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Student organizers end mutual aid fund after pushback from College

April 23, 2020

Members of the Bowdoin Labor Alliance (BLA) shut down their online mutual aid fund on Tuesday after College administrators notified them that the effort violated College policies that prohibit independent student fundraising.

Before closing on Tuesday, the fund had raised and distributed over $15,000 to Bowdoin students, staff and other community members struggling with the economic fallout of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis since April 1.

“The fundraising effort was not permitted by [Student Organizations Oversight Committee (SOOC)] policies,” wrote Dean for Student Affairs Janet Lohmann in an email to the Orient.

Both the Student Handbook and SOOC guidelines limit independent fundraising efforts by student-run clubs. According to the Student Handbook, student organizations may only fundraise for charitable causes only if they solicit donations exclusively from current students and have received prior permission from the director of Student Activities.

Clubs that violate SOOC policies risk losing their SOOC charter, which allows them to hold events on campus and receive funding from the Student Activities Funding Committee (SAFC).

According to Sonia Shah, the chair of the SOOC, the committee asked the fund’s organizers to clarify that the fund was being organized independently of the College and of BLA activities, but it did not request that organizers shut the fund down.

“When the SOOC reached out to BLA regarding the initiative, we had simply asked them to completely disconnect the Bowdoin Labor Alliance and Bowdoin from this mutual aid network and update the language on their website,” wrote Shah in an email to the Orient. “The SOOC did not push the students who started the initiative to shut down the mutual aid network in any way.”

But according to the fund’s organizers, administrators continued to take issue with the fact that the fund was hosted on the BLA website, even with the additional language clarifying its independence from both BLA and the College.

Lohmann wrote in an email that “using the term ‘Bowdoin’ suggests it is a Bowdoin sponsored initiative, which it was not.”

Neither the Student Handbook nor SOOC guidelines explicitly prohibit using the College’s name in fundraising efforts.

“We changed our language to try to disconnect [the fund] from BLA … but unfortunately, the fact that it was hosted on the BLA website was still a concern for them,” said Ben Ray ’20, one of the organizers and a founding member of the BLA, in a phone interview with the Orient. “[Administrators] made it clear to us that if we couldn’t migrate to a new webpage, the fund would have to be taken down for us to maintain our charter.”

Ray said organizers considered moving the fund to another online platform but found the associated technical difficulties to be prohibitive.

The College maintains its own support fund to provide financial assistance to staff members facing financial emergencies.

Before taking the fund offline on Tuesday, organizers had completed all 47 of the requests for aid that they had received, using over $15,000 in donations. Ray said he and his co-organizers were hoping to continue to receive and fulfill requests as needed, and they were surprised by the pushback they received from the College.

“We had thought that the fact that we’re living in really exceptional times and that these are truly unprecedented circumstances would validate the fact that people need this resource right now,” said Ray.

Diego Grossmann ’20, another student organizing the fund, shared Ray’s disappointment.

“Honestly it was surprising and so contradictory to get pushback from Student Activities and from the administration about a violation of these kinds of rules,” Grossmann said in a phone interview with the Orient. “We’re getting emails from the administration telling us to care for each other and do anything that we can to find creative solutions to support each other, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Shah acknowledged the need for flexibility in implementing SOOC policy during extraordinary circumstances but said that hosting the fund on the BLA website too closely associated the fundraising effort with the club.

“While we appreciate that students are leading an initiative to help others, we specifically have these policies to ensure that any club who chooses to fundraise can be held accountable in case anything goes wrong,” she wrote.

In lieu of the fund, organizers have posted links to local organizations and other mutual funds supporting Brunswick residents during the COVID-19 crisis on the webpage. A statement announcing the suspension of the fund at the top of the webpage does not mention the College’s involvement.

Grossmann said the organizers are not actively planning to launch a new aid fund but indicated that they are staying in touch with community members who are continuing to face financial struggles.

“We’ve already received messages from aid recipients talking about new situations and the fact that they need more help, and if we see that need is ongoing and that no one is filling that need, then we might step in and do something again,” he said.

Editor’s Note, 4/24/2020 at 9:20 a.m.: The original version of this article has been updated to reflect the fact that the SOOC, not Student Activities, charters student groups. 


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  1. Class of 2019 says:

    The SOOC is a toxic body with no purpose other than to harass student organizations. The mutual aid network is not the first student-led group to face resistance from the SOOC over technicalities and minutia. That any Bowdoin student would want to be a part of the SOOC or even chair it is embarrassing.

