The Other Class

plastic game pieces for the game of Life

April 05, 2018

Economic Justice, part 2 of 2 

By Sidnee Grubb ('18)

Part of the Jesuit approach to becoming people for others is contemplative action, facing our world’s injustices and deciphering how to act ethically. In the business ethics seminars taught by lecturer Adriane Leithauser, students uncover tools that help them examine their own communities for economic disparity.

In Leithauser’s other classes – fundamentals of business ethics and senior seminar in ethics – students begin by looking at Gonzaga’s mission statement and considering a challenge of how future business leaders can express a commitment to solidarity with the poor and vulnerable. Because wealth inequality can seem rather abstract, she guides students through materials that make it more concrete. Everything from Federal Reserve documents and NPR articles to YouTube videos and segments from “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Most impactful and visually demonstrative is an income-rank calculator provided by CNN. As students input their own families’ income or what they anticipate their future income to be, they discover that a large proportion of American households get by with less. This is income inequality: the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, and the ever-rising cost of living.

14.3%: The number of Gonzaga undergraduates who qualified for Pell grants in academic year 2016-17

$5,234 or less: The amount a family may be able to contribute to a student’s college tuition (per year) in order to qualify for a Federal Pell Grant, based on family income and assets.

That income disparity exists at Gonzaga, where many students come from privileged economic backgrounds, two-parent homes with two comfortable incomes.

“Many are shocked to learn just how little income other people live on. They are also shocked to learn where they land on the spectrum, particularly as they compare their own family’s background to what’s considered ‘poor’ in Spokane,” says Leithauser. “I hope that these lessons will break apart the assumptions we make about the difference between wealth and poverty in America.”

The Other College Expenses

In addition to expected costs like textbooks, meals and transportation, there are the endless choices for spending money that take place outside the classrooms – clubs, spiritual retreats, special events, the occasional night on the town, or the chance to ski at a local mountain.

Fortunately, creative thinking on the part of students, faculty and staff is helping to alleviate some of those concerns that prohibit some from taking part. There are awards available to cover club fees, retreats and adventures with GU Outdoors. Professors in many courses are choosing less-expensive textbooks. For first-generation students who may be particularly vulnerable to these kinds of challenges, there is social support and solidarity through the LEADS mentor program. Short for Leadership, Education, Academic Development, and Success Skills, LEADS supplements classroom and orientation information with the experiences of older students who have the inside scoop.

All fun aside, one other significant expense relates to job preparation. What happens when students need new business clothes for a job fair or fees to cover a professional membership that will build their resume?

“These are real concerns for a senior getting ready to graduate,” says Carlo Juntilla (’18), Gonzaga Student Body Association president.

Balancing the checkbook for students has been the hallmark of Juntilla’s term. This spring, he secured more than $30,000 from the Board of Trustees and others to assist low-income students when career development opportunities arise with a price tag. “The goal is to provide monetary support for those who can’t afford necessities such as placement exams, attire for an interview, conference fees or travel related to job opportunities,” he says.

“Our most vulnerable populations (first-generation college students, those from low-income households, people of color) may have trouble pursuing the same opportunities as others,” he says. “We want all students to have the same experiences and preparations for the next step in their journeys.”

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Read More: Economic Justice - Poverty Simulation