The National Working Class Student Union: Giving you a voice

The Birth of a Union

Before 25-year-old Chynna Haas of Beloit, Wisconsin began college, she planned on attending UW-Whitewater to become a high school teacher. However, a visit to the UW-Madison campus changed her mind.

Chynna Haas at Beloit College in Beloit, WI

Chynna Haas at UW-Madison on her graduation day

“I fell in love with the campus,” Haas said. “I fell in love with the atmosphere, and I had this whole idea in my head that maybe being a teacher wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life, maybe there was something different than that for me.”

However, as a first generation college student, Haas knew very little about the application or financial aid processes.

A few weeks into her first semester, she received a letter stating that she didn’t owe the university any money and that her tuition had been paid in full via financial aid. A few days later, she received a second letter stating that she owed $1,000, which was to be paid immediately or she would be kicked out of the university.

Haas set up a meeting with a financial aid officer to find out why she had been sent the letter and how she could remedy it. Instead of offering support and helpful advice, the officer told Haas that she had simply filled out the FAFSA wrong, and instead of owing $1,000, she now owed $1,300.

Distraught, Haas called her parents. They were able to dip into a savings account and loan her the money so that she could remain in school.

“Later, when I was more educated about financial aid, I realized that what had happened was somewhere in the FAFSA I didn’t list all of the scholarship money that had ended up coming in because I received more scholarship money after we already completed the FAFSA,” Haas said. “The university then penalizes you for receiving scholarship money after you complete FAFSA by taking away some of your loans.”

Another financial aid officer proved to be just as unhelpful. After receiving grant money the following semester, Haas made another appointment to learn more about how grant money worked. During this appointment, Haas asked the officer if he knew of any good scholarships she could apply for, if he knew of a good place where she could look for some, or if he knew of any more loans she could apply for that weren’t private.

“That’s when he jokingly suggested that I get pregnant because then I would qualify for more financial aid,” said Haas.

“Every time I left financial aid I would cry because I felt so disempowered, and I was so angry… I left both times crying and knowing that I couldn’t trust financial aid and that I had to just figure it out on my own because they weren’t a resource for me.”

However, the financial aid office was not the only place where Haas experienced difficulty.

“I had a bunch of experiences during my first year that I couldn’t explain because no one had ever given me that language…to explain that it was classism,” Haas said.

One large example Haas uses is an experience she had in a sociology class during her freshman year:

“One of the last discussions we had, we started talking about what if affirmative action was class based instead of race based,” Haas said. “[The class] started talking about how it wouldn’t be a good idea because low income people shouldn’t be on the campus since ‘they’ wouldn’t know how to use the library, ‘they’ wouldn’t know how to use the buses…that was something I was really uncomfortable with. …Also part of the issue too is, they started assuming that there were no low-income or working class people in the room.”

She became the most frustrated after she began processing this.

“In all of these instances, [others] just assumed that people like me weren’t there, and if we were at that university that in a way, we should have to change ourselves to conform. Colleges want you to change your behavior to fit into a middle class type.  That’s part of graduating- that’s what you’re learning- how to behave as a middle class person. They look at it as arming you with cultural capital to be successful in society. A lot of people look at it as them telling you that your entire existence is wrong and you need to change who you are to fit in.”

Thus, the National Working Class Student Union was born.

Well, almost.

Haas first founded the Working Class Student Union after a struggle about whether or not to withdraw from UW-Madison. She had all of her paperwork filled out and ready to go, but, according to Haas, her stubbornness got the best of her.

“…I was like, maybe there are other students going through what I’m going through, and maybe I should try to find them before I just start giving up and leaving because I’m always going to wonder if I could’ve made it,” said Haas.

So, she asked some friends of hers who were also a part of the working class to sign a paper so she could start a student organization. Afterward, she began advertising for a “working class forum,” where, with the help of other working class students and allies, a list of over 50 problems students had encountered on the campus due to class was generated.

She then used this list to determine what the services and programs offered by the Working Class Student Union would be. Soon after, Haas realized that in order to facilitate the necessary programs on a federal level, her organization would need to be founded nationally. And, because the Working Class Student Union was the first of its kind in the United States, Haas was able to upgrade to the National Working Class Student Union.

