An Advisor's Story: Shannan Schobinger
A GLIMPSE INTO MY NARRATIVE
I was system-impacted as a high school and college student. At the time, I didn’t have identifying words I was comfortable sharing with others to describe my experience, due to the stigma of the words jail, incarceration, homeless, and foster care. As a first-generation college student who was also system-impacted, I thought I had to choose between sharing my circumstances and being stigmatized in order to get support, or sharing nothing and pushing through on my own. I often chose the latter, and felt alone.
As my peers were receiving care packages in their first year, I received documentation from a correctional facility to take to the financial aid office to prove my independent status. When individuals around me were talking about how much they were looking forward to breaks, I was dreading them.
Breaks meant I needed to make sure I had somewhere to stay. My mother was a single parent who battled a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and drug addiction. Sometimes it meant the need to plan a visit to the jail to see my mom and add money to her account. Occasionally, I was invited to stay with a friend. Many times, I worked extra to ensure utilities for our rental were paid and utilized meal points to buy overpriced basics such as toilet paper from a campus convenience store.
When I was asked to share my story of being system-impacted and offer personal insights of what was or could be helpful, I was honored and intimidated. While I have made great strides in my career post-undergraduate and graduate experiences, stigma surrounding my experiences still feels very real. For myself, and I imagine many others, being system-impacted is challenging to discuss. Showing vulnerability is not easy; it takes courage. Without vulnerability, there is no awareness, nor visibility. I greatly appreciate and value the development of Beyond the Stats and Beyond the Barriers providing a space for vulnerability, awareness, and visibility of system-impacted populations.
We are not alone.
CONNECTIONS AND VULNERABILITY
The opportunity and accessibility to form meaningful connections with staff and faculty on campus, as well as my peers, made the difference in obtaining both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Authentic and impactful connections were not developed until I showed vulnerability. Individuals who made time to meet with me one-on-one and asked questions beyond academics helped me understand I mattered. In a sea of 40,000 students, I felt cared for and valued. If it was not for those connections, I would not have persisted in my return to campus after leaving for a year, nor would I have persevered to complete my degrees once I returned. Making meaningful connections with four faculty, one unassigned advisor, and two close friends in my college student career made more of an impact than I realized at the time.
INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE MAKES A DIFFERENCE
In my first two in-person interactions when I started college, campus staff referred to my guests--a distant family member and an assistant manager at a prior job--as my parents. This introduction to college life did not cultivate a sense of belonging. The simple replacement of “parents” with “guests” can increase inclusivity.
Inclusive language can help an individual feel a greater sense of belonging even in some of the most challenging moments. One professor made a point to recognize that spring break may not be enjoyable for all, and invited those who were concerned about break to speak with her. Just that simple validation helped me trust the individual enough to reach out to meet later in the semester. And in graduate school, during a difficult conversation with an instructor who observed that I was less engaged in class than usual, they asked, “What does your support unit look like?” That instructor later became my adopted (unassigned) advisor.
FINANCIAL SUPPORT IS CRITICAL
Getting my basic needs met was crucial for my academic success. I vividly remember writing monthly budget scenarios in the margins of notebook paper while in lecture and strategically planning how to get extra shifts at a food service job. While I was physically present in lecture, my mind was elsewhere. Fortunately, UC Davis offers much more financial support than the institution I attended, but I’d like to reiterate what I found useful. Helpful financial supportive services include, but are not limited to: campus food and non-food pantries that don’t require additional information from an individual, support to help navigate health insurance options and funding available to pay for the university’s health insurance if there were no other options, a safe and free place to stay during breaks, available and advertised emergency grants, paid internships, access to financial assistance for interview attire, and graduate school applications.
It is important to note my experiences are unique to me. Each individual who identifies as being system impacted has their own story to tell or not to tell. It is important to create a safe and accessible space for individuals to share independently if they should choose to share, but please respect an individual’s choice not to share. Often individuals who choose to share may provide just ‘tip of the iceberg’ details. It is important for all of us to strive to avoid making judgements or assumptions. There is usually much more depth to the ‘iceberg’ that is not seen or heard.