SFC Denies Funds to Service Trips
After allocating $5,000 to an Immerse Yourself in Service trip that took place over last year’s spring break, the Student Finance Committee refused to provide similar student trips with financial support this year, frustrating organizers and raising questions about the fairness of SFC’s decision.
This year, four groups of students submitted IYS project proposals — two groups hoping to visit New Orleans, one to visit Jacksonville and one to visit Pascagoula, Mississippi — and none received funding. All four groups were able to execute their projects, but were forced to make their volunteers bear significant project costs.
SFC granted an interview to the Review on the condition that some questions be provided in advance and that quotations be attributed to the body as a whole, not to individual members.
In the interview, SFC explained that its decision to fund an IYS trip last year violated its established policies: “Last year the SFC funds went over budget, which shows basically inefficient management of funds. This year, we are trying to take steps to follow not only our policies but also our protocol so this does not occur again.”
The SFC budget is approximately $500,000, and funds over 150 student groups. SFC has an additional $100,000 to use for ad hoc allocations, which fund emergency and unexpected student needs. (According to SFC, this year, the Review received $21,565 from SFC’s budget and an additional $6,000 in ad hoc funding.)
SFC gave two reasons for rejecting funding requests filed by IYS leaders: the trips happen during spring break and they are not directly geared toward the Oberlin community at large.
“The bulk of the [IYS] project is off-campus [and] it happens during a break period. SFC does not give money to group [projects] — and it should not have done this in the past either — that happen during fall break, spring break or Winter Term. There are other financial services available for these purposes,” SFC said. SFC mentioned SHANSI and the 1831 Fund among others.
“SFC funds are more geared towards the immediate Oberlin community,” SFC said. “If it was a direct service for the Oberlin community when school is in session then it would be fine. Trips cannot be geared towards a break.”
According to SFC’s general policies, “SFC money may not be used for the following purposes: purchasing alcohol, purchasing gifts, flowers, etc., making donations to outside organizations [and] fun trips during Spring/Fall Break.”
Colin Jones, a College junior who led the Mississippi IYS trip and who is also a member of SFC said that SFC has not been explicit about what spring break trips it funds. Jones was required to abstain from SFC’s vote regarding the trip.
“I think that we all know the difference between a ‘fun’ spring break where students go to Cancun and the type of trips we were engaged in,” said Jones.
“If SFC wants to make a policy to say no funding for spring break then they can do that but that hasn’t been done,” Jones said. “It’s obviously a gray area that we have to talk about when setting policy.”
Jones continued, “They don’t have to give us…as much as they gave the year before—they have discretion as to what they pay for and what they don’t, and we already fundraised seriously. I just didn’t see a clear reason why we were given zero dollars.”
Despite SFC’s refusal to fund trips over spring break, club sports with events occurring during spring break are consistently funded by SFC, because “it’s not an allocation for spring break, it’s an allocation for a program or event,” said SFC.
According to College senior Andy Estep, the leader of the Jacksonville group that worked with a local Habitat for Humanity group called HabiJax, his group members were required to pay hundreds of dollars to participate in the project.
“Each participant had to put down $100 deposit just to get the vans out — that’s not including mileage. It was another $100 for the participation fee. Everyone had to pay for their own food since Habitat only covered three meals,” said Estep. The participation fee included a place to sleep, but the group has not yet been able to pay that fee.
“I fronted $400 for gas, which is really scary,” said Estep. Each of the van groups had to front roughly that much; however, gas is to be reimbursed by the President’s office.
IYS raised funds through donations from Kendal, community groups, the Center for Service and Learning, hall councils, co-ops and with a party.
College juniors Nick Bartlett and Cody Hartley, who headed an IYS trip to New Orleans, still owe $750 to the organization they worked with, Relief Spark, for their room and board.
College sophomore Maya Shulman-Ment had less financial trouble because her New Orleans group worked with Common Ground, which provided room and board at a suggested donation. Her group, however, has not yet been able to make an acceptable donation.
Shulman-Ment and Estep both stated their belief that their projects are beneficial to the greater College community.
“It’s disheartening to think that our mission isn’t being thought of as a campus mission…The organization has the potential to do a lot of wonderful things for the campus and its participants,” Shulman-Ment said.
Estep agreed: “Hopefully we’re building an organization that’s giving other people on campus the same opportunity to go on these trips. There is the definite benefit in changing the mindsets of students on what they want to do with their breaks.”