Married Lakers weigh in on culture, resources at GVSU
For many students at Grand Valley State University, getting married and settling down is a far-off dream for the future. But for some GVSU students, their relationship is a big part of their reality as a student.
During the winter 2016 semester, 1,040 GVSU students were married, according to the Office of Institutional Analysis. Of those married students, 453 of them are graduate students and 587 are undergraduates. Those numbers are just an estimate, though, because students are not required to disclose their relationship status at any point in their university registration.
Mackenzie Frederick, 22, and Dominic Bartnick, 24, are married students who go to GVSU and celebrated their two-year anniversary on Feb. 6. The two have been together for six years, since high school, when they met as coworkers.
"We met when I was 16," Frederick said. "I was a totally different person when I was 16. To watch the person that you love grow and change and still love through that, that's cool."
Frederick, a Cedar Springs, Michigan native, and Bartnick, a Rockford, Michigan native, attended Grand Rapids Community College together before transferring to GVSU to study education.
The couple knew that they were going to get married eventually, but upon their transferring to GVSU, they realized that because they were listed as dependents with their parents, they wouldn't be getting much help financially for school. Since they were already planning on getting married, that was an incentive for them to tie the knot sooner rather than later.
"We were already going to get married," Bartnick said. "We just couldn't continue in school until we did."
GVSU financial aid is dependent on how students file their FAFSA forms, whether that is dependent or independent, but the office never asks why the student is independent, which means they could fall under many different circumstances.
"Students can apply for a status change," said Michelle Rhodes, director of financial aid. "It really just depends on the specific situation of the students."
For students who are married and want to opt into becoming an independent, they can visit the Office of Financial Aid and fill out a marriage worksheet.
"That allows us to take a holistic view at the situation," Rhodes said. "We can take a look to see if it's better for them to formally update their status as being married."
Bartnick and Frederick live together in a house in Cedar Springs. They are paying for their mortgage without any help from their families, so cost was a big factor, as was the location, since they're both familiar with the town.
Though there is a married population of students on campus, GVSU doesn't offer married or family housing. If an opposite-sex couple would like to live together, they would have to apply for gender-neutral housing and request each other as roommates.
Even then, the high cost of living in a one-bedroom apartment on campus could deter many couples from even considering that as an option.
In the past, GVSU has offered apartments for families and married couples in the Ravines or Grand Valley Apartments, but they haven't been successful enough to sustain for a long period of time.
"One of the reasons that it hasn't been successful is that you need all the other resources to go along with it," said Andy Beachnau, director of housing. "Housing is the easy part. You can house families, but families are a unique population in that they need additional support."
Beachnau said that family housing is being reviewed as a possible housing initiative by the Division of Inclusion and Equity, similar to the recent gender inclusive housing initiative.
"I'm excited about the future of exploring this topic," Beachnau said. "I just think it's a population where we need to do a better job. This is one (issue) that I think if we continue to work at it, we will get better at it."
Though Frederick and Bartnick have had to figure it out as they go, they said that they don't feel ignored by GVSU.
"I don't feel under-supported by the school," Bartnick said. "Maybe by the student body, but not by the school. We're able to get financial aid because we're independent, I've used the counseling services before and that's great."
Frederick agreed, but said that she and her husband had wanted to attend couples counseling at one point, but weren't sure if GVSU's Counseling Center offered that, so they didn't seek it out.
The Counseling Center does offer couples counseling if both partners are registered students at GVSU, but didn't disclose if that service is free or not.
Frederick and Bartnick also said that college culture isn't exactly conducive to a married lifestyle and that they wished it was easier to meet other students who are married.
"He's got some friends and I've got some friends, but it's really not a mutual thing because our friends are single," Frederick said. "It's not like I exclusively want married friends. It would be cool to be able to find friends that aren't all about (going out) at bars all the time."
Bartnick said that even if he was single, he isn't the type of person who would take part in the traditional college party culture, and some students he has talked to don't really understand that.
"It's definitely weird for people around us," he said. "It's kinda like 'Why did you do that? You're wasting these years, don't you know this is college?' I don't know that I was ever going to do that."
Frederick agreed, saying that people tell her that she's missing out, but she doesn't feel as if it's a bad thing.
"There's things we're missing out on, being married, but there's also things that we're getting that people who aren't married at this age won't get," she said.
Overall, the couple are content with their time at GVSU, and said that being married is just one aspect of their lives as students.
"We're happy with our experience (as married students)," Bartnick said. "We don't feel like outsiders at all. It's been great."
The two said they're thankful for having each other as a support system throughout their college experience, and said that they've made it worth it for each other in the end.
"It's great that I'll get to spend a lot more time with him than most people get to spend time with the person they will marry," Frederick said. "We still have fun. It's nice to always have a support system. I always have somebody that's got my back."