It has been roughly one week since the inception of the new College Council committee that oversees the Student Government Emergency Fund. Distinct from the University-run Emergency Fund, which provides either a loan or a grant to students in “an emergency circumstance,” this new initiative offers up to $200 in financial support for students currently in situations deemed urgent. The fund is cognizant of the graduate student population on campus and will make itself accessible to graduate students, allowing them to apply for aid as well. Any immigration-related applications will be considered first-priority and will likely be guaranteed funding.
Spearheaded by Class of 2020 College Council representative Jahne Brown, the Emergency Fund is a fantastic resource for marginalized students in the UChicago community and a proactive move on behalf of Student Government in response to the present political climate.
When students have personal or academic issues or emergencies, the rigorous atmosphere of the University can impede student progress and even send them into retrograde. “If [students] cannot function at their highest level, the environment makes it so that you cannot recover easily,” said Marlin Figgins, a first-year undergraduate and committee member of the Emergency Fund. “It’s very hard here and making sure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed is the main goal here. No one should be left out due to circumstance.” Although $200 of funding may be seen as a meager contribution, this aid can potentially make a significant difference in the quality of life for students. The funding could help make a substantial dent in rent costs, contribute to textbook costs, or even help cover life-saving medical treatment. The implementation of the Emergency Fund could especially help those most affected by the Trump presidency, such as undocumented students or immigrants affected by the immigration ban. Obviously, $200 cannot cover everything, but it is an important first step in obtaining a passport or being able to afford the costs of airfare. It is unclear how distinct the Student Government Emergency Fund is from the University’s. Currently, a one-sentence web page on the College website says that students can receive emergency loans or grants, but the process for actually receiving that money remains extremely vague. It is also uncertain how much money students can receive and under what circumstances. But even if the Student Government’s fund has substantial overlap with the University’s, it still gives students another avenue and resource for funding when faced with critical situations. Not only that, but the Student Government initiative is also more transparent about its process, and thus can be held accountable for its decisions.
Additionally, unlike the University-run fund, the Student Government Emergency Fund is built through student fundraising, fostering empathy throughout the student body for some of our most vulnerable members. It is a concrete step that can be taken by students who are interested in promoting equity on campus, and fosters dialogue for people to examine their own privilege.
The collective action of the Emergency Fund is a significant contribution to the UChicago community and the success of its initial launch should be regarded as tantamount to the success of our students. “[Students] should try our best to support the Emergency Fund committee, because when we do so we are supporting our students and we’re creating an environment where we can be free, we can be academic, and we can be ourselves wholly,” Figgins said.
To see the $200 funding as an unimportant investment is to be ignorant of the reality that many students on campus face. Supporting or donating to the Emergency Fund via Student Government’s fundraisers is a sign of support for the initiative and, by extension, for minorities in both the current UChicago community and the incoming Class of 2021 in the fall.
Soulet Ali is a first-year in the College.