Something that has been bothering me for several months now is what seems like TFA’s assumption of socioeconomic privilege for its incoming corps members. Don’t get me wrong; I’m so grateful to be a part of TFA and a part of the greater movement to close the Achievement Gap. However, it is unfair for TFA to assume that each applicant who is admitted to the program can afford some of our required expenses. For example, it is a requirement for us to have a laptop at Induction and at Institute. Really, TFA? What if I can’t afford a laptop? Well, they might reply, that’s what you can use your transitional funding for. I am grateful for my transitional funding, but I was thinking of using that for, you know, my transition, and not a laptop. For the record, I do have a laptop, but I got one fairly recently compared to my peers and it was certainly somewhat of a struggle to afford one. But someone who is not as fortunate as I might not own a laptop and might not have the means to purchase one in time for Induction/Institute (especially since we don’t get the transitional funding until after we start Institute). Not everyone in TFA has money.
Certification exams themselves were expensive for me (in Michigan we must take three exams, and they are not cheap). Moreover, I was barely able to afford a trip to Michigan to take those exams. Then, placement interviews started a month later, and I had to interview via Skype because I did not have enough money to return to Michigan again. I know that TFA will reimburse you for up to $250 for the cost of the flight, but I don’t have the money to get there in the first place, so I obviously can’t get reimbursed for a flight I can’t pay for. Plus, the cheapest flight I found was around $400 (I live in Seattle now), so even with the reimbursement I’d still be out $150, which I desperately need for things like, you know, bills. I still don’t have enough money to get to Induction in Detroit (costs money), and then get from there to Institute in New York (even if I carpool, this costs money. Of course I plan to chip in for gas, and now TFA recommended that drivers stay in a hotel in Pennsylvania on the way to N.Y., so it looks like I need money for not only fuel but for a night in a hotel too). Then once Institute is over, I need money to get back to Michigan and get an apartment, get a car (yes, that’s right folks. I don’t own a car), and other things. Again, I am so grateful for Transitional Funding, and I’m not trying to bash TFA here. I’m just saying that we (as an organization) obviously realize that there are students who come from poverty, but we don’t seem to realize that there are some corps members (like me) who come from similar destitution. Paying to get fingerprinted, then paying the FBI to do the background check itself, then a ridiculous mandatory payment for laundry at Institute (I could have done laundry on the weekends at my cousin’s place in NYC and saved money, but no. I didn’t have the option. You MUST use the laundry services at Institute), then payment for CPR/First Aid Certification, then later this fall will come payment for certification courses at the university (I’m not even considering the Master’s Program at this point)…. It’s all too much for me. I.Can’t.Afford.It. Not with rent, cell phone bill, food, etc.
It may seem like I’m whining and kvetching about being poor. I’m really not. I’m whining about TFA’s insensitivity to corps members who come from low-income backgrounds. There should be more programs set up to help offset costs. I don’t expect TFA to pay for everything, or even pay for most of our expenses. I just expect TFA to at least think and talk about it. It’s like they don’t even realize what an enormous financial burden that these requirements can place on some people. It’s true that we corps members are all high-achieving and exceptional, but we come from different backgrounds. Most people I encounter who are corps members or alums are middle to upper-middle class, affluent suburbanites. There is nothing wrong with having money, and I don’t think people should ever have to apologize for their privilege. But I’m a black chick from Detroit’s east side, and I definitely realize that I’m in a different arena when I’m dealing with TFA. They have an air of nonchalance surrounding this issue. It’s like, “Oh, it’s no big deal to give you all this stuff to pay for; you don’t need any help.” Why yes, actually, I do.
There is no tab on TFAnet.org that I can click on called, “Struggling with costs?” and as far as I know, the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org does not exist. We should work on that. I’m not trying to sound like I don’t appreciate everything TFA has done for me, but I just think that TFA needs to open its eyes.