Emergency Fund set up by students, for students affected by CWRU’s closure

Yvonne Pan and Shreyas Banerjee

For all Case Western Reserve University students, the cancellation of in-person classes and many spring semester events, suddenly having to reevaluate their living situation and the move to remote learning was hectic and stressful. However, for some, the process proved more burdensome than for others. Some CWRU students faced significant financial hardships due to the campus-closing. 

From plane tickets home to the storage of belongings and from the technology needed for online classes to just the general services that many CWRU students had previously relied upon and no longer had access to, the sudden change was difficult for many to afford.

With all scheduled on-campus events and activities canceled, many student organizations had money leftover. That, along with several thousands of dollars from the Student Activities Fund, left quite a large amount of money just sitting without much use. 

Aimed at addressing the financial needs of students caused by this sudden transition, the Student Activities Fee COVID-19 Emergency Fund (SAF-CEF) was created from these leftover funds. 

While the Division of Student Affairs (DOSA) does still allocate money through the Student Emergency Fund, which is completely funded by a gift from Candace and Vincent Gaudiani (CWRU School of Medicine ‘73), the DOSA fund is also quite restrictive, necessitating students prove financial need, and, due to the volume of requests, it is expected to be depleted in the near future.

In contrast, the SAF-CEF was created by students and is managed by students. The brainchild of fourth-year student Joey Kass, the chair of the Allocations Committee (AC), and third-year student Hunter Stecko, the vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Finance Committee, the fund quickly accumulated over $350,000 in donations from various clubs.

The SAF-CEF is not the first project Stecko and Kass have collaborated on. “I’ve been working with [Stecko] my entire time [at CWRU],” Kass said. “When I was a College of Arts and Sciences rep at USG, he was a first-year student rep and we both worked on bylaws.” Kass is also the Chief Judicial Officer of USG.

However, the two actually came up with the idea separately. Before Kass went to see Vice President for Student Affairs Lou Stark on Friday, March 13, requesting permission to stay on campus to finish his capstone, he had already talked to third-year student and Director of Springfest Katy Stegemann, who had requested $15,000 from the AC earlier for a better headliner for Springfest. 

The AC, though not well known among the student body, is highly influential, allocating Student Activities Fund monies to various events, like Cafe KASA, the uISA Formal and this year’s Springfest (though the latter two were canceled this year due to the move to online classes). The AC also audits major student organizations, including USG, University Media Board (the parent organization of The Observer) and University Program Board (UPB), among others, to promote financial integrity and transparency in the spending of tuition dollars.

As the influx of emails came from the university detailing its COVID-19 response, Kass thought about the approximately $100,000 that had been allocated for Springfest, as well as the budget for Thwing Study Over, a total of around $150,000. 

“I want to try to use that to try to help students because I know people are getting kicked off of campus and they need storage, the dining halls [aren’t] open at good hours and grocery stores are empty and people need plane tickets to get home, and it [is] just mass chaos,” Kass said.

Stark approved the idea of a student-managed fund distinct from that of DOSA, but suggested Kass talk to Associate Vice President of Operations & Planning Dennis Rupert first. Just 20 minutes before Kass reached Rupert, Stecko had already contacted him, pledging about $10,000 from USG roll-over funding as well as donations from USG vice presidents and student organizations.

“It was a match made in heaven, or a match made in Cleveland, if you will, because of a global pandemic,” Stecko said.

Additional organizations that donated to the fund include UPB, The Observer, Interfraternity Congress/Panhellenic Council (IFC/PHC), Residence Hall Association, Class Officer Collective, Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative (UDC), the UMB executive board, The Athenian and Beta Alpha Psi. 

Clubs within USG that donated include the Radical Student Union, Shadowing Case By Case, Spartan Running Club (SRC), the Pre-Vet Society, the American Chemical Society, Global Medical Brigades, Case in Point, Club Lacrosse, Pre-Band and Undergraduate Materials Society.

Second-year student and treasurer of SRC Chris Bailey explained that the $400 they donated would have gone to reimbursements for the Earth Day 5K and Siberian Husky 5K, both originally scheduled for April.

Other organizations also commented on the project, including IFC/PHC, the home of Greek Life at CWRU.

“[Fourth-year student and PHC President Himica Kalra] and I got wind of [SAF-CEF] through the Student President’s Roundtable (SPR),” said third-year student and IFC president John Garcia. Although IFC/PHC initially discussed having a fund for just members of Greek life, “we wanted to support the bigger purpose, which was supporting all students,” Kalra said. “That’s been another really big focus of SPR so far, collaborating on initiatives, instead of having a siloed approach of just taking care of one group without considering others.”

The funds donated by these organizations are managed by the ten members of the AC and the members of USG’s Finance board, with “soft” preset guidelines to manage the over 280, and climbing, requests. 

Per person, allocations are usually kept under $500, with tech requests being addressed with either a $500 or less Zoom capable Windows laptop that can run all the software a CWRU student could need or the latest generation base model iPad with an Apple Pencil stylus. The application promises, “at a minimum, the laptop will: include 4 GB of RAM, run Windows 10, have nonvolatile/drive storage of 128 GB or greater (either SSD or HDD) and have a screen size of 11.6 inches or greater.”

Students have the option to return their technology to the newly established UDC Lending Library if they no longer need it for the upcoming school year.

Domestic flights in the contiguous US are covered up to $300, with $500 allocations allowed for flights to Alaska, Hawaii or Puerto Rico. Storage and U-Haul services also have a guideline of up to $500. With the recent announcement from the university that they are removing belongings from rooms, students will be able to ask for funding from the SAF-CEF to ship their belongings. Other needs can also be provided for, with some students requesting for basic necessities such as food and groceries.

Student requests are managed and reviewed in three layers. In the first layer, the entire AC and USG Finance Committee initially reviews the request to make sure it fits the guidelines, with any singular member of either committee able to approve it, without purchasing power. 

Next, the member sends a budget request along to the next level, which is a smaller committee consisting of Kass, Stecko and other treasurers of USG and AC who have reimbursement power. 

The final say then goes to the Office of Student Affairs, with members Rupert and Todd Rasmussen looking over all approvals. However, students are the only ones actually reviewing the requests. Administration members simply oversee fulfillments. 

Students are notified of initial approval or denial within 24 hours, and, if approved, their requests are fulfilled within three days. 

“I didn’t have access to a laptop anymore, since I used to rely on [the Kelvin Smith Library] computers to do assignments that required it. The only device I had that could even video chat was my phone and I wasn’t about to do Zoom classes on that,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous. “But only a little bit after my requests, I was getting reached out from whoever runs the fund about a shipment from Best Buy heading my way. Really de-stressed the entire process for me and my family [sic].”

Requests can be submitted through the SAF-CEF fund page HERE.

Disclaimer: Co-writer Shreyas Banerjee is a member of the Allocations Committee, though he did not personally view or approve any requests for the SAF-CEF to prevent a conflict of interest.