Classism

Classism is differential treatment based on social class or perceived social class. Classism is the systematic oppression of subordinated class groups to advantage and strengthen the dominant class groups. It’s the systematic assignment of characteristics of worth and ability based on social class.
http://www.classism.org/about-class/what-is-classism

Each and every day, people pass judgment on each other. We judge hairstyles, skin color, the way others dress and act, attractiveness (“pretty” or “cute” versus “ugly”), the kind of cars others drive, and a wide array of other things.

It’s also no surprise that racism is, has been, and probably will continue to be an issue for our country. In an attempt to correct those wrongs, there have been movements, protests, changed laws, and even violence by those impassioned by the cause. And as with all things in life, it isn’t just white and black. There is a large gray area- filled with basically every other race in the world. Unfortunately, the mindset of some people seems to stay the same regardless of the changing world around them- “they” don’t belong here, and somehow the existence of others who differ from me is wrong.

Sexism is another big issue in the US and around the world. Women are very often treated as second-class citizens- property, with little to no rights.

With all of the other “isms” in the world, Chynna Haas introduced me to a new one- classism.

Classism is an issue that isn’t widely, if at all, discussed in the realm I’m from. I, like many others in the Southeastern Wisconsin area, grew up in a small suburb filled with working class families. Despite my sheltered life, I’ve grown in a very short period of time to realize that classism surrounds all of us.

“I had a roommate for my first year who told me that the fact that I shopped at Wal-Mart, and that I shopped at Target, was dirty,” Haas said. “She thought they were gross stores and that I was basically a gross person for shopping there.”

Haas also once had a professor who said that “poor people are the downfall of democracy.”

“I overheard some people the other day discussing the [Salvation Army] bell ringers,” said a student at UW-Whitewater. “They were [talking] about how it isn’t their fault that people don’t have money, and they shouldn’t have to give their money to help poor people. They basically said that it was their life decisions that put them in the class they were in, and it was their fault for not getting out of it.”

While many people believe a person’s class is something easy to “break out” of by going to school, that isn’t necessarily true. According to Haas, most people in our society are not upwardly mobile. Statistically, children of parents who are working class will die at a lower economic status than their parents were born into- the United States is actually a downwardly mobile society.

Furthermore, Haas (along with many others) believes that class is actually an important part of a person’s identity, and class itself is a culture.

“The things I enjoy eating, the music I like listening to, what I do with my free time, family traditions…all of those things are culture that you don’t necessarily have to let go of as your economics change,” said Haas.

Many of the problems regarding living in a downwardly mobile society, people being treated differently due to class, and not being able to “move up” in society while keeping class as a culture actually stem from a system called “tracking” used in schools.

From the time children start school, they are divided academically. According to the National Education Association (nea.org), students are divided into “Redbirds” and “Bluebirds” based on demonstrated academic ability, the traits students demonstrate, and which class the students’ families hold. In secondary school, students are more heavily divided into the system, and their label follows them through each grade level. Certain students are steadily placed in classrooms with lower expectations. These students are not given as many chances to sign up for advanced placement classes. They are not talked to by guidance counselors about college. They are not told when to apply, how to apply, or which schools would be a good fit for them. Other students who are placed higher in the tracking system consistently end up in more difficult courses, are given more opportunities to earn college credits while in high school, and receive more help from teachers and counselors in deciding which schools to go to.

Another hindrance on lower or working-class students is the fact that study materials are so expensive. Remember taking the ACTs or SATs? The tests themselves can sometimes be costly to families, and then on top of it, certain study materials can be out of the question financially. Therefore, if students are even able to afford these tests, they oftentimes can’t afford to study for them. This often results in lower test grades, which reduces student choices to community colleges, technical schools, or no schooling at all.

There are, of course, people who beat the system. But even then- when people are able to defy the tracking systems, achieve good grades on required tests, and are admitted to four year universities- they still are, oftentimes, not given the guidance they need.

Take Haas, for example. She filled out her FAFSA wrong. She had no prior experience with this form, her parents couldn’t help her, and when she asked for help at her university, she was basically turned away. She asked for assistance finding more scholarships or loans, and was told to get pregnant so she would qualify for more.

So, what are working and lower class students supposed to do? Accept that there is no place for “people like them” in the professional world? Accept that retail job as a sealed fate? Should they just pretend to be something they aren’t, change the way they dress, the way they speak, the things they enjoy, and force themselves to assimilate into the middle class so they fit in?

Haas, along with those working with the National Working Class Student Union, have other ideas.

