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Giving begins at home

Heartening internal support for COVID-19 student emergency funds

Student Life

By Heidi Wicks

When the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a societal shutdown, many Memorial students found themselves in difficult circumstances.

Residences were evacuated and campuses closed. In-person teaching and learning shifted to a remote learning model. Many students were laid off from their jobs and unable to pay rent or buy food. Some students were unable to travel home, leaving them without a place to live. Others did not have access to computers to complete their coursework. It quickly became clear that students needed financial support to manage.

Since the April 9 announcement that two COVID-19 student emergency funds were accepting donations, warm waves of support have been flowing from the university community.

To date, the Undergraduate Student Emergency Fund and the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) Graduate Student Emergency Fund has collected more than $159,000.

‘No student should have to feel alone right now’

The Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union (MUNSU) contributed $20,000 to the undergraduate student fund, setting a stellar example of leadership, generosity and camaraderie among the student body.

Katherine McLaughlin, executive director of advocacy, says the union has been working with faculty and staff to contribute.

Katherine McLaughlin
Photo: Submitted

She says that conversations with Memorial’s Student Support Office and the MUNSU executive committee brought about the decision to vote to divert funds originally earmarked for events no longer possible due to physical distancing protocols.

“We are very glad to be in the position to make an initial donation of $20,000,” Ms. McLaughlin said.

“The care and vision of Roxanne Rideout-Scott and her amazing team is to be commended. MUNSU is a students’ union representing over 11,000 members. Even with physical distancing and isolation measures in place, no student should have to feel alone right now. That’s what being a union is all about.”  

Faculty support

The Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association (MUNFA), which represents academic staff at Memorial, also contributed $10,000 in support: $5,000 for each of the undergraduate and graduate funds.

Dr. Robin Whitaker, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, says her union believes all students should be able to focus on their studies.

“We know that many students are distracted and anxious as a result of unexpected challenges arising from the pandemic,” Dr. Whitaker said. “We wanted to offer what we could to alleviate a little of the stress during this extraordinary time.”

Ken Snelgrove
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Ken Snelgrove, president, MUNFA, added: “When we saw the call for donations to a student emergency fund, the MUNFA executive looked at our budget and made the unanimous decision that we should reallocate funds that we had originally set aside for travel to meetings and workshops.”

As well, the Graduate Students’ Union is set to donate to the SGS Graduate Student Emergency Fund this week.

Dr. Aimée Surprenant
Photo: Submitted

Together, while apart

Despite the current difficult – and for some, devastating – circumstances, Memorial’s family spirit and sense of togetherness has been inspirational.

Early on, the dean of graduate studies issued a challenge to her colleagues after making a significant donation herself.

“This crisis has widened the inequalities in society, taking a disproportionate toll on low-income individuals, racialized groups, people with disabilities and others who were already marginalized before the crisis hit,” Dr. Aimée Surprenant said.

“Although all of us are struggling in one way or another, I challenge those who have the financial resources to contribute to this fund to help those who are facing exceptional challenges and personal crises due to the pandemic. Even a little bit helps a great deal.”

While contributions have been strong thus far, further donations are encouraged as funds are depleted as quickly as they come in.

And while a number of students have benefitted from the funds, many have needs that exceed the available funding from the federal government or they are not eligible for federal relief.

Update: The total donation amount to the Student Emergency Funds combined, as of June 4, 2020, is $192,230.

If you would like to contribute to students who are experiencing financial difficulty at this time, please visit the Office of Development online.

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