A First-Generation Low-Income (FGLI) Student Advisory Board was formed on Friday, March 27 to expand the efforts of the FGLI GoFundMe campaign that was created in response to the campus’ closure due to COVID-19 and to continue providing support for FGLI students, as an established student group.

“The hope is that the advisory board will extend beyond GoFundMe,” board member Melisa Olgun ’20 said. “So the way that we’re thinking about this is that this will be a group that lives within the Resource Center that will essentially be a coalition of FGLI students who will work towards gaining access to resources and disseminating those resources to first-gen and low-income students.”

The 14-member Advisory Board is divided into four teams, each with a designated role in growing the campaign at large. The campaign intends to distribute $950,000 to students who are displaced or facing an inadequacy of healthcare, quality housing, healthy foods, and more. At the time of publication, the campaign has raised over $316,000 and, in conjunction with the Wesleyan Student Assembly’s (WSA) donations, distributed $265,189 to over 300 students who requested funding based on their self-ranked needs.

“There’s tiny little tasks that go into every big thing that you think don’t take up time, but then you realize they really do take up time,” one of the GoFundMe’s Organizers, Jessi Russell ’20, said. “The way that it’s divided up right now is we have four teams. One is campaign promotion, the second would be community development, third, data collection, and fourth, coalition building.”

The four teams are each responsible for a specific portion of the fundraiser. The campaign promotion team is responsible for getting people to donate and to spread the message of the campaign. 

The community development team offers non-financial support to FGLI students, such as a mentor-mentee program, potlucks, and cyphers. This team also schedules events for FGLI students to communicate what they have been doing, navigate higher education during a time of COVID-19, and build connections with one another. 

The data collection team accumulates a list of donors, conducts research about those donors, and sees who donated to the campaign. This research determines the relationship between the donors—whether recent graduates, longtime alumni, or neither—and the University. Additionally, these data collectors gather information about the donors themselves and their demographics. 

The coalition building team gathers information about other groups, inside or outside the University, that share the message of the campaign. So far, the coalition building team has reached out to the WSA, WesforBernie, as well as some of the University’s other politically active groups. Olgun emphasized that all of these teams work in collaboration with one another to further the goal of the GoFundMe.  

“There are designated people in each part of the campaign, but that doesn’t mean that we speak exclusively to our domain, and so we do work together,” Olgun said. “There’s a lot of cross collaboration, and again, we’re under this ultimate goal of GoFundMe.”

In working towards this goal, the Advisory Board launched two separate campaigns targeting different types of donors. The Residential Comprehensive Fee (RCF) Refund Donation Drive, which focuses on RCF refunding is ongoing and will likely end when the school year ends or when everyone is reimbursed for the RCFs. This first effort is focused on getting high-income individuals, particularly families that make over $110,000 a year (70% of the University’s students), to donate. The second round of Qualified Disaster Relief Payments, which launched last week, focuses on getting University departments and student groups to donate the remainder of their funds from this semester to the fundraiser. 

“The [RCF Refund Donation Drive] campaign feels more individual based” Russell said. “I don’t know if attacking is the right word, but it specifically targets people who have more money. And I think that that’s something that our campaign doesn’t shy away from.… That [second] campaign is asking anybody who has left over funds and their budgets for the semester that have not yet had them absorbed by the University.”

Olgun believes that the fundraising effort has experienced a lot of success so far, particularly regarding the RCF refunding effort. The Advisory Board has been able to give out the first round of installments to all students on their spreadsheet with the money raised thus far.

“The thing is that with the [RCF Refund Donation Drive], we have been able to raise enough to support all of the students,” Olgun said. “Essentially each student who is on this spreadsheet will receive $1,000, in some way, shape or form, either through the University or through the GoFundMe campaign.”

Beyond the fundraiser and its two campaigns, the Advisory Board plans on expanding past the GoFundMe. An alumni directory is currently being created as a resource to expand the number of potential donors. Also, members of the board are currently reassessing how ingrained they want to be in the wider Wesleyan community.

“So right now we’re in the stages of basically trying to understand whether or not we want this board to be absorbed by Wesleyan, or if we want to try to stay more independent to see what works in any sort of scenario where you try to affect institutional change,” Russell said.

Despite how the board seeks to work with the University, so far, Russell is proud of what the Advisory Board has accomplished.

“I feel good about the advisory board right now because I feel understanding about the position with the students that are trying to be a part of the Advisory Board,” Russell said. “I feel happy about that and kind of the position that we’re in right now, which again is a newborn phase, but it is promising. And then about the GoFundMe, I feel good, and I feel proud.”


Oliver Cope can be reached at ocope@wesleyan.edu

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