Service

The National Working Class Student Union gives students (working class, lower class, first generation, non-traditional, or whoever else feels that they may need help) an opportunity to hold workshops in their universities. These students are provided with materials from the National WCSU which help educate them (as well as teach them how to educate others) on what class is and how it plays out in higher education.

Advocacy

Students can learn to be advocates or have an advocate accompany them to meetings as a third party. This helps reduce “he said, she said” situations and equalizes the power dynamic between staff members and students- this means that financial aid officers are less likely to say inappropriate things (like “go get pregnant”). Advocates are also provided with materials to help students with any other situations they may encounter: classist roommates, how to properly fill out financial aid packages so that errors don’t occur in the first place, how to deal with professors who make inappropriate and classist comments, even which medical providers around campus use a sliding scale or discounted prices for students.

How to start a chapter

Since the National WCSU is still in the process of filing with the federal government as a non-profit, they aren’t actively working on building chapters. However, this does not mean that chapters can’t be started- simply, the National WCSU is not visiting campuses and trying to start chapters yet.

If you or someone you know is interested in starting a chapter of the National WCSU at a local university, or if you simply want more information, feel free to visit their website and contact Chynna Haas via email. She will follow up with you and discuss possible issues that are occurring on your campus, as well as how to get started.
If you would like Haas to visit your school to speak about classism and the National WCSU, you may email her at chynna@workingclassroots.com.

Have you ever been discriminated against because of your class? Have you seen someone treated differently because of theirs? Share your stories in the comments below.

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The Chicago Tribune: okay, the website makes up for it

ChicagoTribune.com

ChicagoTribune.com

Every day, millions of people rely on local news sites, stations, papers, and radio stations to update them on the important events occurring around the world.

In a huge metropolis such as Chicago, journalists have quite a large task before them- covering everything in the city (and let’s face it- there is always a plethora of news in big cities) as well as important statewide news while still informing local citizens about key events occurring in the nation and the world. It’s quite easy to conclude that the Chicago Tribune has their work cut out for them.

Luckily, the design of their web page is a good start for almost any internet surfer; the Chicago Tribune offers a simple, easily-navigated layout with very few advertisements to distract readers. The main page focuses on popular stories, such as local football scores, record-breaking weather, and local news.

target adUnlike many other news sites that seem to make it a goal to send readers into seizures, the simple layout of the Tribune also means very few advertisements. While using multiple browsers, only one pop-up advertisement was detected, along with a simple (tiny)advertisement for Target department stores in the upper right-hand corner of the main page. The main, most noticeable advertisement on the site is one created by the Tribune for their “ditigalPLUS exclusives,” which upon purchase grants readers access to more stories as well as more in-depth coverage and interviews of other news events (yes, it’s an advertisement for their paywall).

Following what any journalist learns in the first week of classes, the organization of the site is very clearly in “inverted pyramid” style, which positions “important” and widely read stories (such as sports) at the top of the page and stories like “How to spot used car flood damage” at the bottom. This organization not only helps readers find important information and breaking news but it also helps to lure people in; important stories have links to other (possibly less important) stories, which link to other interesting pieces. Ultimately, the reader spends more time reading than was originally intended, and the Tribune has more opportunities to offer up exclusive content behind their pay wall.

Although no concrete information on revenue generated by the Chicago Tribune could be found, complaints often appear on their Facebook page of the appearance of a strict paywall after five premium stories (which can be located by a blue plus sign next to the headline, as seen multiple times here) per month have been read. After the limit has been reached, readers are prompted with an option to pay $14.99 to receive the digitalPLUS package. Paper subscribers also have the option of paying $2 more per month in order to receive access to the exclusive online content offered by the Tribune.

Pay wall screen capture 12/2/12

In addition to the main stories down the middle of the page, breaking news stories line the right-hand side in short headlines that allow readers to quickly decide whether the story is important, applicable to their lives, or just plain interesting.

Smart phone screen capture, 12/2/12

Smart phone screen capture, 12/2/12

For those who have to read on the go, the mobile access to the website is arguably among some of the best in its field, offering a very simplistic layout that won’t slow down smart phones while still maintaining all of the same content as the main web page. However, the main page of the mobile website does feature a banner advertisement, which is larger (comparatively, for the screen size) than the advertisement for Target on the first page.

Although the layout of the Tribune is superior to almost any I’ve seen, this hasn’t really changed the types of people who are attracted to the page; similar to many news websites, the key demographics of this long tail site include mostly males from 35-49 years of age who make above $100,000 per year (as of 2010).

