As the new grant program is introduced, the university does not credit the emergency fund
In 2017, the Emergency Fund met for the first time in a Reg room with a group of no more than six students. Each week for the following year, we set out to create a revolutionary organization, without a plan.
At the time, the University’s most popular emergency funding source, the Center for College Student Success (CCSS), only offered emergency loans, and the decision to provide funding was totally arbitrary. . The other major source of funding through the Center for Identity and Inclusion (CII) did not have a website and was largely presumed inactive.
We wanted to be different. First and foremost, we wanted to fund all kinds of student emergencies on campus, and we wanted the funding to be presented as scholarships and not as loans. Second, we wanted to create a transparent system for applying for funding, rather than depending on the discretion of an individual. Most importantly, we wanted to create a fund for the express purpose of funding “political” emergencies, like DACA renewals and abortions.
The process was not easy. For over a year, while building the app and drafting the statutes, we faced significant criticism and obstacles from all sides. Some administrators we met felt that there was not sufficient demand for the Emergency Fund. Others argued that no one would want to ask for a student-run fund. Still others believed that the CCSS loan program was doing enough to provide financial assistance. Finally, the school reluctantly gave us permission to start our fund, on the understanding that we would not receive any institutional support or assistance.
We worked for months to collect every dollar we could. In 2018, we officially opened the fund and quickly realized that we were filling a significant void. As President and Founder of the Emergency Fund, I have worked tirelessly to continue to fundraise so that we don’t have to turn anyone away. Within a year, the Emergency Fund became the premier fundraising organization on campus.
Suddenly, the largely apathetic and contemptuous university administration seemed to understand how important emergency grants are. In the summer of 2018, I was shocked to learn that the CII emergency fund had ended its awkward hiatus; several thousand dollars of funding now exist under the name of Student Emergency Fund. It was so similar to the organization that we worked tirelessly to create that several students asked if this Student Emergency Fund was the Emergency Fund.
Then, on January 30, 2020, the Office of the Bursar told us that the University of Chicago “now provides students with access to emergency aid funds.” Surprisingly, there is a new website for emergency aid programs, and an online emergency aid application, offering grants in addition to loans!
After years of devoting our own work, time and money to filling a vacuum created by the University, the University of Chicago has caught up with what the Emergency Fund has been doing for years. They co-opted our revolutionary model, without any recognition or even thanks to the students who have done their job for years.
This is how things are done at the University of Chicago. Students of color have been fighting for change for years. We are called crazy, authorized or unrealistic. Then, years later, the University co-opts what it has been against for so long. Anyone familiar with the University’s relationship to activism may notice this shameful pattern.
With the University’s immense wealth and institutional power, it probably won’t be long before the Emergency Fund ceases to exist. How long will it take before everyone forgets that the Emergency Fund and the students who supported it were there?
The memory and work of the Emergency Fund may exist for much longer, but it will require fundamental changes in the University’s relationship with activism on campus.
Most importantly, the University should work with students to archive and honor the legacy of student activism and efforts on campus. Memorials honoring successful and transformative student activism should be displayed to the public just as easily as paintings commemorating former university presidents. CARE Executive Slate actually proposed passing a public commemorative plaque honoring student activists to members of the administration earlier in the year. It is only one way for the University to honor the work of the students.
Second, the school should reward and honor successful student activists and student organizations in a public ceremony. The school already offers scholarships to students. A simple but important change would be to create a new award or set of awards specifically for student activists who have been essential in influencing the actions of the University. The Emergency Fund, UChicago United, UChicago Student Action and the new Student Government Health and Welfare Committee are just a few of the organizations that deserve public recognition and celebration from all members of the University. .
Third, the University should financially and institutionally support students and organizations that are successful in lobbying the University for change. In the case of the Emergency Fund, the University should provide money to the Emergency Fund and create a partnership with the organization so that it can remain viable.
The University can and should be innovative in responding to the needs of students, but must do so without trampling on the important work that has been done by students. The best parts of this university are the creations of the students. The least the University can do is honor this work and pay the credit where it is due.
Jahne Brown is a fourth year in college and chair of the student government.