May 12, 2020
For UNE’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG), spring is usually a time of peak activity: funding the annual spring dance and concert (through the student-run Activities Program Board), sponsoring small capital projects dear to the student body (last year, the USG helped pay for the installation of solar panels on the roof of the Arthur P. Girard Marine Science Center), and disbursing funds to multiple “clubs and orgs” for spring programming and as seed money to ramp up in the fall.
But with the campus closed during most of the spring semester due to the coronavirus pandemic, plans for the fall still to be determined, and most student projects and activities put on hold, the USG found themselves with an unprecedentedly large surplus of cash—tens of thousands of dollars.
“I chair the budget and finance committee,” explains Max Russell ’21, a medical biology/history double-major, “and we kept a really tight budget for most of the year expecting that we were going to have some big allocations in the spring, as we usually do. Then all of ‘this’ started to happen. We got sent home, and in our student government, we tried to think of ways that we could best support our students.”
“I think nobody saw this coming, and we had all this money that we weren't able to allocate,” says USG President Erin Gilgallon (Nutrition, ’21). “And I was getting a lot of questions even before this happened, asking what was being done to help students with things like living expenses. So we passed a resolution.”
The resolution? To donate $30,000 to the Barbara J. Hazard Student Emergency Fund, which provides financial assistance to students who need a little boost to get them through life’s unexpected emergencies: buying groceries, helping with the rent, or purchasing school books after, say, an unexpected illness or job loss. The fund was created in 2011 by Barbara Hazard HA ’10, who served as UNE’s vice president of Student Affairs from 1983 to 2009, and her partner, Lynn Harrison, with an initial pledge of $15,000. Since the fund was created, over 1,000 donors—including alumni, faculty, staff, students, and parents—have contributed almost $90,000 to support students in financial crisis.
The idea for the USG to make a large donation to the fund was proposed and whole-heartedly endorsed by the USG executive team in small-group discussions at the end of March, prior to the full assembly vote. “There wasn't a lot of conversation about it. They were all just kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, of course we should do this,’” relates Maria Goodwin, assistant dean of Student Affairs, and one of the USG advisors.
For Jay Arcuri, director of Student Engagement and the other USG advisor, it was a genuinely exciting moment. “It's probably one of the proudest moments that I've had here at UNE so far,” he says. “Just watching these students say, ‘This is what we need to be doing. This is the place that we can make an impact in these challenging times.’”
The formal resolution was written up by Russell, as USG financial manager, and presented to the full undergraduate assembly for electronic review the week of March 30. A formal vote was taken by the full assembly during a Zoom meeting on April 2, 2020, where the resolution passed nearly unanimously, by a vote of 30-1.
Dean of Student Affairs Jen DeBurro, with evident pride in her voice, remarks, “There was no hesitation at all. None.”
“It is a lot of money,” says Gilgallon, with modest nonchalance, “so you'd think it would be kind of a big decision. And I guess it was. So it was definitely cool for it to just be no question. It's just the right thing to do. And I think if we have the resources to do something like that, we always should.”
The Emergency Fund is not the only source of financial assistance for students adversely impacted by the pandemic. After partnering with UNE to support the athletics program earlier this year, Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare came forward again to contribute $5,000 to address food insecurity for students. That donation is being used to purchase Hannaford supermarket gift cards. In addition, UNE is starting to receive federal CARES Act funds, for students with more substantial impacts.
The bottom line for DeBurro is the way the UNE community continues to step up during the pandemic: with unhesitating courage and compassion. “Our students, our faculty, and our staff have presented themselves and their generosity in a way that is just outstanding,” she says. “At a time when so many people's finances are uncertain, how quickly our undergraduates said, ‘Well, of course we're going to help other students at the university.’ When I think about the selflessness of these students and these funds that they get from the University to program and create things, it's not lost on me that $30,000 is a lot of money, and there's a lot that they could have done with that. But their priority right now is helping their peers. And to me, there's just nothing better than that. That is UNE’s special sauce. Our students are that fantastic.”
Gilgallon clearly agrees. “Our school isn't super big,” she says, “so I feel like I am connected with a ton of people on our campus. I walk to class, and I see the same faces every day. I like that, and it feels good to know that you’re helping those people that you come in contact with every day.”
Russell makes it unanimous. “We have such a sense of community,” he says, “and a lot of schools…” He pauses in an attempt to finish his sentence graciously. “Well…they don't quite have that.”
Resolution 2020-03 (Emergency Fund)
WHEREAS, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, students have been adversely affected financially, emotionally, and otherwise, and
WHEREAS, the primary duty of the Undergraduate Student Government is to serve students, and
WHEREAS, the Undergraduate Student Government will be left with a budget surplus at the end of the 2019/2020 academic year, and
WHEREAS, The University has a standing Student Emergency Fund whose purpose is to immediately help students who are faced with a sudden, unexpected event in their life which impedes their ability to support their education.
WHEREAS, the Student Emergency Fund has set criteria and systems in place to distribute emergency funds to students.
WHEREAS, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the University of New England has postponed fundraisers benefiting the Student Emergency Fund,
We propose moving funds in the amount of $30,000.00 from the Undergraduate Student Government Active Budget to the University of New England Student Emergency Fund.