Op-ed: Student Union launches Opportunity Fund
When you look back on your time at Washington University, what will you remember? For many, extracurricular activities provide some of the most meaningful interactions while in college. A big part of our growth and well-being as college students comes from getting involved on campus and engaging with our community. However, these experiences come at price. Club dues, performance tickets, retreats, uniforms, costumes, Senior Week events, competition and conference travel expenses can cost students hundreds of dollars throughout the semester. More than 80 percent of Wash. U. students surveyed last fall indicated that their participation in club activities has been influenced by financial barriers.
Student Union believes that socioeconomic status should not prevent students from having a complete undergraduate experience. Over the past year, Student Union has partnered with student leaders from WU/FUSED and TRiO as well as Student Financial Services (SFS) and the Office of Student Success to create the Opportunity Fund. This fund seeks to ensure that financial circumstances will not be a barrier to extracurricular involvement. Similar SU initiatives attempted over the past eight years have fizzled out at the implementation phase due to issues of feasibility, anonymity and sustainability. With this history in mind, the Opportunity Fund task force researched similar initiatives at other universities and has worked with our campus partners to try and address some of these big issues that have prevented this project in the past.
After a year of research and planning, Student Union is proud to announce the official implementation of the Opportunity Fund. Student Financial Services will be contacting those students who are eligible. Eligible students will receive a certain amount of allocated money in order to help offset the costs of individual contributions for SU student group expenses. In order to respect the privacy of our fellow students and maintain anonymity, the eligibility criteria, the specific amount allocated to each individual and the logistics of how students will be given access to the money will not be released to the general public. I also want to note that absolutely no member of Student Union, including myself, has been or will be made privy to any student’s financials. Only employees of Student Financial Services will have access to which students are eligible and using the fund.
The 2017-2018 school year will serve as the pilot year for the Opportunity Fund. In last year’s general budget session, Student Union’s Senate and Treasury allocated $30,000 to start this fund. This pilot year will allow us to further assess the best way to structure and implement the program in the long term. Moving forward, we hope to be able to expand the money in the fund, the number of students who have access to it and the types of activities it can be used on. Toward the end of the school year, SU will be administering a survey through SFS in order to solicit feedback on what students thought of the fund and how they would like to see the fund grow in the future. We also encourage those interested in this process to join the task force as we look to evaluate and improve upon the system we’ve established.
We recognize that there is still a long way to go, but we are excited to be taking the first steps towards creating a campus that is inclusive of all backgrounds and where financial circumstances will no longer prevent students from having a full college experience.
I would like to recognize and thank the students who have been a part of the task force and have worked to lead this initiative so far: Alex Rutherford, Amaia Cook, Amir Hassan, Emily King, Gwen Klein, Katie Wood, Kenneth Sng, Lydia Duran, Mashoud Kaba, Mike Holtz, Olivia Williams, Shaun Ee and Varun Lahoti. It is your passion and hard work that has made the Opportunity Fund possible!