November 12, 2021 | OPINION | By Emma Logan
“Donate to CC Mutual Aid.” I have heard this request more times than I can count since beginning my time at Colorado College in August 2020. It seemed that Colorado College Mutual Aid (CCMA) had earned trust with the broader student body. Both extracurricular organizations and individual students rallied behind the cause, such as the Llama Palooza Fundraiser, Student Athlete Organization collaboration, and student craft fair.
Yet, the more I heard people in the broader school community talk about CCMA, the more I realized it was solely in the context of soliciting further donations. As of Block Two of the 2021-2022 school year, CCMA had no information on their website or social media about the actual process of determining how students are selected to serve on the CCMA committee or the rubric by which they decide who does and does not get funding. Much of the CC student body is supporting an organization it doesn’t fully understand.
This sparked my interest in learning more about CCMA and its process. I sat down with CCMA co-founder Hannah Friedman ’22, and she kindly walked me through the world of mutual aid. Spoiler alert: it is very well thought out.
Friedman shared that CCMA was born out of the increased online activism of July 2020 and the financial need of students impacted by COVID-19. Friedman and the other founders, Tova Salzinger and Misbah Lakhani, looked towards Scripps College in California to gain a blueprint for how to develop a student-run mutual aid organization. The Catalyst has, as a matter of fact, covered its origin before.
I was most interested in the information that was not as easily accessible: the process by which it is decided which students receive funds and how much. Friedman explained to me that the application is essentially coded to a level of urgency for each individual request. Students fill out a questionnaire detailing their situation and these answers can be tallied into points reflecting self-reported need.
After having applicants self-report their need, the money raised in that distribution cycle (usually blockly) is then split in half and distributed evenly among all applicants. This is on average $15,000 – $20,000 per cycle now.
In theory, this means every single person who applies will receive some funding. The only reason this would not be the case is if a student was either non-tax compliant with the Office of Financial Aid, meaning there is outstanding paperwork with the office that ultimately puts funds into student bank accounts, or the applicant is on full financial aid.
This last point is a crucial element of understanding how CCMA is, at times, limited by external tax law. Every year higher education institutions are required to calculate their annual “cost of attendance” (COA). This is the cost of tuition, room & board, books, etc. that it takes to attend CC. The aid that a student receives from the school cannot legally exceed that number. This, however, begins to impede CCMA as through their tax association with the school, all CCMA funds are considered financial aid gifts and therefore students with full rides cannot gain additional funding beyond their COA.
Once it is clear which students can receive the initial baseline payment, the second half of the fundraised money is distributed in correlation with the level of student urgency displayed in the application.
This entire process includes no personal factors whatsoever. Laila Faruki ’24 and Atquetzali Quiroz ’24 are the only committee members who see initial applications and go on to strip all names and identifying information before passing it onto the rest of the organization. The student comment section, the place in which many applicants elaborate on their situation, is separated in this primary process and is only used to put students in contact with other resources on campus.
If even the most foundational aspects of this process sound new to you, that is because it simply isn’t a part of the conversation around CCMA on campus. Yet, it is crucial to understand that the lack of transparency is not a deliberate decision, but rather is something CCMA is aware of and currently working on, according to Friedman. It makes sense that the need to prioritize donation solicitation and application maintenance takes precedence over unrequested process explanations for these full-time students balancing a commitment to their community.
However, this should not belittle the fact that much of the student body felt comfortable sending money to a student organization we knew very little about. Is this the habit we want CC students to even further develop? Especially on a campus where we echo demands to be more aware of our financial privilege and deliberate with our resources to each other, we should extend this call for critical thinking into our understanding of our own student organizations.
Absolutely, pushing for greater financial equity among the student body is an admirable goal, but we should continue to push for transparency even from institutions that we admire. Otherwise, how will we ensure that perceptions of money formulated from financial privilege don’t continue to be the dominating narrative?