This year, the Brandeis Mutual Aid Fund has emerged as a valuable resource for students in need of financial aid. The Fund is a student-run group created in March when the spread of COVID-19 forced students to leave their dorms and quickly transition to online learning. 

Brandeis students relaunched the Fund in the beginning of July following a period of inactivity after the end of the spring semester. According to the Fund’s mission statement, the relaunch is “in response to national uprisings against anti-Black violence and the ongoing pandemic… [the Fund’s goal is] to support Brandeis students impacted by COVID-19 crisis, anti-Black racism or any other needs.” The Fund says on their website that they prioritize distributing support to first generation students, low income students and students of color, in addition to first-come, first-serve and time sensitive requests. By the end of July, the Fund raised around $19,000 and was able to distribute $18,360 of that money to 70 students in need, according to the Fund’s website. In addition to financial support, the Fund also provides assistance with food, including groceries and meal delivery and with transportation in general, like car rides and plane tickets. Those interested in offering non-financial assistance can do so through a form on the Fund’s website.

This semester, the Fund has changed its method of money distribution to a “buddy system.” The Fund now uses its social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to post anonymized individual student requests for funds organized by their level of urgency. As before, students in need of funds can apply through a form on the Fund’s website. Interested donors can send money directly to the anonymized student’s Venmo or Cashapp account. The fund request form suggests that those in need of money create anonymous Venmo/Cashapp usernames. Requestors for larger donations also have the option of creating a GoFundMe that the Fund would help create and boost on social media.  

Through this system, the Fund has been able to raise money for people remarkably quickly. In an interview with the Justice, Topaz Fragoso ’22 said that she was in need of $600 of monthly rent for off-campus housing. After she contacted the Fund, they were able to raise the money in around an hour and a half. Without the help of the Fund, “I do not know what I would have done,” she said. 

As the Fund writes on their website, although “all the folks working on the mutual aid fund are Brandeis students,” they are unaffiliated with the University. While Brandeis has established an Emergency Fund to help students seeking aid during these challenging times, the Brandeis Mutual Aid Fund has found through multiple testimonies that the Emergency Fund has not been able to respond to the needs of all students. Fragoso remarked that she filled out the form for the Brandeis Emergency Fund but never received a response. According to the Brandeis Mutual Aid Fund, “multiple student testimonies reveal that institutional restraints have prevented students from receiving sufficient funding.” Brandeis also received funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act introduced in March, but this funding cannot be used for international and undocumented students because of federal restrictions. 

On their website, the Fund emphasizes their commitment to maintaining the confidentiality of donor and requestor information. Their website says that the Fund has organized the information in a Google Drive that is unconnected with Brandeis and only accessible to the Brandeis students working on the Fund. The phone number used to contact requestors is a Google Voice number connected to the account. The Fund has announced its willingness to share more information about their process, as well as the names of those working on the account for those who wish to know who is seeing their information.

The Fund organizers did not respond to the Justice’s inquiry by email.