On Nov. 16, the Bates Leftist Coalition (BLC), a student group unaffiliated with the college, announced the formation of their student mutual aid fund via Instagram.
A rise in COVID-19 cases on campus resulted in a number of students opting to return home early, with little time to make travel arrangements. Some students who chose to leave early or with otherwise unforeseen travel costs turned to Bates for emergency financial support.
Students with unused loans were informed that they would not be eligible to receive emergency funding until they utilized all available loans in their financial aid packages. Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students Joshua McIntosh said this is the standard policy in most cases.
According to Ilana Rosker ‘23, a member of the BLC and one of the students working on the mutual aid fund – along with Eric Fleischmann ‘23, Hannah Tower ‘20, and Claudio Jimenez ‘22 – the idea for a mutual aid fund was sparked after she learned a number of her personal friends on financial aid were told they could not receive funding until using available loans.
When they announced the fund, the BLC wrote: “current funds will be used to help cover student travel costs for Thanksgiving break/early departure due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Bates is offering loans, instead of full coverage…and we think this is unacceptable.”
Rosker elaborated on the group’s stance on the matter, explaining, “unemployment is skyrocketing,” due to the pandemic, and continuing that if Bates wants to “tout that they delivered all of the students home safely with no financial burden placed on the students” in March, it only makes sense that they continue that practice this semester with full funding.
Rosker also shared that given reports of Bates’ unexpectedly strong finances, “if they’re going to bring students back to campus amidst a deadly pandemic and make them sign documents not allowing them to sue if they get sick, students on aid should be able to expect [funding] instead of loans,” arguing that loans may place a financial burden on students.
On the value of mutual aid, which she calls a “life-long practice,” Rosker shared, “Charitable organizations, nonprofits, ‘trustees,’ administration, scholarship funds –– these are all things that are governed hierarchically…in most, if not all instances, those boards are overwhelmingly white, male, and wealthy…mutual aid emphasizes and practices building bottom up instead of top down.”
Bates currently operates the Student Support Fund, which provides emergency funding to qualified students with unforeseen expenses. To be eligible for this funding, a student must “have exhausted all other possible financial resources, including student loans.”
This requirement is the reason that students who had not yet utilized their loans and requested emergency funding were told that they must first use all of their available student loans, according to McIntosh who made clear this was usual practice.
However, McIntosh also noted that students who requested emergency travel funding last March upon learning with short notice that all students would have to depart were not asked to utilize available loans first.
“Given the urgency of the situation in March, we provided funding for transportation and some other items to all eligible students in full and without regard to whether they had exhausted their available aid,” he said.
McIntosh clarified that the expenses of students who departed early this November, as they were unforeseen, “were considered emergency travel expenses that would be eligible for support through the Student Support Fund.”
However, eligibility is not solely determined by emergency circumstances, so those students would also need to have used all their available loans to qualify for support through the Student Support Fund.
McIntosh noted that there were exceptions to this, however. He specified, “If a student is unable to access funds from their financial aid package because of the urgency of the request or any other factor, we may still consider approving emergency funding and have done so in a number of cases.”
Therefore, some students deemed in need of immediate assistance and unable to access their loans were granted funding.
Students should not worry about having to use loans for travel that they would otherwise need for tuition payments. McIntosh explained that unused loans do not include loans that will be needed to pay a student’s tuition; only loans in excess of tuition will be classified as unused available loans.
Thus, a student who needs their loans to pay tuition would not be asked to use those loans for travel expenses. However, a student who has any loans in addition to the amount they need for tuition would be asked to utilize their loans first.
McIntosh stated that any costs related to shipping student items home should students not be able to return to campus in the winter would be covered with funding, not loans, for students who qualify for financial assistance. Students need not apply for this funding and will be notified if they are eligible for it.
All funds offered through the Student Support Fund are grants, meaning they are not expected to be paid back. Loans included in a student’s financial aid package are expected to be paid back. Two examples of student loans include Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct Subsidized Loans.
Direct Subsidized Loans have interest rates paid for a student while they are in school, and students do not pay interest until six months after they have graduated. Direct Unsubsidized Loans accumulate interest while a student is in college. Some students may choose not to use loans for a variety of reasons.
The mutual aid fund, which Rosker stated “prioritized low-income BIPOC” students, raised $2,275 for a total of 18 students, as announced in a Nov. 25 Instagram post. The caption read, “Let’s be clear: @batescollege, this should make you feel embarrassed. This is resilience in the face of YOUR failures.”
Funding requests, many of which were anonymous to protect student’s privacy, ranged both in dollar amounts and circumstances. Some posts requested funds for cab fares and baggage fees. One request posted on the BLC Instagram page read: “$250 for a loan for a plane ticket home for an international student on full financial aid.”
While Rosker shared that she is “really glad to see that [the aid fund is] able to help so many people,” she also feels that “this fund exists because the college failed to meet needs.”
BLC hopes to share their fundraising information with the college so they can “see how their financial negligence” resulted in real student need. The group is trying to organize a year-round version, with logistics being ironed out.
“It’s definitely a lot to organize. We’ll need all the help we can get. If you’re interested in helping out, don’t hesitate to reach out,” said Rosker.
McIntosh stated: “We are aware that a mutual aid fund has been started and would welcome a discussion with those students who are coordinating this, if they are interested.”