Rutgers establishes fund to financially provide for LGBTQA students
There are approximately 1.6 million to 2.8 million homeless youth in the United States, and at least 20 percent of them classify as LGBTQA youth, according to the Center for American Progress.
The Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities (SJE) is looking to alleviate the financial burdens of some of these youth at Rutgers with a crowd-funding project on the Rutgers University Foundation website.
The fund, titled "Emergency Fund for Rutgers University LGBTQA Students," will be used to provide emergency relief for queer students in need of housing, food, tuition assistance, school supplies and other expenses to ensure their safety, health and academic success, said Zaneta Rago, director of SJE.
The project has a goal of raising $19,920, which is based on the year the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities was founded, in 1992. So far, the project has received 35 percent of its goal, or $7,016, and there are 16 days left to donate.
The number of LGBTQA students in need of economic assistance varies from year to year, Rago said. But there have consistently been at least 3 to 4 students each semester who have struggled with parental acceptance or whose families struggle financially.
"One must understand the particular circumstances that LGBTQA students may face," Rago said. "For some students, there is a risk in coming out to their families, which may include the loss of financial support to continue their education. This fund is only one of many tools our University can use to help ensure our LGBTQA students graduate successfully."
The idea behind the fund came through a sustained partnership between the Office of the Deans of Students, the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities, the University Foundation and Rutgers University alumni. The Office of the Deans of Students supports students in need of navigating economic, academic and emotional support systems at the University. Collaboration between these offices was the inspiration for the fund.
"Because we work collaboratively, we noticed many years ago that LGBTQA students were coming in consistently, and were in need of a more structured safety net," Rago said.
In five days, the emergency fund raised almost $4,000, according to the project's page. Contributors can donate anywhere from $15, which will help one student with basic toiletries, to $1,000, which will pay for a student's monthly rent. Jim Dougherty, a Rutgers alumnus from the class of 1974 and current member of the Board of Trustees, made a $1,000 contribution.
Students who intern at the SJE and others who frequently visit the center were asked to help out with a two-minute video that was featured alongside the project's crowd sourcing page.
"We felt that donors would gain a much stronger sense of the need, and feel a more personal connection to the campaign if a video component was included," Rago said.
Crowd-funding is a resource that has significant power, as it asks the entire community to help those in need, Rago said. The power of crowd sourcing sends a positive message to those within the LGBTQA community, and many students have also given to the initiative.
"This type of initiative sends a positive message to those within the LGBTQA community that there are people who care about their well-being and academic success," Rago said. "Cultivating a culture of allies, both within the student community and outside of the student community, is an incredibly powerful notion."
The SJE is one of the first groups on campus to utilize the new crowd-funding platform through the University Foundation, Rago said. In addition to the SJE campaign, the Rutgers Marching Band has a crowd-funding project to raise money for new uniforms and the Rutgers Field Hockey team has a campaign to raise money for a locker room renovation.
In the future, Rago said the SJE will have more online campaigns.
"It's important for alum to be able to donate to the communities that helped to support them while they attended Rutgers University, and this new platform is an excellent way to ensure their funds will go directly to students who may be in familiar situations," Rago said.
Camille Catalon, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, said she understands the hardships that many LGBTQA students face, adding that the problems LGBTQA youth face go beyond discrimination.
"It's definitely more than just being discriminated and being told what to be and what not to feel," she said. "Money problems (aren't) really the initial thing one thinks when they hear about these communities, but the problem is very real and important to understand."