Perhaps in an effort to keep things simple (and faster for smart phones), multimedia usage on the website remains fairly basic with pictures laid out in almost the same way on every page, little to no slideshows, and minimal (in comparison with some other news sites) usage of video footage.

User-Generated content, giving readers a chance to share their own opinions and receive feedback from other users, can be located under the “opinion” menu at the top of the page. Here readers can find articles, blogs, and letters to the editor written by fellow users. Readers are given the option of “tweeting” a story or sharing it on a Google+ page; interestingly enough, there is no option for sharing a story via Facebook, even though the Tribune utilizes the social media website daily.

All in all, the Tribune’s website makes up for what their Facebook page lacks, and there are absolutely no complaints here.

What do you think about Chicago Tribune’s simplistic website? User-friendly? Outdated? Leave your comments below.

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Critiquing The Chicago Tribune (Please, try a little bit harder.)

Social media is the way of the modern world. Whether running for public office, trying to spread the word about an issue or event, or looking for 15 minutes of fame, it’s inevitable that some sort of social media outlet will be (or rather, has to be) used.

Take newspapers. Most papers now have a website for posting pictures, stories, and receiving reader commentary, which has been invaluable to the business. It would be quite reasonable to say that the newspaper industry wouldn’t be afloat anymore if companies still relied solely on ink and paper productions. People enjoy being able to log onto their computers, hop on the internet and read the “paper” without ever having to change out of their pajamas or step out into the frigid winter air (this is the Northern US, after all).

However, instead of relying on websites targeted precisely at news and waiting for readers to head on over, papers are now going directly to their readers by making Facebook accounts where fans (or people who really, really dislike them) are able to very publicly write good or bad opinions on their “wall” for the world to see.

For this post, the Chicago Tribune will be used as a[n] (bad) example.

Most other Facebook pages made by newspapers can be seen interacting with readers, responding to posts, asking opinions, posting human-like and personable articles, and promoting thought-provoking conversations (like here, here, or here). Not the Tribune.

A reader complains about the alleged partisanship of the Chicago Tribune.

Sure, the Tribune posts articles- that much is obvious. However, the articles posted are oftentimes unreachable to those who haven’t paid for an online subscription, as many users openly complain about on the Tribune’s page. Also in the complaints appeared commentary about the Tribune allegedly supporting Barack Obama prior to the election (one reader stated that it has “always been a Republican paper” and shared her disgust with the supposed backing for the Democratic President) as well as the Tribune’s failure to deliver newspapers to a man’s house (to which he repeatedly demonstrated disgust at the idea of dishing out money to a paywall while he was already paying for an unfulfilled subscription to the newspaper). In the midst of all of this, not one single reply was made from the Tribune addressing any complaints, furthering any conversations, or engaging with any readers. Not even one. (Can you find any?)

Social media is incredibly important, especially in this day and age. However, what good does it do if readers can’t see any articles, and the original poster(s) are completely disengaged with commentators? What’s the point of a Facebook page where almost no one can benefit from any posts, and all comments and concerns go ignored?

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After this post, you’re gonna have to pay me.

Just kidding. But not all websites are.

As a student majoring in journalism, I’ve heard the pros and cons of paywalls on news sites weighed more times than I can count.

I think it’s safe to say that almost everyone who is heavily involved in news (by which I mean either writes or reads the news on a very regular basis) has been waiting for the day that paywalls will either take over all news sites or vanish completely.

As Clay Shirky explains in this article, when people receive news from the television or radio, they are not buying every episode or every breaking news story. They bought the television, and the shows are free (well, most of them). They bought the radio, so they don’t pay for the news. If they pay for cable television, they’re still paying for the way news is received, not for the specific 30 to 60 minute time slot allotted for a station. Using this logic, someone who buys a computer should receive the news for free.

Yes, for a very long time people have paid for newspapers. However, at a whole fifty cents per issue, the cost of newspapers could pretty much pay for the ink and paper. Also, (unless the reader was a diligent recycler) newspapers tend to take up a lot of space in landfills.

In television and radio, revenue is brought in via advertising. The same goes for the internet, which generates revenue via pop-up ads, pay-per-click, and annoyances. The newspaper industry used advertising, too, selling certain sizes of ad space to various companies and services. So why is the news industry freaking out about installing paywalls? Why not just choose good advertisers (key word here is “good,” not “more”) and let readers roam free?

