General Assembly Headaches

So we’re still about 4 months out from General Assembly and it feels like I’m banging my head into a wall.  Not just for me but for a lot of the young adults I’ve talked to about this.

Warning!  You’ll probably find this post whiny if you’re somebody who has monetary resources at their disposal.

There are so many assumptions made with regards to money it’s ridiculous.  The dorm housing is an amazing value but they change your card, in full, six weeks prior to GA.  I know that a lot of folks my age have family who can and will front the money, or just pay for it all together, or have awesome jobs that allow them to head off and do whatever around the country.  I also know there are folks my age who have “jobs” at GA who are getting everything paid for.  And there are folks going in big groups, with lots of friends, or with folks from their congregations to help reduce costs.

But none of those are me.

I know that you’re all going to scream THERE ARE SCHOLARSHIPS! at me.

Yeah, there are.  And those are not accessible, either.  Scholarships work as reimbursements meaning if you don’t have the money then all the scholarship in the world won’t help – because you still don’t have the money up front to get there, to buy a plane ticket, or to even know if you’ll have enough to get pay for the room you reserved.  Additionally the only YAs who get to go multiple years in a row are the YAs who can afford it.  You cannot get a youth/young adult scholarship two years in a row (or it’s “very unusual”) so you’re pretty much out of luck unless your financial situation changes dramatically from one year to the next.  Or you get to attend when you can get a scholarship while people who have money get to attend every year, making more of the decisions, and having a bigger influence on the direction our association is going.  Even in the YA realm we vote on one of our caucus co-mods each year and if you’re not there you don’t have the chance to be one.  People who get to attend each year have a much higher chance of getting appointed, elected or asked to be on something because they GET to be there.

And really, saving up for GA isn’t an option for me.  I don’t have enough money to get by on a monthly basis as it is.  Putting any into savings for something as extravagant as “something I might enjoy” is just not really an option.  I can’t afford to buy new clothes, much less save up a few hundred bucks for plane tickets and hotel rooms.

The folks who get to attend GA year after year are the people who can afford it.  The people who get to consistently vote each year on things that are important to them are the people who have the money to go each year.  If we were serious about wanting to bring and KEEP more young people in this faith it seems like there would be a way to let them see what is arguably the best that UUism has to offer.

Even if I find a way to attend this year it doesn’t end here.  Because the same issues will come up year after year.  We’re so far behind on financial accessibility.  And every time something comes up it’s like a big slap in the face.

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2 Comments to “General Assembly Headaches”

  1. It’s similar with our big Quaker gathering, though we don’t have the restrictions on financial aid two years in a row (that I know of). A lot of financial aid is tied to working at the gathering, and while I understand the value of work scholarships, I also think that this creates a different kind of experience for people who have to do a job versus people who are free to attend all events.

    A few years ago, a friend of mine who lives on a very modest income with her family had an opportunity to combine financial support from our monthly meeting with first-time attenders scholarships from the gathering, which would have allowed her and her kids to go. But she chose not to, because it was clear there was not sufficient aid available on an ongoing basis for her family to be able to attend in future years. She told me, “I don’t want this to be another wonderful thing I have to tell my kids they can’t have; I’d rather not go at all.” Our gathering is a big part of Quaker kids’ and young adults’ lives; they form relationships starting as toddlers that can last into adulthood. But that’s only true for the kids who get to attend every year, or most years.

  2. The year I graduated from seminary, the school announced an increase in their continuing-ed fees. What had previously been basically a token administrative fee to cover the actual costs of providing teaching materials and record-keeping for a non-matriculated student, increased something like 300 or 400% the year after I graduated. Clearly the school felt that these fees were a good way to provide extra income for a struggling institution—and I’m sure they compared their fees to other similar schools and found they could raise theirs without pricing themselves out of the market.

    I happened to have a face-to-face meeting scheduled with the dean of the seminary just after the fee change was announced, and I took the opportunity to talk to her about it. “At last year’s rates, I could easily budget for one or two continuing ed courses per year,” I told her. “I was looking forward to that. But now, given the salary I’ll be earning from my tiny Harrisburg congregation… there’s no way. I know you’d never put it in these words,” I said, “but this new pricing structure tells your community that you believe the only churches who deserve well-educated staff are larger churches with significant continuing-ed budgets.” I could tell by her face that she had never thought of it that way—and that she knew I was right.

    Keep preaching it, Andy. It won’t change fast, but it won’t change at all if we don’t keep pointing it out.

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