Nothing in life is free: The daily considerations of a Sam Fox student
In the past few months, Washington University has created numerous initiatives in an effort to make the University more accessible to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
Chancellor Mark Wrighton announced this past August the culmination of the Leading Together campaign, which raised $3.379 billion in gifts and commitments. The Sam Fox website states that $900 million of the funds would be used “to advance the scholarship, research, and creative potential of students and faculty.”
However, none of these announcements directly responded to the question of how the University was going to support current Sam Fox students who have already put down their enrollment fee years before.
Many current Sam Fox students are struggling to keep themselves financially afloat as one project for a single class can cost hundreds of dollars to create.
“I usually buy things in bulk at the beginning of the year because it’s cheaper to buy things like wood and canvas. I spend probably around $1,000, and I always run out of things throughout the semester,” Amy Chen, a senior majoring in studio art, said.
“As a [communication design] major, I don’t have many supply costs since most of my work is digital. But when I’m printing high quality prints, I’ve probably spent a couple hundred dollars on one book,” Amanda Im, a junior majoring in communication design said. “If you make a mistake cutting or the color output is off, you have to start all over.”
“And that’s on top of all the materials fees we pay for each class,” Chen interjected.
She explained that most Sam Fox classes charge a materials fee for every student and that they were meant to be used by professors to buy materials in bulk so that they were readily available.
Fees can range from $10 for ART 296: Pictures for Communication to $175 for ART 114H: Sculpture: Blacksmithing. 3-D Design is a popular foundational course that often has 10-15 people enrolled per semester. With a materials fee of $115, professors can have a materials budget of up to $1,725 per class.
“I probably pay like $100 to $150 on each class every semester, and I almost never see that money back. I’ve only had one professor be totally transparent about what she bought and actually used the materials fee effectively,” Chen said.
“I literally have no idea what my [communication design] professors use the materials fee for since all of our work is on the computer or we print it out ourselves. The only materials they use are post-its, and they don’t even buy them. They just grab them from random offices,” Im said.
“One of my professors bought us bagels two times that semester—like since when was it okay to buy food with a materials fee?” Chen exclaimed. “I’ve heard instances that the professor didn’t know that was a source of money that they could access. We pay the materials fee, and we never see it again. That’s basically the experience.”
Even though students don’t think the materials fees are currently being utilized effectively, they emphasized that the fees are still crucial to their success in certain classes.
“Getting sculpture materials isn’t easy,” Grace Zajdel, a senior majoring in fine art with a concentration in sculpture, explained. “It often means you have to buy giant rolls and sheets. And I have a mini cooper that isn’t going to fit in my car. My current professor isn’t really great at helping us with materials; and so, she told me that I had to go to a metal supplier, figure out how to get it shipped to Walker, and someone has to be there to receive it. It’s a whole process that I’m not equipped to deal with.”
Chen, Zajdel and Im all work at least two jobs to support themselves and each described how the challenge of being a working student extended beyond simple time-management.
“My job pays me every other week; so, if I get assigned a project in between paychecks, I just can’t afford supplies,” said Chen, “I also never go home. I see my roommate maybe three times a month, and when I do, she says ‘Wow, you’re home early.’ It’s because I swapped shifts with someone else and I had to go to work later.”
“It’s difficult because whenever projects get busy, you want to take less hours. But if you take less hours, then you can’t afford the materials for your project. So, well, guess I just won’t sleep.” Im said.
For these three students, being in Sam Fox changed how they spent money, prioritized their jobs, school work and social life. But in what ways has money stifled their ability to turn ideal designs into physical reality?
“So, I really wanted to make this public sculpture piece that was eight feet tall, but for the last critique, I was only able to make a scale model of it,” said Zajdel, “There’s this gray area where you want to make something, but you don’t know how to make it; so, you just don’t buy the materials until the last second. But then, everything is super expensive, and you want to make sure you’re using it right.”
“There was this one specific case freshman year in my Drawing 1 class. During my final review, my professor told me that I should redo this project, and I told him, honestly, I couldn’t afford the materials to redo the project. He said that’s the cost of foregoing a meal for a day, just don’t eat. Big deal you miss a couple of meals.” Chen said.
When asked if anyone at Sam Fox or the University ever offered them additional resources that could help supplement the costs or additional advising on how they could afford to be in Sam Fox, all three of them responded with a curt “no.”
The experiences lived by these three Sam Fox students showcase that there is a need for the University to publicize current financial resources as well as develop new ones catered to the needs of these artists.
In talking with Georgia Binnington, Associate Dean of Students of the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, there are department-specific funds within Sam Fox that can help with the cost of supplies.
However, those funds aren’t currently publicized on any public forum or directly to students.
“[These funds] are not on the website at this point. Faculty are aware of them, and they are the ones who would come to Bobbie Winters or to me, and we can make plans for that student.” said Binnington.
According to Winters, Associate Dean for Finance of the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, funds aren’t publicized directly to students for several reasons, including the uncertainty of donor contributions.
“You never know whether someone will give a gift again. Rather than spending [a gift] all at once, we try to schedule how we might be spending it so it lasts a few years.” said Winters, “I would prefer to have language out there that if a student is having trouble, that they can reach out to us.”
“The whole university is faced with how to ask students what they need, because you don’t want to out or embarrass people. We are really working on figuring out ways to learn how to do that,” said Binnington.
All undergraduate financial aid is distributed by the Office of Student Financial Services; and Mike Runiewicz, Director of Student Financial Services, explained that the higher supply costs and class materials fees of Sam Fox students are currently not taken into account for their financial assistance packages.
“Across all five [school] divisions, we use the same estimate for the cost of books and supplies.” said Runiewicz, “We know that there are additional costs for Sam Fox, and although we don’t automatically adjust financial assistance awards based on their potential additional costs, we have the flexibility to help students on an individual basis.”
“It takes the step of coming in here to talk to us about the fact that you have expenses that are above what we have assumed costs would be, but we will make adjustments for that student,” said Runiewicz.
Binnington also spoke about some of the steps that Sam Fox is taking in order to centralize all of the financial resources for its students.
“There is information that we are trying to pull together and have available to students to say ‘Yes, we do have ways to help you. You should go to ‘this’ person or go to ‘this office.’
That hasn’t really been done across the University very much, and we’re all working on that right now.” Binnington said.
When asked if SFS should be that centralized hub for these financial resources, Runiewicz explained that work was already being done to achieve that goal.
“We’re working toward making this process easier for students. There is a group of campus partners who meet regularly who talk about these topics and are making progress. We aren’t at the talking stage, we are at the working stage.” Runiewicz said.
Andrew Wang transferred out of the Sam Fox College of Architecture his sophomore year. Now a senior, he is working to finish his degree in economics and continue on to graduate school in urban planning.
When asked whether, during his time in Sam Fox, he thought the school actively worked to eliminate socioeconomic barriers for his students, he scrunched his face a bit and pulled out his phone. After a minute of furious typing, Wang found the email he was looking for. It was from the Sam Fox PaperCut printing server, and it read, ““PRINTING DENIED. Not enough credit. You have tried to print 1 page(s), costing $9.00. You have $5.59 in your account. Nothing in life is free.”
“That’s what it’s like being in Sam Fox,” Wang said.