On April 5, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) unanimously passed a resolution reallocating $156,850 from the Spring Fling Committee, Concert Committee, and Senior Class Officers’ funds to stipends for 277 students with no expected family contribution (EFC) to their tuition. The resolution adds these funds to the $100,000 the WSA previously allocated to stipends for these students.
Stipends from the original $100,000 allocation were scheduled to be distributed to students last week, according to University Associate Vice President for Finance Christopher Olt. According to the student-organized First-Generation Low-Income (FGLI) GoFundMe campaign, the additional $156,850 was deposited into student accounts Monday, April 13. The Finance Office did not respond to The Argus for comment about these additional stipends.
While the WSA initially intended its $100,000 donation to go to the GoFundMe campaign, Olt explained that these funds could not be donated directly to the fundraiser due to tax laws.
“While WSA funds are separate in that they are billed separately and allocated by the WSA Board, the WSA is not a separate legal entity so the use of the funds must be within University policies and procedures and, ultimately those set forth by external regulations imposed upon the University as a non-profit institution,” Olt wrote in an email to The Argus. “Contributions to GoFundMe campaigns are considered personal gifts, unless the campaign goes through the process to become a certified charity. In either case, we cannot provide a gift or a charitable donation per our policies.”
One alternative solution the University’s tax advisors offered was to give the money to students in the form of Qualified Disaster Relief Payment (QDRP) stipends. In order for the WSA to give money to students as QDRP stipends, the University required the WSA to decide a level of need that could be vetted by the Financial Aid office.
During the WSA special meeting on March 24, FGLI GoFundMe organizer Jessi Russell ’20 proposed that students with no EFC receive funding from the WSA rather than taking one of the University’s suggestions to the WSA, one of which was that the money be allocated to all students with no loans for their tuition. Russell’s suggestion, which was eventually integrated into the resolution created and voted on during this meeting, outlined how the WSA senators were told that around 400 students have no loans for their tuition, while Olt reported that 277 students have no EFC.
“This is better because no loans is such a broad range…. It would mean that every student who received that refund would only get $250, and I wasn’t confident that that would hit the majority of folks on our spreadsheet, which was the intention of the resolution to begin with, is 100k donation to the GoFundMe,” Russell said. “My goal was to get as much of the original donation into the hands of students on our spreadsheet as possible as well as into the hands of students who might need it, and I presume that those who have no EFC, whether they’re on our spreadsheet or not, are people who would need the funds a little more than students who don’t have loans.”
Russell noted that around 58% of students who requested funding from the FGLI GoFundMe have no EFC, according to a poll sent to students who requested money from the fundraiser, meaning that only $148,202 of the WSA’s $256,850 will go to students on the fundraiser spreadsheet. However, Russell emphasized that they are glad students who need the money will be receiving it, regardless of whether or not they requested money from the fundraiser.
“We’re not mad about it, because we think that every student who has no EFC is probably in need, even if they’re not on our spreadsheet,” Russell said. “That was the only thing that was unfortunate about the result, but I’m happy that money’s going somewhere, and it’s out of the University’s ‘not-foregrounding first-generation low-income students’ pockets.”
Funds from the WSA auxiliary committees were added to these stipends because they would no longer be used for the remainder of the academic year, making the total amount of money donated to stipends $256,850. One of the primary sponsors of the resolution, WSA Student Life Committee Chair Huzaifa Khan ’22, explained why the WSA chose to donate the auxiliary committee funds to the QDRP stipend as soon as possible.
“We decided that the extra funds should go to the QDRP stipend because that was our most assured shot of getting this money to FGLI students,” Khan wrote in a message to The Argus. “We were worried the longer we took, the more barriers the administration would create in getting this money processed in the way we wanted.”
While the members of the FGLI Advisory Board for the GoFundMe took into account the WSA’s initial $100,000 donation to QDRP stipends in distributing the first round of stipends to students on their spreadsheet, FGLI Advisory Board member Melisa Olgun ’20 explained that the additional funds would be accounted for in the second round of distributions. By the end of the QDRP distribution and the second round of GoFundMe payments, all students, regardless of their EFC, will be receiving the same amount of money according to their need.
“I think it’s a great decision, especially right now with FGLI students who are facing incredible uncertainty, it’s really great to be able to redistribute funds that right now would not have been used for this semester to support those students in need,” Olgun said. “In terms of the FGLI GoFundMe, this would help us finish our first redistribution of funds to students, and so this would effectively allow us to finish the first stage of the FGLI GoFundMe’s campaign. I think something like this is incredibly important, and this definitely does not nor should it end the FGLI campaign. I think that there’s still a lot of mobilizing that needs to be done on that end to ensure that every student gets the help that they need, but I do think that this was a great step in the right direction.”
Senior Class Officers President Maximo Lipman, Vice President Emily Litz, Treasurer Emilio Weber, and Secretary Rebecca Greenberg attended the virtual WSA meeting on April 5 to voice their considerations and concerns about re-allocating funding for Senior Week Spring 2020 for a possible future Senior Week that may be held in Fall 2020 or Spring 2021.
“Having spent the year planning, we were really excited for senior week and are heartbroken that it was cancelled,” Greenberg wrote in a message to The Argus. “Ultimately though, we had discussed donating the money to students in need before the WSA contacted us and we’re glad that these funds can be used in this manner. We are hopeful that there will be some sort of in-person event for the class of 2020 in the future, but we know for certain that it won’t be what we had originally planned.”
Greenberg spoke to the Senior Class Officers’ intentions to continue working with the WSA if holding a senior week in the future becomes possible.
“If and when the University sets a date for an in-person event, we’ll continue our conversation with the WSA about using SBC funds for a celebration and are also willing to appeal to the university or even alumni for monetary support,” Greenberg wrote. “We’re crushed that senior year had to end this way and really do hope that we can come together again as a class to celebrate all of our hard work and achievements throughout our years at Wes.”
The primary sponsors of the resolution, Khan and WSA Chief-of-Staff Adam Hickey ’22, wanted to ensure they could get the money from these committees to students who needed it immediately.
“We decided that the extra funds should go to the QDRP stipend because that was our most assured shot of getting this money to FGLI students,” Khan wrote in a message to The Argus. “After listening to the Senior Class Officers and the administration, we determined that there was no way that Senior Week could be held this semester. As a result, there would be no point to us keeping the money for the future when it could be used right now for FGLI students. If Senior Week gets held again next year in some shape or form, we can use next year’s budget to cover it, and will be discussing that possibility in our upcoming meeting on Sunday.”
Jocelyn Maeyama can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.