Since July 1, the Colby Mutual Aid Fund has been raising money and distributing money to marginalized Colby students—first generation and low income (FGLI), Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), Trans, and Queer students.
The Fund is in the middle of its third round of fundraising and receiving applications from students requesting funds.
The Fund is run by 11 organizers who oversee the fundraising efforts, which are done through GoFundMe, Venmo, and CashApp.
The group is split into an application team, a communications team, and the review team, two members who are responsible for anonymizing applications and dispersing funds to applicants.
The organizers of the Fund were inspired by similar efforts at other colleges and have put much time and effort into establishing and running it. Olivia Wandres `21 shared that it took a lot of work over the summer to figure out how to properly fundraise and disperse funds while dealing with taxes, bank accounts, and legal considerations.
She also said that running the Venmo for the first round required a lot of time: “We had to have records of every single donation, and every amount, and where it was going just in case we were audited…and that’s something that’s completely new to that.”
The Fund shared on its Instagram that they distributed $10,365 to 22 students in the first round and $10,151 to 28 students in the second.
“We’ve noticed the [amount of] donations coming in is not as much as the first round,” Stella Gonzalez `22 shared. Gonzalez said that the first round raised around $16,000 while the second and third rounds have both raised under $10,000.
The Fund gets the word out primarily through this Instagram account. Gonzalez said that the group is not worried about not reaching the right audience because “as a POC on this campus it’s hard not to interact with a lot of other POC. And when a lot of POC post it [CMA Fund posts] on their stories it becomes a chain effect.”
Gonzalez said that the most common needs in the first round were travel-based.
“The Fund has been focusing a lot of its effort on covering Colby’s mandatory health insurance, which has been a problem since round one,” Gonzalez explained.
“We’ve had applicants apply for money to send back home because they live in America but a lot of their extended family lives somewhere else,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve had people cover their at-home rent because their parents have lost their jobs because of COVID.”
Olivia Wandres `21 said that textbooks and school supplies have been a focus of a lot of requests as well. She said that she spent $300-400 of her own money each semester of her first year because she did not know where to get books besides the Colby Bookstore.
“I had no idea that there were a lot of free PDFs and the library and the CBB and all of these resources . . . Obviously those won’t cover every single textbook expense,” Wandres said, “but we’ve been trying to also share that knowledge that there are resources and databases where you can find what you need without having to spend any money.”
Social media has played a large role in the Fund’s operations. Its Instagram account posts reminders about fundraising, application deadlines, informative slides about mutual aid, memes, and interactive discussions.
Wandres said that using social media is important to the Fund because it helps involve Colby alumni and families in addition to students themselves.
One of the Fund’s social media campaigns that drew a lot of attention was its bingo board. The Fund posted a bingo board, pictured below, whose squares were filled in with different indicators of a student’s privilege. They instructed students to tally up how many boxes they could check off and multiply the amount by five and then donate that number.
“When we did the bingo, not only did that help people recognize their own privilege but we also got a lot of donations from that. So, generating donations using social media has been really successful so far,” Ashley Ketchum `22 said.
The Fund also used their Instagram to start a conversation with their followers about the role of allies (non-marginalized students) in their organization. Louisa Baum `21 shared that the group “unanimously agreed that it doesn’t make sense for allies to be in any part of the application process or dispersing funds or reading applications.”
Instead, Gonzalez said that allies have been given jobs that take the burden off of the rest of the students running the Fund. For example, Baum is in charge of scheduling meetings and taking minutes.
Looking to the future, Gonzalez said that the sustainability of the group is a major focus.
“I will say that we haven’t really received applications for people who want to join,” she said. “And I really want to encourage it because a lot of the people who founded this are going to graduate after this year. The juniors have a strong presence but we need more underclassmen.”
The board members shared that, overall, they have not received much criticism. However, Ketchum noted that some students pushed back on some of the entries on the bingo board, such as owning a Canada Goose, a brand selling winter coats that cost $500-$1500.
“People said ‘just because I want to own a nice jacket doesn’t mean I have all this privilege,” Ketchum said.
Wandres said that she was apprehensive about posting the bingo square because she “did not see the Colby community receiving that well at all.”
But, she was pleasantly surprised and was able to see the comments that people left on their donations.
“[They] were so positive and so honest and a lot of people said ‘this really made me sit down and look at my privilege and look at what I’ve had access to at Colby and what a lot of people don’t,” Wandres said. “It really made me think about it, here’s $50.”
The group has also received feedback on Instagram that they should not be pushing a narrative that all marginalized students dislike their time at Colby.
The Fund organizers believe that no student at Colby should have to have a worse experience because they belong to a marginalized group.
If someone experiences a microaggression in the classroom, “that shouldn’t be accepted as just a bad day,” Ketchum said. “We want people to have wholly good experiences at Colby and instead of pushing the narrative that everyone hates it here, we want to push the narrative that marginalized students do struggle.”
Now, the Fund is solely focusing on covering student health care costs. Colby requires all students to have health insurance; they can either show proof that they are already covered or they must purchase a plan from the College.
The fee for the College’s insurance is $1960 this year which, according to the Fund, is an increase of $200 from last year. As well, they said that the College is not covering this cost as much or for as many students as they have in the past.
Gonzalez said that some students’ financial aid covers all but $400 that they are expected to pay. So, if a student is expected to pay the full $1960 or even half of that, it is a significant burden.
“It’s like they expect us to just come up with the $2,000,” Ketchum said.
This can be especially burdensome to students working multiple campus jobs, sending money home, and paying their tuition contribution.
Gonzalez said that the Fund’s position on the matter is that the College should provide basic healthcare to all students by covering these costs for anyone who needs the aid.
The board members also said that a big issue for students on financial aid this year is that there was a three week delay in the release of financial aid packages. So, if a student’s insurance had been covered in the past, they were not aware that they would have to pay for it until very soon before or even after they arrived on campus.
According to the Fund members, students were told that their statements would be delayed but that when they were released, it was done on a rolling basis, so a student would not know exactly when they would know how much they owed.
Some board members shared that they got their statements two weeks ago and some a few days ago, when they usually get it a month before the semester starts.
Apart from eliminating the charge for insurance, the Fund thinks that the College needs to make the process for getting financial aid easier and more transparent.
Ketchum said that when the usual deadline for late fees on tuition was coming up this summer, the College was planning to waive the fees but did not share that decision with students.
Ketchum also said that she has been told that “‘it’s the responsibility of the student to know if they don’t have the right forms turned in.”
Ketchum had turned in an incorrect form this summer and was not told for three months until she checked herself.
The board members said that they could not tell why some students’ requests for insurance aid were fulfilled and some were denied.
“Colby is only choosing to fund the poorest of the poor for health insurance,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez also said that she thinks it is embarrassing how little transparency there is between the administration and students when it comes to financial aid.
“The people who need financial aid the most are the people who are most likely in charge of their own finances,” she said. “I am a low-income student and I receive a lot of aid and I am the one looking at my student account statement, making sure payments go in, [and] making sure my summer contributions match up and I can pay it off.”
According to Gonzalez, students not on financial aid get help from their parents in making tuition and insurance payments and may never have looked at how much they owe the College.
“So,” Gonzalez said, “it’s frustrating that Colby brands itself as a ‘we meet 100% of your financial demand’ school, but when it comes down to it and I do need to pay my contribution or I need to find out how much that contribution is, they don’t let me know . . . You have to jump through hoops to pay for your education here.”
~ Sonia Lachter `22