In Spring 2021, Telijah Patterson ’23 completed her remote schoolwork on the mat that doubles as both her bed and her workspace. She cannot afford to buy a desk or a bed, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been attending her classes remotely from Texas.
As a Resumed Undergraduate Education student, she and her peers have faced unique challenges on top of those faced by traditional undergraduate students. Many of these RUE students faced increased financial difficulties exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, from having to support spouses or children to working to pay the bills.
The University received federal COVID-19 funding in April 2020 through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and it was awarded a second round of funding in early 2021 through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. These funds were disbursed to students in March 2021 after students in the U-FLi community expressed concerns about the delay in distribution.
In order to determinehow to best disburse these awards, the University convened a committee of students, faculty and staff, wrote University Spokesperson Brian Clark in an email to The Herald. “The consensus of that group was to base distributions on student financial aid profiles,” Clark wrote.
These awards ranged from $3,000 “for students with a $0 parent contribution (those with the greatest demonstrated need)” to a minimum of $500, Provost Richard Locke P’18 wrote in a Feb. 26 email to students.
With a $0 family contribution, Patterson anticipated receiving the maximum award of $3,000. When she received her award in March, it was for $1,500 — as was the award for all other RUE students, regardless of their financial need.
“Because many of us are low-income students, we were really looking forward to that (funding) ... ,” Patterson said. “We didn’t find out that we were going to be cut short until we got the email.”
Other students similarly felt “surprised and disappointed,” said Norbesida Bagabila ’21. “That funding would have helped me a great deal.” Though the University has since adjusted its funding structure for RUE students in the third round to address their concerns, many felt that the University should have proactively accounted for such concerns when distributing CARES and CRRSAA funding.
Basing student awards on their financial aid profiles was the “case for all students, RUE included,” Clark wrote. But RUE student financial aid profiles are different from those of traditional undergraduates because they are “independent students and therefore do not have parent contribution levels like dependent undergraduate students.”
RUE students are among the student groups who receive the most financial support from the University, Clark wrote, including an average of $4,600 more in financial aid than dependent undergraduate students with a $0 parent contribution. Many RUE students also received direct federal stimulus payments, he added. The $1,500 provided to all RUE students “was slightly more than the average amount allocated to all eligible students.”
Because RUE students have different circumstances than traditional undergraduate students, many felt they still needed the federal funding despite other support they received.
“We weren’t considered in the same category as undergraduates, and so as a result, a lot of us were not able to receive the full $3,000 that we would have otherwise received if we were just a few years younger,” Patterson said.
After the announcement, RUE students began discussing the funding in their Facebook group. Students planned a meeting with the RUE program administration. During that meeting, which only those students in the Facebook group were notified about, the administration “opted for damage control,” Patterson said.
When RUE students brought up concerns during the meeting, some felt that administrators “were just trying to brush it off,” Bagabila said, adding that he perceived the conditions of the funding to be vague and inconsistenly communicated.
Patterson added that when she asked that the meeting be recorded and minutes be taken in order to ensure accessibility, neither request was fulfilled.
Patterson submitted an appeal to the University asking for a reconsideration of funding on the grounds that “excluding RUE students from receiving the full amount given to other high-need undergraduate students feels discriminatory,” in an email that was reviewed by The Herald.
Students who attended the meeting found it “vague and unsatisfactory” and felt that the University “wrongly assumed they needed less money than was allocated,” Patterson wrote in the email.
In response to the appeal, the University told RUE students that they could apply for E-Gap funding if they need more support to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
“We don’t want to apply for E-Gap funding because this was a decision that was made for everyone as a group,” Patterson said. “We shouldn’t have to individually try to advocate and fight for more funding through a different fund.”
The University “shared full details on the funding model decisions with RUE students who inquired both in writing and in meetings,” Clark wrote. RUE students also received direct notification of their monetary awards.
Clark added that the University provided support through E-Gap funding to meet the needs of RUE students, including “curricular and co-curricular expenses, dependent care, unexpected medical and travel expenses and technology needs including computers and Wi-Fi access.”
