Where Are The “Emergency Funds” In This Emergency?: Investigating the Lack of Transparency and Effectiveness of Scripps Emergency Funds

Jamie Jiang ’22
Guest Contributor

When Jane Doe’s (real name redacted for privacy reasons) laptop broke down in early April, she found herself unable to complete her class assignments. In one of Doe’s classes, she expressed her apprehension about making the large purchase of a new laptop.

Though professors weren’t obligated, trained, or even instructed to aid Scripps students in the matter of funding needs during the pandemic, Doe’s professor, Thomas Kim, offered to help Doe with her request for a new laptop via Scripps’ Emergency Funds. Through the IT Office, he found and relayed to her the name of the administrator in charge of the allocation of technology resources.

At Kim’s advice, Doe wrote an email to her Primary Contact Dean (PCD) detailing her need for the laptop. Her father, the main source of income for the family, had been laid off. Doe was already receiving financial aid and work study while at school, but because of the coronavirus pandemic she wouldn’t be working for the foreseeable future.

“I know that there are many students in worse financial situations than mine, so I understand that many will be prioritized over me,” Doe wrote to her PCD. “Please let me know if there is any way I could possibly receive financial help in this process.”

Thanks to Professor Kim’s emails to the relevant offices, Doe made a grant request for a laptop. Though she didn’t know it at the time, Doe would be one of very few Scripps students who successfully requested and received a grant from the school’s Student Emergency Fund.

Scripps’ Student Emergency Fund

Established in 2015, the Student Emergency Fund was created to put funds directly in the pockets of individual students. Its stated intention is to “provide financial assistance to Scripps students who experience a temporary financial hardship resulting from an emergency or crisis situation.

During the coronavirus pandemic, “the Student Emergency Fund helps defray student costs for travel, storage, and distance-learning technology,” Rachael Warecki, Scripps’ News and Strategic Communications Specialist, said on April 7.

The Student Emergency Fund has come under scrutiny before. Before 2017, the amount of Emergency Funds available to students in need were totally dependent on alumnae gifts. Since applications were viewed on a rolling basis, this often meant that the fund was exhausted mid-year.

“An emergency fund that is more flexible and more available is something students have been advocating for for years, and the fact that students are still having to create it for themselves is pretty disheartening,” said one alum, who asked to remain anonymous.

More recent alum remember the 2017 Residential Assistant (RA) strike, which demanded, among other things, “the creation of a publicized emergency fund”.

These demands followed the death of fellow Scripps student and RA Tatissa Zunguze, who died of suicide. While at Scripps, Zunzuge and her classmates had circulated a crowdfunding campaign. This GoFundMe had provided financial support for Zunzuge, who faced both gaps in her financial aid and the limitations of the student emergency fund.

At the same time that the student push was ongoing, a committee of Scripps professors lobbied to increase funding for the Emergency Fund. As a result of this sustained activism, the college now allocates $20,000 at the beginning of each academic year to the fund.

“The College will… continue to solicit donor funds to further augment it,” wrote President Lara Tiedens in a 2017 email to the Scripps community.

Since students first left campus on March 18 due to coronavirus concerns, the school has received $13,000 in donations to the Student Emergency Fund. The majority of the gifts were received during the Day of Giving campaign on May 27, out of which approximately 600 gifts were given to four different funds, the Emergency Fund being one of them.

Emergency Fund Effectiveness

The Student Emergency Response fund is ineffective at covering unexpected student costs. Often, the amount given is insufficient or creates more concerns of financial instability.

The administrator Professor Kim named reached out to Doe shortly after her first request. Their office offered her a technology grant of $400, the maximum they could offer, according to an email they sent to Doe.

A suitable laptop for Doe’s coursework cost around $1080. Though she applied for a $100 student discount and exchanged her old laptop to save money, Doe still ended up paying $300 after the emergency funding. To cover the remaining costs, Doe dipped into her savings from her work-study job at Scripps and used part of her mother’s stimulus check, which she was uncertain they would receive at the time of the request.

“I could use my check and some of my savings, [but I didn’t want] to use them if not necessary, since my savings go straight towards my [student] loan,” Doe said.

On May 10, roughly a month after her first request, Doe received the eRefund for her laptop on her bank account.

The refund format of the grant has drawn criticism from some students who cannot spare large amounts of money, even temporarily. Students who live on a paycheck-by-paycheck basis find it difficult to make purchases out of pocket.

While Doe did not have this problem, the purchase of the laptop left a vacuum in her family’s funds. The money she spent on the laptop would have gone towards her family’s bills.

Though administrators will not disclose a maximum, grant requests for the Student Emergency Fund could only go up to $300 prior to the pandemic. Accepted requests, like Doe’s, have been offered only a few hundred dollars at a time. For some students, this amount can seem paltry. Many depended on their on-campus job for a source of income, and when the majority of Scripps students were terminated without full compensation, they faced a sudden inability to pay waiting bills, medicine, or food. Others struggled with issues of homelessness and housing insecurity after leaving campus for the summer. 84.6 percent of Scripps students are ineligible to receive a federal CARES Act stimulus check for $1,200, leaving little monetary recourse to students.

