Dev Blair, a sophomore studying acting at the College of Fine Arts, is the co-founder of the hashtag movement #PoorAtAPrivateUniversity and of the Facebook support group of the same name. Dev’s pronouns are she/her/hers and they/them/theirs.
“I, as a freshman, the way that I acted with the greater university, just socially, was different from how I saw my more financially well-off friends interacting with the greater university. I couldn’t show up to as many functions and I couldn’t go to as many things with price tags because I couldn’t afford that. I couldn’t go shopping at the Pru or take an Uber to class or wear a Canada Goose jacket but I wasn’t aware that I was having that experience or that that part of my experience was being formed by my financial standing.
It’s really interesting, it’s different now because I am in a situation where I am armed with more knowledge because of the awareness I have gained of my position[…]Now I’m upfront. I can be like, ‘I can’t afford to go.’ It’s more useful for me because I don’t have to hide myself and it’s more useful for the other person because I’m letting them in, I’m letting them see part of my experience.”
The beginnings of the hashtag started when Blair couldn’t afford the additional fees that came with a musical theatre class. Blair was able to cover it, but that moment sparked the beginnings of the #PoorAtAPrivateUniversity. There were other factors also fueling this movement.
“The fees were announced and then tuition went up and financial aid did not go up and it was a bevy of difficulties all happening around the same time. It felt like we were suffering in silence, and that is just not a very good feeling to feel.
For me, it’s transparency alongside visibility. Visibility for people like me with experiences like mine, monetarily. [We want] to help other people see where we’re at, where we’re coming from and make things more equitable for us on campus. You can better help us and better yourself by having multiple experiences bouncing around in your head.
I am acutely aware of the fact that this is a hashtag campaign about being poor in a first world nation, but going through this movement has made this reality sink in for me: Yes I am poor. That does not mean I wear paper bags and live in the streets. That does not mean that I’m going be able to afford all the things my friends can afford. And that doesn’t mean my experience is invalid. It’s ok for me to have my experience, see someone else who also calls themselves poor, and we can learn from talking to each other and the greater world. We can learn from that difference.
[The recent tuition increase] is very strange. We got the BU grant assurance to go up, we tangibly did something. We all were heard. It’s hard to have that be the news that drops during first semester and then have this tuition increase be the news that drops during second semester. I think on some level, this is normal. Tuition generally increases year by year to adjust for inflation. Now with the BU grant assurance, you will get the same amount [of financial aid] but that’s not a guarantee that it will increase. As long as tuition continues to rise and financial aid doesn’t, we’re going to keep having the same problem every year. In practice, you’re putting a bandaid on a bullet wound.”