On March 16, I saw a Barnard Alumnae Instagram post which asked alumnae to donate to help students in the current crisis. However, at that time, no announcements had been made about how students could obtain emergency funds to cover the costs students incurred due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The next day, after the post received many comments from other Barnard students and myself, where we expressed concerns for low-income and housing-insecure students, it was updated to give information about how students could allegedly obtain emergency funds.
In my comment on the post, I alluded to a meeting that I had with Dean Leslie Grinage, in addition to expressing my concerns for low-income and housing-insecure students like myself. That meeting was supposed to result in a follow-up call, but it never occurred. However, after I commented on the post, I received an email from Grinage, in which she apologized for not calling me back and assured me that I would receive $500 through direct deposit within a few days as emergency funding. Although I received the funds after almost two weeks, other students have not been as fortunate.
This lack of transparency is indicative of larger trends demonstrated by the Barnard Office of the Bursar, Financial Aid Office, and the Barnard administration. There has been a lack of transparency surrounding how students can receive emergency funds, as well as how the amount one receives is decided. Therefore, I believe students on financial aid should be entitled to a housing refund, in order to accommodate these past shortcomings and further assist them in this emergency.
Barnard’s limited financial support gave students funds that were insufficient to meet their financial needs for “the cost of returning home, expenses related to packing and shipping their belongings, and for those remaining on campus, costs associated with daily life that students do not have the discretionary income to cover,” which was cited in the Barnard Alumnae post.
Some students on financial aid said that they were completely denied any emergency funding. One student said that the funds allocated to her were not enough to cover the costs of shipping her belongings home. As a result, she was unable to move her belongings out in time to receive the housing reimbursement. Her situation is exacerbated by the fact that her father is a freelance contractor who has become unemployed as a result of COVID-19.
Students on financial aid are the ones affected most by the insufficiency of the emergency funds, and they need support from Barnard in the form of housing refunds. Wesleyan University has already promised to grant prorated refunds to all students regardless of their financial aid status. I am a currently financially-independent student, and I have lost my job as a full-time nanny. The only family member I am in contact with is unable to work after contracting COVID-19. Moreover, I am currently housing-insecure and the $500 in emergency funds is inadequate for my survival.
In my email conversation with Grinage, she stated that I “may qualify” for a refund, yet an email from Nanette DiLauro, the director of financial aid, stated that the office has not “finalized the proration and refund policies as of yet” and does not “anticipate issuing refunds for housing for students on aid.”
However, Barnard’s Semester Completion FAQs, like Grinage’s email, suggest that students on partial financial aid “may be eligible for a prorated refund.” These vague, contradictory statements have caused turmoil for low-income students, who would greatly benefit from a housing refund and knowing whether they will receive one.
Although Barnard is offering emergency housing, some students chose to go back home because they needed the money from their housing and dining refund. These students chose to move off-campus trusting that the refund would allow them to either move home or financially assist their families.
A Barnard senior explained to me that she was under the impression that she was eligible for a housing refund because all Barnard students received an email on March 13 that told them to leave campus by March 30 in order to receive a refund. That email says that refunds would be adjusted for any previous financial aid awards, but it does not state what DiLauro wrote in her email.
It is appalling that Barnard President Sian Beilock distributed a YouTube video expressing her desire to share “a personal message of hope, encouragement, and gratitude,” while low-income students who are on financial aid suffer without housing refunds. During this pandemic, even if it was not the Barnard administration’s moral responsibility to provide emergency relief in the form of room and board refunds to students with the greatest need, it should at least be unambiguous.
Sarah Lipset is a senior at Barnard studying history and education. She would like to remind everyone to stay strong, be safe, and that everything is temporary.
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