An endowment proposal of $5,500 to distribute 200 free laundry cards to low-income students was passed at Barnard Student Government Association’s weekly meeting last Monday night.
The proposal—which passed unanimously and will take effect for the 2018-19 academic school year—was presented by class treasurer Céline Zhu, BC ’20. Funding for the cards will come from SGA’s annual budget, and each card will be loaded with $22.50 in laundry credit.
Barnard’s laundry policy has faced criticism from students because of maintenance problems with laundry machines, the need to use value transfer machines to reload laundry cards, and the fact that Barnard currently charges a minimum of $2.50 to wash and dry a single load.
According to SGA Vice President for Finance Evelyn McCorkle, BC ’18, the proposal comes while SGA is engaged in talks with Residential Life & Housing about the possibility of including the cost of laundry in tuition.
In preparation for the initiative, a pilot program was launched this fall. During this time, a survey was sent out to the sophomore class asking whether it faced a significant financial burden when paying for laundry. Students entered a lottery, and 10 were randomly chosen to receive a free laundry card for the first semester.
The committee opted to use an honor code system, in which students who filled out the survey had to indicate that paying for laundry poses a significant financial burden.
In September 2015, Columbia’s residential life office started providing free laundry to students, with the funds coming from revenues from summer housing, leading many Barnard students to do laundry in Columbia dorms.
Zhu said that for some students, having to do laundry across the street for financial reasons can be a degrading experience.
“For a lot of low-income students that grew up with insecurities about not being able to afford things, that’s a walk of shame that they’ve had to do so many times in their life,” she said.
Additionally, Zhu pointed out that students that do not have the courage to carry their clothes to Columbia dorms like Carman Hall to do laundry face the humiliation of not doing laundry at all.
“What do we have for these Barnard students who can’t afford to do their laundry? The emotional impact of not having clean clothes resonates in so many parts of your life—when you go to class or hang out with your friends, you are hyper aware of … the economic difference of you and your peers.”
Students who are critical of Barnard’s failure to provide free laundry in the past, such as Persis Ticknor-Swanson, BC ’18, have expressed support for the initiative.
“I think it is shameful that Barnard does not pay for our laundry. Giving [access to free laundry] to those who need it is the best thing to do,” she said.
Despite the new initiative from SGA, Amira Farid, BC ’20, expressed concern that it would not be enough to help low-income students.
“I think the laundry cards are a first step solution—a temporary solution,” she said. “There are a lot more than 50 students [per class] who can’t afford to pay for laundry.”