COVID-19 Relief Fund assists students affected by pandemic

Just last week, University Advancement approached Student Financial Services and the Office of the Dean of Students to discuss tapping into an emergency funds program to assist students in need during a time of global crisis. Dawn Aubry, the associate vice president for enrollment management, and Michael Wadsworth, dean of students, collaborated on the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund.

Since then, a goal of $20,000 has been set to combat the struggles many students are now facing because of the rising pandemic. As of Saturday, March 28, $3,920 has been raised from 52 donors. Students may contact either of the offices to inquire about receiving funds.

Wadsworth said there have been roughly 50 inquiries since Friday, March 27, but only one of those students has provided adequate documentation to be reviewed by the relief fund committee.

“We’ve had numerous inquiries at this point, but very few of those inquiries have submitted necessary documentation,” Wadsworth said. “So, we’re continuing to work with those students to get what would be needed for review.”

Students are asked to complete a form once they have contacted the offices. The form asks for some brief personal information as well as a narrative of the reason for needing funding. Documentation of need is also required in order to qualify for the fund.

“We would just basically need folks to submit receipts, bills or invoices — something that shows proof of needed payment, that kind of thing — so that we have records to show why funds were disbursed,” Wadsworth said.

On the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund website, award criteria have been drawn out. One of the points presented on the page details how a student may qualify for funding if they cannot pay for school expenses.

“For example, if someone puts in a form to pay for a printer cartridge, or some school supplies they needed to complete a project, those are things that we’re talking about,” Aubry said. “It’s not for tuition, it’s not for their housing on campus.”

As for students who were forced to move out of university housing with a two-days notice last week, they might have experienced unusual financial hardships because of the sudden lifestyle change. Wadsworth responded to students who were affected by this unprecedented event by mentioning it could potentially qualify a student to receive funding.

“So, I just want to give a quick shout out to University Housing because they’ve done a really incredible job of accommodating students who needed to stay and who needed lots of different things during this process,” Wadsworth said. “But, yes, those could be a possibility. We look at everything on a case-by-case basis.”

Aside from students who were affected by having to move away from campus, many students have inquired about receiving an award from the relief fund because of sudden unemployment.

“Without looking at and tabulating every one of them, I would say the most common thing I have seen in the inquiries has been loss of employment, whether on campus or off campus,” Wadsworth said.

As COVID-19 persists in the U.S., many people are wondering when the crisis will end. If this carries on into the summer months, Aubry said the relief fund will continue as need grows.

“We’re still fundraising for this special relief fund, but we’ll continue to do so if there’s still a need,” Aubry said. “I think that we can always make different decisions about future funding, whether we continue with the special relief fund or if we shift to utilizing other funds as well.”

In a time of taking things day-by-day and not knowing what might come next, the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund and other possible funding from OU departments will continue to help students in need.

“The university has some emergency funds available, and we’ll be evaluating all of the funds since they all could be of different levels,” Aubry said. “As we have requests come in, if we feel another fund is more appropriate, the Student Financial Services and the Dean of Students [office] can work with departments, depending on if it’s one of their funds, to help allocate those resources to students that are in need.

“It’s important that we are sending a message that we care and that you’re important to us.”