Furthermore, the Emergency Fund does not provide funding for medical bills, housing and rent, legal issues, and outsize travel expenses. The fund leaves an enormous gap between what students need and what it will cover, in terms of both amount and the kinds of needs themselves, especially during the pandemic.

Student organizers from the movement Nobody Fails at Scripps have gathered data from a mutual aid interest form showing that Scripps students have been overwhelmingly impacted by job loss resulting from the pandemic. With 80 percent of respondents identifying as First-Generation or Low-Income, 76.9 percent of respondents had one or more family members experience the loss of a job. Nearly half expressed a concern about housing insecurity.

Gatekeeping Primary Contact Deans (PCD) and Obscure Evaluation Process

Whereas Pomona and Pitzer Colleges ask students to submit applications to request emergency funding, Scripps students have had no emergency funding application available to them during the pandemic. Their only course of action is to reach out to their PCD.

The PCD’s gatekeeping role in the process is a holdover from pre-pandemic policy. Under normal circumstances, Scripps students in need of emergency financial support must appeal to their PCD. Their PCD then asks them to fill out a form and presents their case to the Dean of Students, other Primary Contact Deans, and the Office of Financial Aid, though this form seems to be abandoned during the pandemic.

PCDs seemed not to have a significant role in the process. Often, PCDs redirected students to the relevant offices without advocating on their behalf or taking any other actions. For example, Doe’s professor advised her both to speak to her PCD and to contact the Information Technology (IT) office administrator in charge of allocation of resources in technology. However, her PCD only redirected her to the IT office.

Per Scripps policy, requests for Emergency Funding are evaluated on a case by case basis. This means that Scripps relies less on pre-outlined policy and instead evaluates requests solely through private deliberation. Requests may not even be evaluated based on student need, in that case. There is therefore no guarantee that the same two requests will receive the same amount if presented in a time of more financial duress, by a different student, or to different deans.

Scripps’ more opaque process contrasts with Pomona’s Emergency Funding Support evaluation process. Whereas Pomona College delineates three different categories for the nature of the request, Scripps offers only two guidelines: examples of non-qualifying expenses and suggestions of expenses that “could qualify for an emergency grant.” Scripps provides a few examples of items varying from “medical emergencies” to “books” without specifying a maximum expected grant amount in each case. Pomona College’s process provides students with a possible expected amount and provides substantially more question fields than Scripps,’ by which the request will be judged.

Additionally, Scripps obscures information about the Emergency Fund. Information is only available through one link on the Inside Scripps website. Students would have had to click through to the “Student Affairs” tab, select the innocuous-seeming “Forms” page, and scroll to “Funding Opportunities”. There, they would find the sole PDF on which a description of the Scripps College Student Emergency Fund precedes a request form.

Poor Advertisement and No Transparency

Few students are aware of the Emergency Fund as a resource. According to an informal survey conducted by the author, news about grants offered through the PCD spread mostly by word of mouth.

One student reported that the school never informed them about actions they could take to secure funding. They contacted their PCD and Scripps’ Office of Financial Aid only after learning about them through classmates or, like Doe, through professors.

“Sources of funding (such as requesting a grant from financial aid) was not common knowledge,” the Scripps student, who chose to remain anonymous, said. “There is no clear communication about where funding comes from and when students would receive it.”

Scripps maintains that they have openly shared resources with families through email correspondences, a virtual Q&A session, and the updates to the website. However, no email correspondences to the student body directly urge students to request emergency funding. Some instruction was published in April under a page titled “FAQ: COVID-19”, advising that students “discuss” options for funding with their PCD.

Many professors are similarly unaware of the Emergency Fund. Kim, Doe’s professor, was able to give her information because he reached out to the Dean of Faculty, who subsequently informed him of the PCD process.

After reaching out to the PCD, funding depended on the office that the student was directed to. For one student, while their PCD was quick to redirect them to the Office of Financial Aid, the office took days to respond, leaving the student to wonder when they could expect approval of their request.

For students, having to go through their PCD only deepened the mystery around funding. None of the students requesting funding who were interviewed by the author were aware that they were requesting money from the Emergency Fund. Nor was information about the money in the Emergency Fund (for example, how much remained, and what requests had been fulfilled so far) made public, except for materials soliciting donors’ gifts.

During the pandemic, students were not made aware of the maximum amount they could request. PCD themselves were not aware either. Students like Doe realized that they couldn’t provide a requested amount to PCD at all.

“Administration might fulfill any specific lower request for funding rather than offer the maximum.” said Professor Thomas Kim, Doe’s politics professor. “Consequently, it made more sense to ask for as much help as possible rather than specify a dollar amount.”

Pomona students are made aware of the amount they can be expecting for certain requests (for example, requests for gender confirmation surgeries can go up to $800, while funding for something like computer repairs is usually limited to under $500).

Scripps College’s marked lack of transparency may have inhibited the fund from receiving many applications. At the close of the school year, only 10 Scripps students requested emergency funds.

