By Mike Sherr
There are over 230 recognized student organizations at the College, each of which fights over allocations from the limited Student Activity Fee (SAF). The Student Finance Board (SFB), which oversees the distribution of the SAF, has long been the focus of angered clubs whose funding requests were denied.
Near the end of last semester, SFB Executive Director Antigone Antonakakis, a senior public health major, met with student representatives of various cultural and religious organizations to discuss these issues as well as any possible solutions.
“I really want to hear from everyone in this space,” Antonakakis told the group. “This is really a space for you all and for us to learn from each other and to hear what's working, what's not working, and to find those resolutions.”
Most of the discussion focused on food and the funding application process.
Before the 2022-2023 fiscal year, SFB would fund food at events if it was “considered beneficial to the event and the program is open to all students.” SFB changed this policy during the 2022-2023 fiscal year and placed a $10 per student limit on food requests. For cultural organizations, where many of their events include ethnic or cultural food, this limit can be frustrating.
“I will be the first to acknowledge that $10, especially in this context of cultural foods, is not always accessible,” Antonakakis said.
Student leaders like Romy Zemer, co-president of Chabad, the College’s Jewish student org, and junior nursing major, pointed out that cultural foods specifically tend to be more expensive. Whether because of a lack of commercial caterers that carry cultural food or the overall higher price of cultural food, organizations may have a harder time meeting that $10 limit.
“For cultural foods and for kosher foods there’s an additional cost that often makes it difficult to work within the $10 limit,” Zemer mentioned at the meeting. “Most of our events have to be on campus, and to have the food funded you can't really have foods that aren't commercially bought brought into campus.”
Other students expressed that high costs due to inflation further limit the amount of food an organization can actually order.
“I think [SFB] should be aware that some of their guidelines are ridiculous,” Faiza Hoque, treasurer of the Muslim Student Association and a senior computer science major, told The Signal. “With food at $10…inflation is a huge concern.”
Some solutions to these problems that were discussed included raising the per-student cap to $15 or limiting student organizations to a few events per semester with food fully funded.
“It won't change tomorrow, but as we start to engage in conversations about the policy, I'm interested to learn from you all and hear what you think the solution to this could be,” Antonakakis said.
“Obviously you are not the only organizations on this campus,” she added. “There are growing numbers of organizations.”
Antonakakis pointed out that to have food successfully funded for an event, it should be integral to the event itself. Many student organizations across campus use food and snacks as a way to market an event to students; Antonakakis explained that there is not enough money in the SAF to fund every event with food just to attract attendees.
“I wish that things could have been a little different, but it's just sort of what we are working with,” Antonakakis said.
To increase the chance of obtaining SAF funding for food at events, Antonakakis recommended that organizations focus on how the food can be integrated into the purpose of the event.
When requesting funds, Antonakakis told the group that organizations should really emphasize “why food plays a necessary component for your event, what educational opportunities [it offers] and things like that.”
Some students at the meeting questioned whether an educational component is specifically needed for intercultural student organizations to get events funded.
“I was wondering if you think there's any possibility that multicultural orgs don't have to have that pressure of having an educational component, and instead focus more on a social thing,” asked Alejandra Osoria, Union Latina’s multicultural awareness chair and a junior psychology major. “Whenever it comes to funding we always have that pressure to incorporate some type of educational [aspect].”
Osoria’s question reflects a sentiment among students of color on campus that they feel as if it is their job to educate and even defend themselves to their white peers in classrooms.
“I hope that you don't bear the feeling that there needs to be an educational component to every aspect of your event,” Antonakakis replied. “But if I were to say today that every formal or something similar to a formal on this campus could be funded…I would have every Greek life [org] lining up at my door asking for money.”
On funding requests for events, student organizations need to defend their need for SAF funding. Events need to be related to the organization’s mission and must be considered beneficial to the campus community, with one line specifically asking if there is an educational purpose to the event.
The requesting process is usually done with the help of an organization’s SFB liaison, but students at the December meeting expressed frustration with their liaisons due to a lack of communication. Organizations may go through the funding request process only to be denied by SFB due to an issue that could have been caught earlier.
Student leaders questioned whether using specific words or phrases in a funding application will increase the likelihood of it being approved. Antonakakis used galas and formals as an example to show how phrasing might help; formals are not able to be funded under SFB guidelines, however events similar to formals have been approved in the past.
“You might have to change the name or you might have to add educational components,” Antonakakis said. “You might have to go back and forth with your liaison for a few weeks.”
Antonakakis recommended that regardless of the situation or event, student organizations should always present their funding requests at public SFB meetings. This allows student leaders to defend their request and answer any additional questions that the written request might not be able to.
While changes to these policies are unlikely to occur this academic year, as SFB updates guidelines on a yearly basis, discussions like this are important for student organizations to learn how to better navigate the system.
“It was enlightening,” Hoque said at the end of the meeting. “It definitely brought a light onto how we can better reach out to SFB.”