RALLYING BEHIND OUR STUDENTS COVID-19 CHANGED SPRING SEMESTER IN WAYS NO ONE EXPECTED, AND STUDENTS WERE AFFECTED PHYSICALLY, MENTALLY, SPIRITUALLY AND FINANCIALLY. THROUGH ALL THE UPS AND DOWNS, THE UNIVERSITY'S SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS NEVER WAVERED.
By AMY CARLSON GUSTAFSON
Rachel Harris becomes emotional when recalling the launch of the Student Emergency Financial Assistance Program for COVID-19-related financial hardships. Less than 24 hours after it was posted online at the end of March, more than 100 students had applied for the $750 tax-free grant meant to be used for unexpected non-tuition expenses including rent, medical bills, utilities and food. As of the beginning of May, 407 grants totaling more than $260,000 had been awarded. The stories they told about their needs were heartbreaking. “We asked them to tell us about their situation,” said Harris, director of finance and planning for Student Affairs. “The diversity of the stories they were telling us, the hardships they had and how every story was different than the one we had just read – it was overwhelming. There was this theme of ‘I really need this because I’m at home and I have this responsibility to participate in the taking care of my family. I have to make sure we’re all safe and healthy.’” While the university has had a general student emergency fund for years, this COVID-19-specific one comprises funding from donors and the Undergraduate Student Government, which contributed funds originally marked for events that were canceled. The university also received $2.5 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to aid students suffering hardships because of the virus. Along with funding, the pandemic quickly altered the way many things were done on campus. It also changed what students needed from professors, administrators and staff. While academically, the race was on to move classes online (see Page 16), students also were asking for extra support. From supplying laptops and helping find WiFi hotspots, to prioritizing scholarship fundraising and finding ways to celebrate seniors, the St. Thomas community came together to rally around the university’s No. 1 priority – its students.
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