RUE students “have far more responsibilities” than traditional undergraduate students, Patterson explained. Some students care for their children or older parents, while others simultaneously work to support their families and take classes. Other students do not qualify for federal stimulus funding because of their immigration status or have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
Some additional students were unable to access their usual sources of child care, such as family or friends, because of concerns over COVID-19 and had to take out loans to pay for child care.
“We’ve got a lot more moving parts, and it literally makes no sense as to why they would determine that we need less money than someone that is a dependent and that’s living at home with their parents,” Patterson said.
It is also difficult for RUE students to organize as a group because, unlike other student boards like the Undergraduate Council of Students, the Resumed Undergraduate Student Association board does not have access to a full list of RUE student emails. Any emails sent must go through administration to be sent to the full RUE student body.
Four months after the initial round of funding, administration invited RUSA President and Herald business team member Amit Levi ’24 to attend a meeting to represent RUE student interests for the third round of federal funding, which the University received under the American Rescue Plan that Congress passed in March. The University “proactively reached out to several student communities” to create an “expanded” advisory group, Clark wrote.
During this meeting, Levi gathered with student stakeholders from other communities to discuss the best way to allocate $6.29 million in student funding.
“The discussions were very much based on what each community’s needs are,” Levi said. “Because the RUE and RUE-like community is a relatively small community with (a) pretty nontraditional set of backgrounds compared to the other students, what I focused on when speaking with this committee was what our backgrounds entail.”
Many RUE students are completely financially independent, while others have an expected family contribution of $0, Levi explained.
Levi was also given the opportunity to speak with administrators one-on-one. After a few meetings, the committee of student stakeholders reached a consensus on how the funding should be distributed, which included the full $3,000 award for all RUE students.
The administration was “very receptive, they wanted to hear our circumstances, they were actually listening actively and answering questions that we had while also taking feedback into consideration,” Levi said. “It was a positive experience.”
Instead of focusing on a specific dollar amount, Levi found that the meetings focused more on how COVID-19 has affected the participating communities. He used this opportunity to talk about the challenges RUE students face.
“They really carefully looked at all the data, all of our viewpoints, and it felt like they took all that into consideration when making the decision,” Levi said.
As a result of this meeting, the University increased support for RUE students, veteran students, independent transfer students and medical and master’s students with demonstrated need, Clark wrote.
Levi is satisfied with the award RUE students received in the third round of federal funding, he said, as are many other RUE students. He is also “very grateful” that the University included RUE students in these meetings.
“From the (RUE students) I was able to speak with, it seems like … the outcomes are reflective of our needs,” Levi added. “We feel like we were heard, and we feel like administration really made an effort to listen to the concerns that we raised and to make decisions accordingly.”
Levi also hopes to use this inclusion as a jumping-off point to continue working with the University to ensure support for RUE students into the coming year.
“I definitely want to continue that strong relationship with administration.”
Patterson similarly feels relieved that the University listened to the RUE community, though she also feels “exhausted” because of the work it took to get to this point. “We were relieved, of course, to have more funding, but I don’t think that there is the sentiment of celebration,” Patterson said. “I would like it to be that, but we know that there’s still more work to do to make sure that our needs are met in the future.”
She would have been “impressed” if the University had used some of the institutional portion of its funding to directly support students. “I understand that the University has had to cover unexpected expenses, … but I also feel like from an equity perspective, the funding that Brown got would have been more impactful for certain students than it is for the University.”
She also hopes the collaboration between the University and RUE students continues into the future. “I just hope that going forward, should something like this happen again, Brown doesn’t forget all the feedback that we’ve given them and that they keep listening to students.”
Levi is ultimately glad that the RUE community was included in conversations around funding that impacts their experiences.
“We’re a small community on campus and our backgrounds are … non traditional,” Levi said. “There’s a lot of importance in just having the platform to voice our community’s needs.”
Patterson feels like she has been “heard but not necessarily understood,” she said. “I believe that the root of the problem is communication.”
RUE students do feel “a real sense of relief because these funds will really, really, really help with the challenges that we’re still facing and that we’re probably still going to face for months, possibly even years to come,” Patterson added.