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Students organize GoFundMe campaign to support first-generation and low-income peers

Several Carleton students have created a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $100,000 to be distributed to first generation, low-income (FGLI) students who are disproportionately affected by Carleton’s closure for Spring term. 

Caro Carty ’20 and Ozzy Cota ’22 came together to launch the campaign soon after the shift to online classes, mainly in response to the College’s policies on emergency funding. “In the wake of the school’s announcement we saw a lack of transparency from the administration around where students might find financial and other forms of support, though many of these questions have since been clarified,” said Carty. 

“Despite Carleton’s necessary decision to protect the health of both the Carleton community and Northfield, it has left first-generation, undocumented, low-income, international, or any combination of this list to encumber high levels of anguish and disempowerment,” they stated on the GoFundMe page. 

“We were aware that this crisis and sudden disruption of the academic school year would not impact all students evenly,” said Carty. The campaign’s organizers also noticed that students at other colleges had set up funds to support their peers. They drew inspiration from Wesleyan University, a private school with about 3,000 undergraduate students, which had created a similar GoFundMe page that was very successful, raising over $175,000 in six days largely from alumni and the Wesleyan Student Assembly. Cota explained that they used much of the language and formatting that Wesleyan had used on their campaign page. 

The purposes of the GoFundMe are distinct from emergency funding offered through the Dean of Students (DOS) Office. 

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the DOS emergency funding allowed students to receive a maximum of $250 once per year. Cota had already used their emergency fund for the year to get a ticket back home. On March 20, when the GoFundMe page was set up, the DOS office had not changed its emergency funding policies to reflect the heightened needs of students during this difficult time. “This was an unanticipated emergency for everybody, and Carleton wasn’t really responding,” Cota said.

One of the campaign organizers, who requested not to be named, said that they were contacted by the administration with clarifying answers so that they could update elements of the GoFundMe page to more accurately reflect the ways the college was going to provide aid for students. On March 25, the original limits were removed so that students can request as much funding as necessary to cover the costs of creating an off-campus learning environment. 

Though Dean Livingston said, “For the most part, we have been able to cover most of what students needed,” there are still limitations of the DOS emergency funding that the GoFundMe campaign seeks to fulfill. According to Dean Livingston, emergency funds cannot be used for family expenses, such as rent subsidization or replacing parents’ lost wages. 

The organizers expressed that they wanted to provide a way for students to receive aid without having to explain in detail their circumstances. This no-questions-asked format opposes the DOS form that may give students a sense that they need to prove they need aid or “may be a burden for students who find themselves in a position of disclosing sensitive information,” according to the GoFundMe page. To request aid, applicants filled out a form indicating only their needs on a scale of one to three that will correspond to the amount they receive (level one gets $1,000, level two gets $2,000, etc.). 

CSA Senate has also been involved in the campaign, including creating a task force of seven students to better support the GoFundMe efforts. Affiliates of the campaign, including CSA President Andrew Farias ‘21 and CSA Vice President Brittany Dominguez ‘21, met with Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston to discuss the details of the GoFundMe and learn more about the DOS emergency funding.“[The GoFundMe money] intends to cover the gaps that the emergency funding cannot fill, and so Dean Livingston was in favor of it, so CSA was in favor of it,” said Farias. While the administration allowed the GoFundMe to continue, they still encouraged students to seek funding from the DOS first. “They have immediate access to that money and they’re able to get things out quicker than the GoFundMe would be able to,” said Farias. 

When asked whether there was conflict between the administration and organizers of the GoFundMe in regard to the non-administration affiliated campaign, Farias said, “I think a lot of the language that was used in the GoFundMe statement could have potentially not been accurate, especially in terms of like what the emergency funding money is used for or what the College’s stance on a variety of things ranging from paying for student housing or jobs or any other thing like that. I would say there was definitely quite a bit of conflict and confusion there.” After they met with Dean Livingston to discuss the emergency funding and student-led campaign, both parties clarified the goals of each financial resource. 

The GoFundMe aims to assist with replacing such family expenses and other things that the DOS is unable to cover. “Hopefully the GoFundMe would be able to provide more recurring things that maybe would not be covered elsewhere,” said Farias.

The $5,225 donated at the time of writing is not enough to fill the needs of the 23 students who requested aid. Their next step, Cota said, is to tap into Carleton’s alumni network via an email campaign. 

“The fact that $5,000 was reached by students seems pretty successful, but I think once we start reaching out to alumni who have more access to those financial resources, then you may see an uptick in donations comparable to what other institutions have seen,” said Farias. 

In the meantime, the priority is getting students at least some of the funds they requested as quickly as possible, and complete second or third payments as donations continue, Cota said. On April 6, GoFundMe officially verified the campaign, allowing Cota to start distributing funds to the accounts of 23 students. 

“This is a time to find resiliency and strength within our community and make our collective care felt,” the organizers wrote. 

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