Within the four-year span that most students attend Whitman, personal emergency situations inevitably arise. While the college provides on-campus supportive services to all students in crisis, often the most challenging need for many students is the financial resources to afford a plane ticket home or a hefty medical bill. That’s where the Associated Students of Whitman College (ASWC) comes in.
“We recognized the need for emergency funding on campus, and started exploring ways to do more for our fellow students,” said David Changa-Moon ’10, a two-year ASWC senator who served as finance chair from 2008 to 2009.
Changa-Moon said the idea of establishing an endowment to support future generations of Whitties occurred to him after a friend was involved in a freak accident. In 2009, ASWC voted to officially designate funding to create the Student Emergency Fund. A separate endowment established by the Class of 1977 also exists to provide assistance to students in emergency situations.
Thanks to endowment growth, the value of the ASWC fund now exceeds $100,000 while the Class of 1977 fund approaches $80,000. Together, they enable the college to provide meaningful support to students in need every year. To avoid imposing on their peers’ privacy, ASWC transferred responsibility for administering their fund to the Dean of Students Office, which is responsible for the well-being of all Whitman students.
Prior to the establishment of the fund, the Dean of Students Office would assist low-income students as much as possible using the surplus from its departmental budget. However, this was not always enough.
“The students in ASWC saw a real need and they responded,” said Donna Cummins, assistant to the dean of students. “You have to give them a lot of credit for doing that. Now we have a dedicated source of emergency funding where we didn’t in the past.”
According to Cummins, possible uses for the fund include travel to a funeral or to attend to an urgent family matter, losses due to disaster, theft, fire, flood, loss of income or housing, recovery from an illness or accident, medical, dental or mental health services or other crises as determined by the dean of students. She estimates that about five to 10 students apply for and receive financial assistance each year. The amount the fund pays out varies significantly depending on the type of emergency and the level of need.
“It can be pretty disconcerting when you’re trying to make it through school and all of a sudden you’re faced with some of these big unexpected expenses,” Cummins said. “We’ve had students who break their glasses and can’t afford to replace them. So they come and talk to me.”
John Bogley, vice president for development and college relations, says the ASWC fund is emblematic of how committed Whitman students are to making a positive impact on the lives of others.
“This endowment was a real statement of generosity from the ASWC leadership to their current and future peers,” he said. “When speaking with donors about a gift, it is exciting to be able to share a story like this that demonstrates the character of Whitman students.”
Changa-Moon, who now works as an engineering associate in New York City, says he is proud of the role ASWC played in setting up the endowment, especially during such an unstable economic period.
“The thing about Whitman is that everybody cares,” Cummins said. “That’s who we are. We’re a caring college. We care about each other and we want to do right by other people, so the students did a really good thing with this endowment.”