    • Brandon Schuster says:

      While some people on Bowdoin campus who decide to not participate fully in the College experience may think that the SOOC is purposeless, those of us who actively engage with many student organizations beg to differ. What is toxic, however, with your comment is your refusal to see the inflexibility of the administration and the misinformed reporting by the author (i.e. it is against SOOC policy to use Bowdoin’s name in an outside fundraising effort).

    • Class of 2019 says:


      I was the leader of a large club at Bowdoin for two years. I’d say I participated fully in the College. In my experience, the SOOC did nothing to help student organizations. Instead, it promulgated frustrating, pointless regulations. Its leaders tended to be sanctimonious and uninterested in the flourishing of student clubs. My view: abolish it.

  2. Class of 2019 says:

    This seems pretty ridiculous. Totally get how technically Bowdoin wouldn’t want them to be using BLA’s name if Bowdoin College doesn’t support the fundraising (which is a whole nother question to raise) — but CLEARLY there is a NEED and seeing the Bowdoin community come together to support each other was most concretely visible through this fundraiser.
    We can say, “these are difficult times we are all in,” and “I’m so sorry to those going through hardships,” or “we will be resilient,” all we want — and of course we are grateful to all the efforts that each member of this community is putting into supporting one another. But unfortunately the reality is getting through this disaster takes MONEY – not JUST emotional and mental or even theoretical support. This Fundraiser is NEEDED. Can Bowdoin please implement its own version of exactly what BLA did? (perhaps just use the same process, and call it something else?!?!?)
    I’m very frustrated seeing Bowdoin time and time again prioritize policies over the REAL STORIES and NEEDS of its community members. Common Good?
    This is a time to come together. Thank you to all those who organized that fund and contributed to it.

    • Class of 2018 says:

      “The College maintains its own support fund to provide financial assistance to staff members facing financial emergencies.”
      Bowdoin is still financially supporting its staff, and it says so in the article.

    • Diego Grossmann says:

      @class of 2018: Yes, the administration often notes that they maintain a support fund for workers in financial emergencies (the Paller Fund) and hope that credulous readers will take this claim at face value.

      After organizing conversations with workers, members of the BLA not only learned that some housekeepers didn’t even know about the Paller Fund, but also that the application process is cumbersome, discouraging, and workers are only allowed to receive emergency support once during their time at Bowdoin (not to mention, with strict restrictions on usage and conditions for eligibility…unlike direct, no-questions-asked support funds such as BLA’s).

      Moreover, workers are only eligible for Paller Fund assistance once they are already in the deep end…workers must provide an “eviction notice, foreclosure notice, utility shut off notices, extraordinary hospital bills, etc.” according to the College website. BLA’s fund, however, provided direct assistance so that workers could continue to live: make rent, put food on the table, and keep the heat on.

      Furthermore, the Paller Fund’s $800 grant limit barely scratches the surface of the currently $5,200 (Family) health insurance deductible for the College’s cheapest health plan––which amounts to nearly a quarter of a worker’s yearly income, at the starting wage.

  3. Class of 2020 says:

    This is completely horrendous. Bowdoin has made it clear that much of what it says about a community coming together to help each other in a dire situation is simply words. The college refuses to fund students through the CARES act and is still “deciding.” Meanwhile other institutions have distributing funding to students in need (both international and U.S. citizens) through their own emergency aid, the CARES funding, and alumni. Other colleges lower their tuition and defer costs, Bowdoin remains silent. It’s clear that Bowdoin doesn’t care about its students, but only claims to do so. This is very unfortunate and I hope more students speak up.

  4. David Anderson '19 says:

    How is it that Bowdoin still peddles its commitment to the “Common Good” while at the same time turning around and attempting to shut down any independent attempts by students to organize for the good of the community that the administration can’t exercise absolute control over? The college should be advertising this sort of thing, not shutting it down. Don’t we want alums who can independently organize for the Common Good in times of trouble?

    This is an extremely bad look for an administration that has already displayed a decidedly milquetoast response to the problems faced by it’s staff and, from what I can tell, done a fairly poor job of handling the present crisis as well. I feel ashamed, and the SOOC should as well.

    • James Pierce says:

      Spot on. The college’s erstwhile commitment to the common good seems to depend greatly upon whose common good is at stake. The Bowdoin Labor Alliance received heavy pushback from the administration because it advocated for better wages for the least paid members of staff, the housekeepers. The SOOC in my opinion is another adjunct of the administration thought police and in this case aids and abets the hypocrisy if the “common good.”

      James Pierce 1969

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