Surviving on stipends

Surviving on stipends

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Hakan Doga said he was humiliated when he had to ask his parents for money during his first summer session at UB.

He said his graduate stipend wasn’t enough.

As an international student, he couldn’t work off campus and lived at “starvation level.”  

Many UB graduate assistants have faced similar financial situations. Graduate assistants and teaching assistants involved with the Living Stipend Movement have been protesting for higher stipends since 2017. The Faculty Senate has been working on a resolution to increase stipends, but many students said they are currently suffering from food insecurity. 

Eleanor McCabe, a counseling Ph.D. student, said she is also struggling financially. 

McCabe said she doesn’t have an option between being happy or going hungry. 

Half of her graduate assistant stipend goes toward rent, and even though she is a domestic student, she said she needs permission from the university to get a second job.

McCabe said she relies on her parents for money for food sometimes.

Doga, a math Ph.D. student from Turkey, said his experience at UB has been “very disappointing,” due to his financial circumstances and his stipend. 

“[The stipend] doesn’t give you any financial stability,” Doga said. “Under those conditions it’s really hard to do what you’re doing in a very passionate way. … If you have food insecurity, how can you possibly think about your abstract research?”

Both students said their diets have suffered because of their wages. McCabe said she primarily lives off carbs. Doga said he gained weight, despite working out, because he bought groceries at Dollar Tree and couldn’t afford healthy food. 

Willis McCumber, an English Ph.D. student and media coordinator for the LSM, said “there's an awful lot” of graduate students at UB paying 50% or close to 50% of their stipends on rent. He said rent costs must be considered to “gauge food insecurity as a whole.”

“Only an immoral and inhumane economy would pay workers a poverty wage,” McCumber said. “This is certainly what the administrators of UB have put in place.” 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines cost-burdened families as those “who pay more than 30% of their income for housing” and defines “severe” rent burden as “paying more than 50% of one’s income on rent."

The FS  Executive Committee passed a resolution last Wednesday to create a Living Stipend Solutions Committee to identify the financial circumstances the graduate students are facing.

Fred Stoss, an associate librarian, said during last week’s FS executive meeting that he thinks the solutions committee will help answer questions surrounding graduate stipends.

McCabe recognized the efforts but said she feels the committee isn’t doing enough for students right now.

“I feel like we’re kind of suffering in the crossroads,” McCabe said. 

McCabe said she receives one of the higher stipends UB offers, but said it is “nothing to call home about.” She said she spends roughly 50% of her stipend on rent and roughly 15% on food. 

Doga said he spends “whatever is left” of his stipend on food after paying off his bills. 

“The thing is, you have to buy food, but at the same time if you cannot pay for gas [and other bills], the food is kind of pointless,” Doga said. 

Doga said the experience of living in a “vicious circle of poverty” makes him question if the work he is doing is “worth it.” 

"Even though there are rewarding moments, there are also many moments in your life you stop and ask yourself 'Is this really worth doing?''

Jacklyn Walters is a co-senior news editor and can be reached at Jacklyn.Walters@ubspectrum.com and @JacklynUBSpec.

JACKLYN WALTERS


 Jacklyn Walters is a junior communication major. She enjoys bringing up politics at the dinner table and seeing dogs on campus.