This is all without even mentioning how porous and easily bypassed many paywalls are. One commenter mentioned that all they have to do on a certain site is push the “x” to stop loading the web page as soon as the articles load. Others have said that they just delete the cookies attached to their browsers and try again. There are ways to change an IP address too which, if a reader is desperate enough and the paywall is strict enough, can be a pain to do.

Some say that, since websites don’t usually sell all of their advertising space anyways, the revenue from pay walls (no matter how small) will make up for the decrease in traffic that would otherwise pay out in the form of ads.

But if a news site loses 80% of its readership because of a paywall, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a newspaper?

Something that I have always been taught and believe very strongly to be true is that journalists are the gatekeepers of information- love us or hate us, the media tells you everything from celebrity gossip to which restaurants will most likely give you food poisoning to local, national, and global tragedies. Journalists decide what to write and when to write it. They do all of the grunt work, digging, researching, questioning and fact-checking that a non-journalist wouldn’t think of or care enough about to do. And do you know why journalists do this? Why people purposefully go into this field knowing about the lousy pay and even lousier hours?

Because bringing the news to people is important. Keeping people informed is important. Breaking scandals and finding out the truth behind why things have happened is important. We might be slight adrenaline junkies. And probably because we enjoy writing a little bit.

My point in all of this is that, as journalists, we know we aren’t going to be rich off of our line of work. This is something we are all taught from the first day we step foot in a university classroom. We also know that there’s a chance that we’re going to be shipped to another continent or do an interview in a warzone. We know that sometimes when the truth is brought to the surface that our lives may be on the line. And we know that people are going to pay a very diminutive amount of money to receive all of this information. Even local news anchors start out making minimum wage and working terrible hours. But none of this is a surprise.

We, as journalists, do this job because we love it and we know that what we’re doing makes a difference in the world. As I stated earlier, we know we aren’t going to make a lot of money from this field. We’re very well aware of the fact that we’ll be working during Christmas, most likely miss a lot of our kids’ soccer games, and probably end up getting called into work multiple times on days when we should have off. However, our jobs have meaning, and putting a paywall in place completely defeats the whole purpose.

There are a select few who will be willing to pay the sum of money needed to access an entire news site. There are more people who are going to figure out a way to circumvent the entire process and not have to deal with it. Even more people will either just find a completely free website or just wait until the news comes on TV and watch it all.

Am I complaining? Not even close. I don’t want to throw money at a paywall, either. I don’t want to pay more money for a local newspaper, and I’m certainly not upgrading my cable TV so I can have a “better” news station. I’m going to do what almost everyone else does- I’m going to Google the story and find it for free somewhere else.

Lastly- please don’t blame the journalists for the paywalls. I’m sure there are plenty who agree with the idea, but there are also many who don’t. And I can promise you that the ones who don’t support paywalls, who are sitting in front of their computers and watching their page views plummet because their company decided to implement a cap on the number of free pages viewed, are more crushed by the fact that their hard-earned work is going unread than by the thought of not becoming rich (or, I guess, even slightly increasing their income) off of their career.

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Honey Boo-Boo in a green and yellow dress

Honey Boo-Boo in a green and yellow dress

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Jefferson County Board Meeting 10/9

The Jefferson County Board met last Tuesday, Oct. 9, to discuss purchasing the Old Countryside Home at 1425 Wisconsin Drive for use as a highway shop.

In the Oct. 9 meeting 19 out of 28 members approved to buy the land. The county will offer $200,000 for the Countryside. The purchase is contingent upon the city of Jefferson changing the zoning for the area so that the house may be torn down and a highway shop can be built on the land. Highway shops are used for storage of salt and brine solution as well as machine work and showers, lockers and a lunch room for workers.

The Board also discussed the city budget plan. The tax levy for 2012 was set for $26.7 million, while the levy for 2013 will be raised to $26.8 million. Revenue is up about $28,000. The board has projected that by April 15, 2013, the county of Jefferson will be debt free.

Other topics covered included:

  • A resident complaint of a 25 foot long boat being removed from his property after another resident reported to police that the boat was his. Police showed up and removed the boat from the yard. When the man tried to report it as stolen, he was declined
  • The building of a highway satellite facility in Lake Mills, Wisconsin
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Map of Crime in Whitewater, WI

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