When insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol, many Georgetown University students living in the District found themselves in emotional and financial distress as they watched stores and businesses throughout D.C. shut down in fear of rioters. Georgetown Mutual Aid came to their rescue.
The student-run fund designed to financially assist members of the Georgetown community raised over $7,000 for students living in the D.C. area within days of the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to Stanley Guo (NHS ’22), one of GU Mutual Aid’s organizers.
“A lot of students living in D.C. suffered from traumatizing experiences during that day. It was really inspiring to see the community come together so quickly to raise the funds. We were able to accommodate every student who requested aid related to that day,” Guo said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
Then, a month later, as ice storms ravaged parts of Texas, Georgetown students — this time thousands of miles from campus — needed help. Members of the Georgetown community once again stepped up, donating to Georgetown Mutual Aid to support students affected by the natural disaster, according to Alice Lei (NHS ’22), another organizer of the fund.
After momentous events like these, the fund’s organizers were inspired to know that students could make a tangible difference in their peers’ lives by coming together to fundraise and organize through GU Mutual Aid, according to Lei.
“Knowing that we were able to help out with such a big crisis was really touching to us,” Lei said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
Founded by Binqi Chen (NHS ’22) and Meghan Huynh (NHS ’22) in August 2020 to address students’ economic disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgetown Mutual Aid has become a powerful grassroots movement during its first year, distributing $85,000 to Georgetown students in need while promoting a message of solidarity and community.
Hoyas Helping Hoyas
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many Georgetown students reckoned with economic hardship and unforeseen expenses, such as emergency travel. The GU Mutual Aid Network offered a great alternative to university financial aid for students who could not rely on university aid because of limits on the amount of money an individual student could receive, according to Guo.
Currently, the university provides emergency financial aid to both graduate and undergraduate students through funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Students must meet specific criteria to receive CARES Act aid, however, whereas Georgetown Mutual Aid does not ask students to demonstrate need.
“The university does a good job in terms of covering as much as they can with financial aid, with textbook costs and sometimes trips home back and forth. But we step in in terms of covering smaller fees, such as an Uber cost here and there, groceries every now and then,” Guo said.
Georgetown has supported students financially in various ways, including regarding technology and COVID-19 testing, and remains committed to helping students as needed, according to a university spokesperson.
“We always appreciate seeing students living into Jesuit values, including the value to be in service to others, and have been proud to see this manifest during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Georgetown is committed to supporting students with food and housing insecurity and the University meets the full needs of students who require financial assistance paying for college, including tuition, housing and meal expenses.”
To meet these needs outside of financial aid, the mutual aid fund accepts donations through Venmo. The money is then redistributed through microgrants, often in amounts as low as $20 or $30, to any student who puts in a request through a Google Form. Students are asked to cap their requests at $50, or explain what requests larger than $50 will be used for, so the fund can assist as many students as possible, according to the GU Mutual Aid Instagram.
In the request form, GU Mutual Aid does not ask students requesting funds to justify their financial need; instead, the students check off a general category on the request form, such as food or transportation, that the funds will be used for and are then provided aid. The aid request form is also free of any identifying information: students are only asked for their Venmo username so funds can be easily distributed.
The no-questions-asked policy allows students to use an honor system to support mutual aid, according to Guo.
“The concept of honor serves as a pillar of mutual aid, so we will generally grant whatever request is asked for, especially for first-time requesters,” Guo said.
In addition to redistributed Venmo funds, the mutual aid network offers nonmonetary resources for students, including links to free versions of textbooks, streaming subscriptions or even free transportation provided by one student living near San Francisco who offered to drive other Georgetown students.
To Lei, Georgetown Mutual Aid’s emphasis on standing with fellow community members is representative of the university’s Jesuit values, which has helped the network connect with the student body.
“Forms of community care like mutual aid really speak to Georgetown’s values of cura personalis and service for others, which means making sure to take care of your community members and lend a hand whenever and wherever you can,” Lei said.
Club Culture for a Cause
In recent months, the Georgetown University Mutual Aid Network has collaborated with Georgetown student organizations, including The Corp and various chapters of Georgetown Greek life, to publicize and bolster the aid fund.
In an initiative called Swipe It Forward, The Corp teamed up with Georgetown Mutual Aid to collect Flex dollars for students living on campus, according to Rose Dallimore (SFS ’22), community engagement chair and board member at large of The Corp.
