Sasha Morris -photo by James L. Stroud, Jr.
“…And A Hard Place” is primarily devoted to a focus on folk who would be feeling a financial crunch even without this recession, people who, as a rule, once the necessities in life are met, find themselves pretty much broke. Well, nobody gets any “broker” than college students, at least the ones who aren’t coasting courtesy of a well-to-do Mommy and Daddy.
Hard as it’s always been on students who pull their own weight, tuition’s higher than ever these days, as is the cost of everything else. For them, higher education is hardly a cakewalk, more like doing a high-wire act. Without a net. And doing it all over again, each year, until graduation, at which time they have the lousy job market to look forward to.
A wisp of a woman, 22-year-old Sasha Morris is slight and streamlined, physically fit with a passing resemblance to actor Lisa Bonet. She moves unobtrusively about the North Central University library, the T.J. Jones Information Resource Center, with a methodical sense of purpose, one of three or four student staff during the week and, on weekends, supervising the small library’s smooth operation.
Her general tasks include filling in at the circulation desk, taking inventory, re-stacking materials — in short, the usual responsibilities of a librarian. This is her senior year (she’ll have a second in 2011-2012 in a five-year curriculum), and she is carefully accounting for the cost.
She ticks it off like a laundry list: “I’m getting financial aid, loans, scholarships and [working].” In addition to the part-time position at the Information Resource Center, she’s an R.A. (residential assistant) in her dormitory.
“I work a little bit at home, in the school district [in Sheboygan, Wisconsin], as a teacher’s aide.” That’s when she’s on break from NCU, at the beginning of winter and from mid-May through mid-June.
She feels the pressure and states with a pleasant, somewhat nervous smile, “Seeing how many loans I have to take out every year, [they] pile up. I try not to dwell on it too much. But, I know in the back of my mind that the reality is going to happen where I have to pay this all back eventually. And it’s not a small number.”
Sustaining the annual scholarships she doesn’t worry about. Her academic award is based on grade-point average, and she’s brainy enough to be a mainstay on the dean’s list. As long as she stays Black, she doesn’t have to refund her minority scholarship. So she’s doing well, majoring in elementary education with a concentration in English, carrying five classes this term as well as a clinical course.
Earnings that don’t go toward tuition have to buy books and groceries. This calls for seriously stretching a buck. Accordingly, she says, “I go to [an online textbook seller] and get them way cheaper than the bookstore. That saves me a lot.”
So far as feeding herself goes, “I buy the typical dorm food, lots of [instant] noodles, canned veggies.” What does she do for meat? “Oh, peanut butter and jelly so I get the protein from the butter. That’s how I get my protein.”
Like she said, typical dorm food. She’s also on a mandatory NCU meal plan by which she eats daily at the cafeteria, either lunch or dinner, and forgoes her accustomed pb&j staple in favor of actual meat. Breakfast never crosses her mind, because she sleeps late: “I love the snooze button.”
Clothing, typically a constant obsession with women, doesn’t concern Morris. “I don’t shop very often. I go to thrift stores. Get things on clearance. Thankfully, I’ve stayed the same size since high school and still fit all my clothes. It’s rare that I’ll go out shopping, basically because I don’t need to.”
Hard to believe when females her age are the target market for this and that designer and such practical thought as whether one can afford or actually needs a new outfit is well known not to enter the equation. She comes by her discipline and self-control honestly.
“It’s how I was raised. I lived in a single-parent household. [She and her three siblings] didn’t get everything we wanted and had to [make do] with what we did get. Which I’m so thankful for, because now I take advantage of what I have. It saves a lot of money, and I’m pretty content with the things I have.”
She doesn’t have to bother with the expense of maintaining a car because, living in the Elliot Park neighborhood, Morris is within walking distance of everywhere she wants to go.
The greatest impact of the recession thus far has been that, back home, aside from her T.A. job, she is flat out of luck for employment and finds herself rattling around the house for that stretch between mid-June and late August. “It’s really tight. No one is hiring. The hardest thing has been finding work [that lasts] throughout the summer.”
How does she think President Barack Obama is handling the economy? “Well, I’ve heard a lot of things. I don’t always keep up on politics, because I always have my nose in a textbook. I would love to know more about current events, but, to be honest, I don’t have time.
“I don’t know how anyone can really fix this. So, I think he’s doing the best that he can. I wouldn’t know what to do in his situation.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.