Emergency Fund to aid students in times of need

By Saiham Sharif 
sharifsa@grinnell.edu

The Emergency Fund, headed by Student Affairs with the guidance of the Office of Financial Aid, will provide students with last resort financial assistance. One of the main goals of the fund is to help in preventing students from unexpectedly leaving the College for financial reasons. The fund has been built to ensure that it is not abused, requiring students to submit an application.

The fund can be used to assist students with food payment, transportation, overdue utility bills approaching service interruption, safety needs, essential academic expenses and more. The fund will not, however, provide money towards tuition, health insurance, study abroad fees or non-essential personal bills. The fund will provide $1,000 at the most per year, though the Grinnell website states that an average amount is between $300 and $500. If possible, the funds will be paid directly to the third party vendor, rather than to the student in need.

According to SGA Vice President of Student Affairs Bailey Dann ’17, the fund will be especially useful for students who need but cannot afford medication. SHACS has a small fund designed to help students pay for medication, but these funds are limited and funded by donors, rather than the College.

Tim Burnette ’19 brought the necessity of this fund to the attention of the administration with a letter he wrote last year “during a time of extreme weakness and vulnerability.” His concerns first arose during a Policy Changes Town Hall, when he heard President Raynard Kington respond to rumors that the recent development of an emphasis on student health was a measure to attract more rich students. Kington said that all families care about health, not primarily rich families. In an article he wrote for The Gum in September 2016, Burnette argued that Kington’s words carried the insinuation that all families hold equal ability to care about health and appeared to come from a privileged position, despite Kington representing Grinnell, an institution of social justice.

However, Burnette’s motivation to write the letter arose when he heard that a close friend of his could not attain medication. While the student had purchased the school’s insurance plan, the insurance plan did not cover  their necessary medication. 

“I resolved myself to convey my anger through a letter,” Burnette said. “I had decided that the Grinnell bubble divorced us from the realities of poverty, and that the administration needed to hear about the impacts of off-handed comments and the insurance situation.”

Dann offered support and accompanied Burnette to his meetings with Kington and Angela Voos, Chief of Staff. Together, Bailey and Burnette discussed and provided solutions to some problems on campus, and Voos suggested creating an emergency fund.

Emergency funds are becoming more available among institutions of higher education. Bailey mentioned that they were required to submit a report and gather statistics on the need for an emergency fund, to see if Grinnell would be a good fit to follow this trend.

“While I may have started the momentum for the creation of the Emergency Fund, Voos was key in this process — she deserves much thanks as her work within the institution kept the momentum going,” Burnette said. “Without her work, this fund would not have been possible.”

The process for the creation of the fund started in the fall of last year, and was completed in April. A memo about the fund was sent to all Grinnell students on April 11.