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Carleton Mutual Aid Fund

The Carleton Mutual Aid Fund was created to foster a community of support on campus. Mutual aid projects work to meet survival needs and build shared understandings about the realities of wealth inequality. While Carleton, a small and tight-knit campus, comes together in times of urgent need, the community often fails to recognize the constant hardships low-income students face. The Carleton Mutual Aid Fund is creating bold and innovative ways to share resources and build true wealth equity at Carleton.

The Carleton Mutual Aid Fund (CMAF) was launched in May 2021 and since June 1, 2021 has redistributed $12,518.72. After seeing the community rally around the Carls4BlackLives resource drive for Brooklyn Center, Carsten Finholt ‘23 and Ellie Zimmerman ‘21 wanted to continue the momentum. They created a Venmo fund designed to assist low-income students who were experiencing financial hardship. CMAF operates through an anonymous Venmo fund (@Carleton-MutualAid on Venmo), where students can donate if they are able, and request as they need. The fund was designed to lighten the burdens of wealth inequality and create a means of instant support for students in need. Zimmerman and Finholt also aimed to start important conversations about wealth redistribution on the Carleton campus. 

Requests quickly started coming in, ranging anywhere from $75 – 800, and averaging between $200-400. We usually receive requests every couple of days, resulting in about 3-4 requests a week and have, thus far, fulfilled 72 requests. The goal of the fund was to complete these requests rapidly. However, as the fund has grown, we’ve found ourselves in a troubling pattern. Requests come in routinely, but donations only arrive in waves. As a consequence, we can go weeks without funding. This means we often have long delays before we can fulfill students’ requests. This situation is frustrating, as students often need immediate support to cover essential expenses, including groceries, medical bills, school supplies, summer rent, and debt alleviation. CMAF is working hard to address this issue. We’re looking to tap into the wider resources of the community, including faculty, alumni and parents, who could make monthly contributions to ensure the fund stays afloat. Despite these difficulties, Carleton Mutual Aid continues to work toward realizing its goals. As the leaders of CMAF, this dilemma is incredibly frustrating. Our goal is to make wealth redistribution on campus a norm, but the constant limitations and pushback from students and faculty make our job hard and oftentimes makes us wonder: Is mutual aid just the subject of Instagram story reposts, endorsing performative waves of donations? 

Over the summer, Grace Bassekle ‘24, Amira Aladetan ‘24 and Hannah Ward ‘24 joined the Mutual Aid team. In July, we launched a Back To School campaign aimed at alleviating the burdens of starting a new school year. Through this campaign, we were able to raise and redistribute over $6,000. By spreading information on social media and teaming up with groups on campus, the community came together to support the Fund. That support has not ended. As the school year continues, various organizations have partnered with us to help fundraise. The Carleton Earrings Exchange donates all of its proceeds to the fund. In late September, the Farm Interns contributed their earnings from a farm sale. The OIL office also held a sticker sale for the CMAF. Recently, Carls donated baked goods, which were sold in front of Sayles to benefit the fund. We remain extremely grateful for the generosity and enthusiasm of our community. However, we still have a long way to go toward ending wealth inequality. 

We interviewed two students to get their perspective on the future of the Carleton Mutual Aid fund, Crystal Wu ‘24 and Anya Mitten-Fry ‘24.  Both emphasized the importance of having a reliable form of student support on campus. They explained that the current emergency funding system is both poorly publicized by the college and extremely limited in the scope and scale of resources it provides. The Mutual Aid Fund, in their minds, is meant to supplement the financial support provided by the college. In reality, CMAF has gone far and beyond this role; we have helped to cover expenses that the college should have characterized as emergencies. Students in need routinely request amounts that would far exceed the $250 per term limit established by the college. Both students we spoke with detailed the college’s ambivalent attitude towards low-income students. Wu explained that the responsibility often falls on students to advocate for their own basic needs to be met. Instead, she believes, the college should be actively involved in redistributing wealth and connecting students with resources. 

Currently, CMAF works to be an advocate for low-income students. However, our capacity as a student organization pales in comparison to the services the college is capable of providing. Additionally, more robust support from the college could prevent our funds from being exhausted so quickly. Wu and Mitten-Fry both asserted that Carleton needs to step up and take on a more active role in addressing the realities of wealth inequality on campus. We agree. If our college is truly interested in equity and opportunity, we need to invest in our community. Carls have done an excellent job coming together to uplift one another, and the college needs to follow our lead. It’s time to start thinking about what mutual aid could look like on an institutional scale. 

To support our fund, Venmo  @Carleton-MutualAid 

— Amira Aladetan, Grace Bassekle, Carsten Finholt & Hannah Ward

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