Skip to Content

Search: {{$root.lsaSearchQuery.q}}, Page {{$}}

Iris Brilliant, BA 2010

Iris Brilliant graduated from the University of Michigan in 2010 with majors in Women's Studies and Creative Writing. In 2018, she started her own money coaching business to help individuals with wealth lead values-aligned lives and move money to social justice.

NOTE: The Women's and Gender Studies Department was known as Women's Studies until 2020. This interview refers to the department using the older name.

Can you tell me how you went from being a Women’s Studies and creative writing major to being a money coach? That’s probably not a career path that many people associate with those majors.

No, it's not! Well, in case it's helpful, I'll share how I got into Women's Studies. I had actually tried to sign up for a course on Buddhism, and it was full and I needed another humanities course. I decided to do Intro to Women’s Studies, and it completely blew my mind. Within two weeks, I knew that I wanted to study feminism and gender theory. I came out as bi within that first month as well, which made me even more committed to understanding gender theory and sexism and racism and all the other oppressions that are woven into our lives.

As I got more politicized, I was increasingly aware of the fact that I’m from a wealthy suburb of San Francisco. No one really talked about money or class, either in the activist groups I was in or in what I was learning. So I just kind of pretended like my family was middle-class, and I didn't really ever bring it up. Michigan was also where I made a lot of working-class friends from rural Michigan, from the [Upper Peninsula]. There was just a lot of confusion and tension around class and money.

After I graduated, I inherited money from my mom's uncle. Once the money came into my name, and I saw that it was invested in Chevron and Exxon and weaponry and surveillance technology and all these things that I had been organizing against in college — the shame and fear finally got outweighed by the urgency to do something with the money.

I joined Resource Generation, which is a national nonprofit that organizes young people with wealth to support social justice. That’s where I really got to add this lens of class, wealth redistribution, and divestment to the political analysis I developed at Michigan. If I hadn't been a Women's Studies major, I wouldn't have been ready to do that. I wouldn't have joined Resource Generation, and I certainly wouldn't be a socialist money coach.

It’s life-changing, getting to build up our worldview and our analysis. It was also very empowering to get support around becoming a feminist at a young age. And I know that even if I hadn't become a money coach, it would have served me wherever I went.

You already mentioned Intro to Women’s Studies — were there other courses or instructors that were particularly influential for you?

My favorite course at Michigan hands-down was History of Sexuality, taught by PJ McGann. It was a [cross-listed] class with Women’s Studies. I'll  never forget so many things I learned in that class, but in particular we learned about how certain behaviors — consuming alcohol, sex, and different things like that — have been medicalized or criminalized at different times in history. I feel like that lens could also be applied to wealth accumulation.  I think what I learned from that course was how to bring in a broader context of the current era and social norms and assumptions that we're in — to zoom out and use that historic lens.

And in Intro to Women’s Health, we read Our Bodies, Ourselves, and it was so life-changing to get to learn about how, as women and as people assigned female at birth, our bodies and sexualities have been like policed and we've been misinformed about some important things since a very young age.

Tell me about what you do as a money coach.

As a money coach, I’m not an investment manager or financial advisor. I help people map out their long-term vision around who they want to be in the world, what their values are, and what a values-aligned path with money looks like for them through the lens of redistribution, career budgeting, family organizing, and activism. I guide people through a process of rigorous goal-setting so that we're not just staying in theory, we're moving towards action — so that by the end of our work together, clients will begin their wealth redistribution process.

I do investment education about what it means to be invested in the stock market. And we kind of look at the exploitative nature of being invested in multinational corporations. I'll examine people's stock investments to assess if they are invested in migrant detention centers, weaponry, prisons, or other things that might not align with their values. I also do education around the regenerative investing solidarity economy investments, such as worker owned, co-ops micro enterprise — things that might be less lucrative financially, but will yield a better return socially, you could say.

Then I help them build their money team: people who will manage their money in accordance with their values; financial planners who will help them make a plan that won't just steer them towards never-ending wealth accumulation; things of that nature.

Knowing that there are many different levels of wealth at Michigan, as you pointed out, is there any advice you’d give current students?

I encourage folks to talk about class and money, even if it's awkward and uncomfortable. Silence around class perpetuates classism and helps capitalism keep running. If we all were able to be more transparent and open about money and access and class, I think that can be deeply politicizing, and can also foster more closeness with other people. It’s hard and it’s messy, but I want to encourage people to do that, especially if you’re a Women’s and Gender Studies major. If you care about ending oppression, we have to talk about class. And we have to talk about the incredible racial wealth divide.

I encourage folks who do come from wealthy backgrounds, or suspect they might come from wealthy backgrounds but aren’t sure, to educate themselves. Learn what “percentage” your family is. Ask your family how much money you have and how much you’ll one day have access to, so that you can begin to take responsibility for your class privilege. Even if it feels difficult to find that information, it is your responsibility to figure that out.

And for everyone: if you're unsure of what's going to happen with your career — because, you know, you're not an engineer or whatever, and you don't necessarily have a clear path lined up — I just want to say that having the personal transformation of your analysis being developed through gender studies is going to influence and shape your career no matter what you do. It’s your mind, and that development is worth investing in no matter what career you end up moving forward with.

Is there anything else that you’d like to mention?

I do this work not only to help clients figure out a path aligned with their values, but also because I believe in social justice movements — especially grassroots organizing led by people of color. I want to stress the importance of supporting those movements. Even if you have access to wealth, making small monthly contributions or volunteering your time can make a difference. And if you do have access to more money than you need, really throw down for these movements, which are saving people lives.