Students help Students with Brandeis Mutual Aid Fund

September 11, 2020

The Brandeis Mutual Aid Fund provides financial, mental health, transportation and food support through anonymous means. This fund is not a charity or a means to help the “less fortunate,” and  is unaffiliated with Brandeis as an institution. Instead, it is a fund for Brandeis students—created due to the shortcomings of Brandeis as an institution. The fund consists of Brandeis students aiding other Brandeis students and is not a hierarchical organization, said fund leaders, but rather a community effort. 

In a Zoom interview with the Hoot, two members of the Brandeis Mutual Aid Fund team, Ana Sophia Rollins ‘23 and Rachel Wang ‘21, discussed their involvement and why they joined the team. Rollins joined the team after it was created when one of the founders reached out to her through Instagram, and Wang also joined after the team was created in spring 2020.

That spring, Brandeis students were being sent home due to the coronavirus pandemic, and many students were struggling financially to get home. Wang describes how the fund was created—as individuals recognized that the institution was not providing support to students in ways that were equitable or fast enough during the initial weeks of the pandemic. They gave examples of students not having their needs met by Sodexo, Brandeis’ dining provider, during quarantine and how many students felt uncomfortable asking for money multiple times from the Brandeis Emergency Fund even though it was necessary to access basic needs. In many cases individuals’ needs were deemed not legitimate so they were unable to access any money, they said. The mutual aid fund was “created for, by and with students” as Wang puts it.

At the end of June, the fund began a “second wave” of sorts in an attempt to create a more sustainable method of aiding Brandeis students. The team was again informed about the needs of individuals as a result of the pandemic, in addition to needs also being fueled by the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Currently, the Mutual Aid Fund is boosting GoFundMe’s, taking requests for financial support and putting requests out to maintain anonymity. As of recently, the team is looking towards creating a new system of distribution or, in other words, a network of community members doing work together. 

In terms of future goals, the fund plans to expand the organization’s grocery initiative and onboard new people. The Mutual Aid Fund is attempting to help students who face food insecurity by putting together grocery packages, creating home cooked meals or having community meals so that people can meet in person. The fund is also planning on having webinars or workshops for political education, which is a core principle of mutual aid work. Some ideas include workshops on how to organize on campus, how to push for change on campus or a disorientation guide for first-year students so that they understand the political background of Brandeis. 

In order to maintain confidentiality, the mutual aid fund does not release names. They intake requests, don’t use gender-specific pronouns and don’t explain what the money is used for. 

One of the ways in which the mutual aid fund was able to fundraise was through the use of a game called “Brandeis Privilege Bingo” on their Instagram. Brandeis Privilege Bingo was an attempt to “tabulate how much you can give” according to Rollins. The bingo “image” has specific phrases such as “I shop at Brothers,” “I have a car on campus,” “my parents pay my rent/housing” and “I have never been stopped by or had Branpo/Public Safety called on me” among many other phrases. The bingo was an opportunity to recognize the privilege a student has. If that privilege makes you uncomfortable, that’s okay and it’s necessary in order to “decolonize your mind”—as Rollins puts it—to create changes in society. 

There was some pushback from people who viewed the bingo game, because they were uncomfortable with having to recognize their privilege, they said. Wang highlighted how the Mutual Aid Fund’s value is redistributive justice, which goes hand in hand with racial justice. The bingo board was an attempt to help people locate themselves within systems of privilege and understand that they are privileged enough to redistribute wealth. Wang illustrated that even though the fund received negative feedback from the bingo board, it was also one of their most successful digital organizing tools and led to a very successful fundraiser. 

Wang also highlighted how mutual aid requires individuals to respect the dignity of the individuals who are requesting aid. She explained that “I am not approaching this with the savior complex.” Society must recognize that these individuals are our peers, and we are not better than any of them. In addition, Rollins said that an individual’s situation is genuinely due to the society we live in—it’s not their fault. Food insecurity, minimum wage job insecurity and similar problems are not a result of the faults of an individual, but rather the results of an inherently racist system. 

Overall, the Brandeis Mutual Aid Fund is an attempt to aid Brandeis students who have been deprived of certain necessities. In no way are any of the people who request aid “less fortunate” or “less than” anyone else. In a larger sense, it allows individuals who have been put at a disadvantage due to the society we live in to receive what they should have been able to access in the first place. 

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