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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Poverty At UMB Flies Under Radar

Poverty At UMB Flies Under Radar

“Welfare was never enough,” said Diane Dujon, former Director of the Competency Connection at the College of Public and Community Service (CPCS). “When I was a student I was getting $311 per month, and $300 went to the landlord. I was supposed to raise a healthy child on the $11 left over.”

Dujon was a single mother on welfare when she graduated from UMB over twenty years ago. She went on to get a job on campus, and eventually pursued a master’s degree. She has since authored a book about women’s poverty, traveled around the country to talk about her work, and continues to work with the community.Dujon was one of the founding members of the Advocacy for Resources for Modern Survival (ARMS) Center at UMB, which provides students, especially single mothers, with information about the benefits they are entitled to and how to get them.”We worked together as a group and if one didn’t have something, maybe someone else did. We sort of pulled our resources to help each other get through.”The ARMS Center also started a newsletter to let people know about the benefits they are entitled to. Survival News is published by Survivors, Inc., a non-profit Massachusetts corporation of low-income women and their allies. Their goal is to “build a movement for welfare rights and economic justice.”In 2008, 31 percent of in-state, fulltime UMB students received Pell Grants, which cover full tuition and textbook costs and are typically awarded to undergraduates with a family income of less than $40,000 a year. That’s compared with the other UMass campuses: 23 percent at Amherst, 22 percent at Dartmouth and 20 percent at Lowell.”Even if they’re not technically poor, a lot of our students have grown up in families that are worried about money,” said Professor Ann Withorn, of the CPCS. “Very few of our students are comfortable enough to not work while they’re in school.”Many students worry about money and for the ones who are near or under the poverty line, the challenge to stay in school has always been enormous. After the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, it has become virtually impossible.”It changed welfare as we knew it,” said Dujon.Dujon is especially worried about single mothers, who, because of welfare guidelines, have to balance being fulltime students while also working 30 hours a week and taking care of their children by themselves.”There’s no more important work than raising our children,” she said. “And I think one of the reasons we’re having such a hard time is that nobody’s home with the children, nobody’s watching them, and the kids are left to raise themselves. I think as a society, we’re going to regret that.”Coming from a background of poverty has implication beyond the financial aspects. Poor students can be unprepared for the demands of college.”Getting higher education is harder when you don’t know many people who’ve done it,” said Withorn. “You can’t ask anyone about how to write a paper, because you think that the others know and you don’t. Many poor kids feel like it’s not for them, it’s not their place. They didn’t have the experience that the standard middle class kids did.”Withorn argues that professors need to be aware that UMB is a “financially mixed” university.”Our faculty used to try pretty hard to be aware,” she said. “If you are the kind of faculty that wants to assign five books in a week, you wouldn’t come here.”For the students who are on welfare, shame can also play a role.

“Society as a whole has gotten less tolerant of poverty,” Withorn said. “We need to watch ourselves and not say things like, ‘they’re on welfare.’ No individual student should feel stigmatized.”Dujon agrees.”People are very sensitive,” she said. “They feel like they’re getting something they don’t deserve.”When asked how she managed to overcome numerous obstacles and graduate while raising a daughter, Dujon replied,”I prayed a lot, and I was a good shopper. Education is the way out of poverty. I really believe that.”

About the Contributor
Shira Kaminsky served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years Editor-in-Chief: Spring 2012; 2012-2013 Managing Editor: Fall 2011 Arts Editor: Fall 2010