When UP announced on July 30 that on-campus instruction was cancelled in the fall, junior Aimee Morlatt was instantly concerned about the financial problems that this would cause for students. In August, more than two-thirds of undergraduate students in the United States reported feeling uncertain about their financial future due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Morlatt, a finance major, decided to take action.
Morlatt collaborated with a friend, senior Addie Zhao, to create a GoFundMe designed to give emergency aid to students who needed it. The fund is now an official UP endowed scholarship called the Intersectional Hope and Healing Fund (IH&H).
The fund aims to support students who have been financially affected by COVID-19, whether that is through housing, technology, tuition or mental health resources. The fund also hopes to address the lack of transparency from the UP administration, according to Morlatt.
“It was students who had positions on campus, either RA’s, or SJC’s, or people who worked anywhere on campus… Some people had to move back home, and some people really became houseless…,” Morlatt said. “It shows the fact that [the university’s] choice to prioritize keeping money and keeping the schools finances in place very drastically affected the well-being of all of their students.”
Though the fund is just getting started, students can apply now on a rolling basis. A committee with 5 students, one faculty member and one staff member reviews the applications, then interviews students to decide where and how to distribute the money. According to Morlatt, the committee was created to include people from all parts of campus to represent different opinions and backgrounds.
“Then we bring [that student’s] story back to the group, and the point of the group is that we have opinions of people from all over,” Morlatt said. “It’s not just the financial aid department filled with a bunch of administrators. It’s students and faculty and staff, people who are really hearing these stories and people who can actually relate to these stories, who are helping to select where the funds will be allocated to.”
The fund gained immediate traction over social media. They initially raised $1,500 on GoFundMe and have since doubled that amount.
Three weeks after the fund started, Connie Ozyjowski, UP’s associate director for donor engagement, noticed Morlatt’s post about the fund on UP Switchboard. Ozyjowski loved the idea but knew that GoFundMe was logistically not the right place for it.
“A lot of people reached out to me quickly, they were super helpful, but also pointed out what the flaws were going to be,” Morlatt said. “A really big one of those is that GoFundMe has a platform fee, so you don’t get all the money that gets donated. Another flaw is that when people donate to GoFundMe, they don’t get a tax-deduction. And for our big donors, that is a really big incentive to donate.”
Ozyjowski helped Morlatt partner with the school to create the endowed scholarship. Now that this an official scholarship with the school, IH&H will be continuous and people will be able to donate to the fund at the annual GiveUP event.
So far, IH&H has been able to give two students $1,000 each, according to Morlatt. In the meantime, while they are still raising money, Morlatt wants to be a mental health resource for students in need. Ozyjowski is also directing students to the resources that are already available for them on campus in the financial aid office.
Junior Yeudith Valdovinos is one of the members on the board and has been humbled by the stories she has heard from the students. Though it might seem scary, Valdovinos wants any student in need to reach out and apply.
“I am getting a lot of vulnerability and honesty, which as someone who is listening to these stories, it has been very humbling to be reminded that financial circumstances are not a result of anyone’s character,” Valdovinos said. “This social health crisis has shown us that at the end of the day, we just all want to try to do our jobs. When circumstances are out of control, we can get together and support one another.”
Fiona O'Brien is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.