New network supports community through ‘solidarity, not charity’

ASU Mutual Aid is a student-led fundraising network for University students, faculty, alumni and staff

Students have taken matters into their own hands and launched a University-wide resource network to financially support community members in need, citing a lack of support during the COVID-19 pandemic from the ASU administration.

The University’s tumultuous fall semester and the pandemic shed light on systemic and economic disparities within the community, students found no support or ways to help their peers and mentors, leading to the creation of ASU Mutual Aid.

Within its first two days, the group distributed a total of $375 to five students. By its first week, $675 was distributed, according to the network’s update posted Friday.

ASU Mutual Aid is not affiliated with the University, therefore it is not an organization or club. Rather, founding members describe it as a vessel to distribute funds to those in need, including students, alumni, faculty and staff at the University.

“We call ourselves a network because we act as a means of connecting people with resources to those who need them,” wrote a senior studying computer science and a founding member. 

The founders quoted in the article remain anonymous due to their desire to focus the attention on their work and not on themselves. 

Driven by the mission statement, "solidarity, not charity," organizers explain how mutual support departs from the notion of philanthropic work.

Solidarity looks at what needs are unmet within the community and moves forward to meet those needs cooperatively, said a graduate student studying computer science who is another founding member.

“It’s not about ‘saving’ people, it’s about working together to improve each other’s situations,” the graduate student wrote in a series of messages to The State Press. 

Networks have been established at college campuses nationwide to aid students. In addition to these similar networks, the group drew inspiration from a Mutual Aid Toolkit by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., founders say.

“The pandemic was definitely the reason this was started, especially since so many people have had little to no support from the government or the University,” wrote a founding member and senior studying civil engineering. “While there has always been a need for mutual aid, the pandemic made this much more apparent.” 

A senior studying civil and environmental engineering said their work as a community assistant during the 2020 spring semester showed them firsthand the toll the pandemic has taken on college students.

“Many of my residents were forced to immediately vacate their housing, leave their student job and have to finish out the semester with no grading accommodations,” they wrote. “That lack of action by the University has exhausted students both financially and emotionally, with many in administration telling students to simply be ‘stronger’ in the upcoming spring semester.”

Many students have come forward throughout the semester criticizing the University’s handling of the virus, from the cancellation of fall and spring breaks to a lack of communication from leadership.

READ MORE: 'Most of us are really, really suffering': Students, faculty say semester was unsuccessful

The senior studying computer science said the reality of COVID-19 management on campus is much deeper than the brightly colored success stories illustrated through the University’s public relation campaigns.

“As a student I have consistently felt that my needs were overlooked by the administration, so I expected to have my concerns overlooked in regards to COVID-19,” the computer science major wrote. “I would have loved to see scholarships support an option to take a gap semester without losing funding. I would have loved to see administration responding to requests to reinstate a formal finals week or give us study days that aren’t literally just weekends. 

"Instead of this, we just are told that things are going well and we’re having a 'successful' year.'"

Several student organizations have shown support by spreading awareness about the fund. ASU Young Democrats, MECHA de ASU and ASU Community of Care Coalition are among those organizations.

A weekly update on the total amount of funds will be posted on social media, and funds are distributed to students on a “first come” basis through Venmo

All requests made through the form require an ASU email address.

Leadership does not distribute funds by means of financial need. Since mutual aid recognizes that anyone may be in need of support, funding is made available to recipients regardless of their financial situation.

Students hoping to request funds can do so through a Google Sheet posted on the network’s social media. When all available funding has been distributed, the funding requests form closes temporarily.

Although its founders will be graduating in the spring, organizers hope to pass along the torch and keep the spirit of mutual aid strong into the next academic year.

“We envision that the need for this network will continue beyond the pandemic and hope that the community will continue the work that we have begun,” wrote the senior in civil and environmental engineering.

The board of ASU Mutual Aid hopes to expand services in the future beyond monetary contributions to include donations such as clothes and food. The founding members encourage students to suggest other ways to support the community beyond fundraising.


Reach the reporter at sreyes23@asu.edu and follow @r_salma_ on Twitter.  

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