount of people watching. The most interesting thing for me to see has been the variety of signs. If their voice cannot be heard, it can be seen.

Apart from the standard “Kill the Bill” or “Stop the Attack on Wisconsin Families”, and a good amount of jokes or obscenity, I’ve seen a good mix of different messages. My favorite so far is also pretty common, “If you can read this, thank a teacher”.

Teachers are by far some of the most vital members of our community. Education is the tool which people use to develop skills and become a contributing member of society. As a first-generation college student, I’ve fought hard to get an education, and I appreciate every one of my teachers and professors that have gotten me this far. The fact that the quality of education I will receive in the future is in jeopardy is unsettling. Financial recovery at the cost of education is an incredibly nearsighted, dangerous prospect of fixing the present without considering the possible implications of the future.

Perhaps soon, when I’m not studying (none of my classes have been cancelled thus far, a fact that I’m also appreciative of) or working, I’ll be able to make it to the Capitol to see for myself what’s going on. This is an incredible time to be a part of a democracy, as we’ve seen in Tunisia and Egypt, and an increasing number of other Middle Eastern countries. In my journalism class, we learned about a concept called “mediated worldliness”, which is the idea that through the media, we are able to experience things and be a part of events all around the world. We can all feel like we’re a part of the democratic process surrounding the passing of this bill by reading about it or hearing about it. Regardless of affiliation, nothing is a substitute for actually standing up, saying something, having an opinion, or voting.

Be an active part of your democracy and value your education that allows you to do just that, they are both things we all tend to take for granted.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The New Badger Partnership - What it Means for You

We’ve all heard talk of the “New Badger Partnership” somewhere, whether it was on the homepage, in one of the local papers, or from a professor or friend. But what does this Partnership really entail? Who is partnering and for what purpose? The details may seem foggy, but the way I see it, there are three main parts to this idea: efficiency within the University of Wisconsin-Madison, flexibility for the UW, and creation and retention of jobs at the UW.

Everyone is aware of the economic climate, and while we’ve heard that “economic times are tough” over and over, sometimes it’s hard to see what’s being done about it. The New Badger Partnership is proposing to increase its efficiency in order to keep costs manageable. With Governor Scott Walker’s budget work underway, the UW wants to be part of the solution to the economic hardships facing the state of Wisconsin, not one of the problems. Asking for additional funding at this time is somewhat unreasonable, and instead of asking for more money, the New Badger Partnership proposes reallocating within instead of asking from the outside.

The Partnership also proposes greater flexibility in order to give Wisconsinites the proper return on their investment in the University. This includes setting market-based tuition, providing adequate financial aid, and pay employees separately from state agency pay plans. This hits especially close to home for students who are wondering what this Partnership could mean for their tuition right now. (

Finally, the Partnership reinforces the ideas of nearly every politician in office or running for office in the past year: job creation. As a major research institution, the University has numerous outlets across the state for job-generating enterprise. The Partnership wants to provide opportunities to recent graduates who are looking to stay in Madison by creating new innovations and creating new job offerings to spur economic development.

To read more about the New Badger Partnership, visit for information, listings of recent news coverage, and events pertaining to the development and fostering of the Partnership.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

New Year, Same Issues

With 2011 getting underway, students are beginning preparations for the 2011-12 school year. As a soon-to-be sophomore, I’ve corrected a few of the errors I made as an incoming freshman and realized two of the most important things in preparing for the next year are housing and tuition. Both are relatively expensive prospects and require planning ahead.

In terms of housing, many students prepare far in advance, signing leases as early as October. But for new freshman, is one month really long enough to decide where and with whom you want to live? And while a lot of freshman (myself included) are having a hard time navigating the renting market and finding a place that’s affordable and acceptable to all of their roommates, older students who are already secure in their housing choices are limiting options for freshman, leaving something of an uneven playing field for fall rentals. This is a hot topic in the upcoming aldermanic race for the District 8 (campus area) seat on Madison’s City Council. A number of candidates are pushing property management groups to delay lease-signing dates in order to improve the rights of tenants and reform housing policies.

And of course as a new school year approaches, tuition is never far from any student’s mind. Especially for those students paying their own way through school (again, myself included), tuition is something of a sore spot. While Governor Scott Walker prepares his new state budget, students are left wondering whether or not University of Wisconsin funding will decrease and affect tuition. Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are now available for the upcoming school year online, but in the current economic climate, loans and grants may seem uncertain. US News and World Report published a story today with some tips for seeking financial aid. (

The UW provides a number of resources to help students manage their finances, including the job center ( and the Financial Aid Office website ( Likewise, our organization, the Working Class Student Union offers a support network of students who are going through or have gone through the same struggles to pay for the various costs associated with going to college. We want to lend our experience and advice to those first-generation and working class college students.