“We worked to combine the infrastructure GU Mutual Aid created — a no justification necessary donation and request system with regular disbursals for community support — with The Corp’s ability to process and collect flex dollars, creating a simple donation and request forms,” Dallimore wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Through an online form, students can donate Flex dollars from their dining plans; these funds are then redistributed to students in need, allowing them to buy food and drink items from The Corp Café in the Healey Family Student Center. The program began March 4 and will continue for the remainder of the spring semester, according to Dallimore.
As of April 29, The Corp and GU Mutual Aid had over $1000 in Flex donations for students to request from, according to the GU Mutual Aid Instagram.
GU Mutual Aid’s social media fundraising campaigns have often been targeted at many students’ privilege. In September 2020, the fund posted donation bingo cards, with each box including a signifier of class and wealth privilege at Georgetown like “Went to boarding school” or “Renting an apartment in D.C. right now.” Students were then asked to donate at least $5 for every box they identified with.
With the concept of privilege in mind, several chapters of Georgetown Greek life also launched initiatives to support Georgetown Mutual Aid. Using Venmo and Instagram stories to collect donations, sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma raised $780 this February, according to Kappa Kappa Gamma Philanthropy Chair Nikki Feenstra (NHS ’22).
To Feenstra, the decision to partner with Georgetown Mutual Aid was easy because the program has taken on an important role in the Georgetown community and helped members of Kappa Kappa Gamma reflect on their own privilege.
“Kappa wanted to raise money for Georgetown Mutual Aid because it is the perfect way to allocate money to actually assist people in our own community,” Feenstra wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The network of trust and support that GU Mutual Aid provides is unparalleled with other organizations. As a sorority at Georgetown, it is important to understand the privilege we hold and that there are direct actions that we can take to uplift others.”
Other chapters of Georgetown Greek life launched similar initiatives with Georgetown Mutual Aid, including Sigma Phi Epsilon, which raised $252 for the fund in March.
Hoya Blue, the university’s official student section, also fundraised for Georgetown Mutual Aid in March, raising $317. Fundraising for GU Mutual Aid has helped Hoya Blue interact with the Georgetown community, especially in a virtual environment, according to Hoya Blue Outreach Officer Taylor Vessel (NHS ’22).
“With Zoom, it’s a lot harder to have interactions with other clubs and really understand what they’re doing. We had also not had an opportunity to do something philanthropic throughout the past semester,” Vessel said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “This was a very easy and meaningful way to get members of the club involved in giving back.”
Speaking Up and Speaking Out
As their organization expands, Georgetown Mutual Aid has worked to promote solidarity and support beyond the Hilltop. For example, the organizers of the fund recently spoke at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Alumni of Color Conference to demonstrate the power students can achieve through organizing, according to Lei.
“We serve as a case study for how students across the country are helping each other throughout the pandemic,” Lei said. “We’ve been able to introduce not only Georgetown Mutual Aid but the concept of mutual aid in general to different groups of people who may not have encountered that term.”
Mutual aid funds exist at universities across the country, and many were also created during the pandemic. Georgetown’s fund draws inspiration from organizations at George Washington University, Columbia University and Barnard College, according to GU Mutual Aid’s donation records.
While aid networks differ in their logistics, many of them, including Georgetown Mutual Aid, have used social media to bring exposure to their work, according to Lei.
“Social media has been a key avenue for drawing attention to these grassroots efforts and making initiatives like Georgetown Mutual Aid really accessible,” Lei said.
Georgetown Mutual Aid has also been able to advocate for its program and mission through profiles in news publications such as The New York Times. Through social media advertisements and profiles in the media, the group hopes to expand the program’s reach, according to Guo.
“The concept of being featured in publications has also given a lot of exposure to mutual aid: not only to Georgetown Mutual Aid, but also to various mutual aids that have spread across the country,” Guo said. “So it’s very important to recognize the very grassroots organizations that have sprouted up. We really do want to emphasize the importance of supporting them in order to support the community that they serve.”
Though initially founded to meet student needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, the network intends to remain a resource for the community even as vaccine distribution expands and the university transitions to in-person learning, according to Guo.
“Economic disparities have always existed long before the pandemic. The pandemic itself has pretty much highlighted every single gap that has existed: not just at Georgetown, but across the entire world,” Guo said. “While we hope that a post-COVID-19 scenario arrives soon, I believe that GU Mutual Aid would exist even then because there will still be people struggling day to day.”
Guo said the members of the Georgetown community should continue to support each other, even in a post-COVID-19 world.
“With or without a pandemic, giving back to the community, no matter how much or how little you are able to, is the basis of mutual aid,” Guo said.