Even so, only eight received funding. According to Binti Harvey, Vice President of External Relations and Institutional Advancement, only “requests that met the funding criteria were fulfilled.The remaining requests were addressed through other funding sources or resolved through administrative efforts.”

These administrative efforts included “financial aid or room and board or study abroad refunds” or the College’s direct purchase of “technology and/or equipment”, according to Warecki.

The college has since implied that the Emergency Fund was used on emergency work to physical spaces for isolation quarters, intensive cleaning, extra meals, hardware and software for staff to deliver courses online, plane tickets for study abroad students and technology funds. Though the expenses paid to move students in March are officially listed among these, Harvey reports that they far exceeded the Emergency Fund’s amount and were instead covered by the operating budget.

Warecki did not provide the total amount of emergency funding given to students, stating that this information “would jeopardize students’ privacy”. At eight fulfilled, with an assumed $400 maximum, student requests could comprise less than 27 percent of the Emergency Fund. At the end of the day, though the Student Emergency Fund’s stated intention was to cover the cost of students’ unexpected emergencies, students only comprised a fraction of the use of that fund.

Until the writing of this article, there even remained confusion about whether students could still request from the fund after the close of the academic year, which ended May 15. Warecki declined to comment on the question of whether students could continue to request emergency funds in the summer until the end of the school year. This possibility seems unlikely, as college administrators are instead currently planning to meet requests in the new academic year.

Student-Run Funds Aim to Meet Student Needs

The other highly advertised institutional fund created in response to the pandemic is the Covid-19 Response Fund. Few Scripps students know the difference between the two.

The Covid-19 Response Fund goes strictly towards keeping operations running at the institution. The money does not benefit individual students directly, unlike the Student Emergency Fund.

The distinction has been lightly alluded to, to say the least. Since April, Scripps College has requested money from alums, foundations, professors, and students towards this fund. For example, Scripps offered families the option to partially put this year’s refund on room and board towards the Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund. Scripps solicited donations from professors, as well as from alums who could allocate their Reunion Weekend deposit refunds towards Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund.

In the requests pertaining to professors and refunds, the Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund has been spotlighted as the only monetary relief at the school. Several professors and alums interviewed for this article were unaware about the purpose of the fund. Many believed they were directly funding students by supporting this fund.

The Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund received approximately $200,000 in donations.

Outside of institutional funds, there was the SAS Emergency Fund, which covered “groceries, toiletries, hygiene products, cleaning supplies, and other necessities” at up to $150 per student. The fund was established by the Scripps Associated Students (SAS) and drew from the leftover unspent budgets of 23 Scripps student CLORGs. At year’s end, SAS was able to fulfill 97 of 97 direct student requests.

The SAS COVID-19 Student Relief Account was also briefly featured in Scripps’ official materials, suggesting alums and interested donors contact the SAS treasurers in charge. However, while the institutional funds received thousands, treasurers Safia Hassan ’21 and Grace Shao ’21 report that the fund has not received any alums, parents, or foundation gifts.

Students have established another, larger fund. Student group Nobody Fails At Scripps (NFAS), or Students For Scripps, unsuccessfully advocated for a universal pass grading policy this spring. After the end of finals, NFAS regrouped to plan a mutual aid fund for Scripps students, modelled after Occupy Pomona’s summer mutual aid fund.

The fund aims to alleviate housing and food insecurity, medical bills, loss of income, health issues, and restricted accommodations—all expenses outside of the purview of the Emergency Fund.

NFAS references the limited options for funding at Scripps as a reason for the fund.

“The Scripps College Student Emergency Fund was barely advertised to students and the application form is not publicly available,” according to the NFAS GoFundMe page. “This goes to show there is no source of current need-based institutional funding that can cover large expenses.”

At present, NFAS is aiming to raise $50,000 by June 3. The goal was the result of 27 student responses to a Scripps-wide interest form.

Student Action Bridging Emergency Funding Gap

By all accounts, it seems that Scripps College failed to provide adequate emergency funding to students during the pandemic. 27 students showed interest in emergency funding from a mutual aid fund and almost 100 requested funding from a student organization. None of those students were given adequate institutional emergency funding. The Emergency Fund offered small amounts to only the most persistent students, who would have found little information to guide their search. And while donors gave generously to the Student Emergency Fund, those controlling the funds did not offer more than 27 percent to students, nor did they offer funding to all 10 applicants.

Occasionally, donors have opened their wallets for the student-organized mutual aid fund instead. One anonymous alum said they would rather give to NFAS than an institutional fund.

“I… want to make sure that my money, however small of a contribution it may be, makes it directly to students,” this alum said. “Whereas [with] Scripps, I sometimes get a little nervous [that it will not].”

For some alums, the difference comes down to the directness of the aid; additionally, some alums find NFAS to be more transparent than the institutional funds.

“I mean, it’s the same principle as ‘Would you rather donate $20 to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund or directly to someone who is struggling?’” This anonymous alum said. “Fewer middlemen.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the SAS Emergency Fund had fulfilled 93 out of 97 requests. The article has since been corrected to the state that SAS has fulfilled 97 out of 97 requests.

Image Credit: Scripps College

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