Broken Silence and Nobody Fails at CMC are expanding what students can do for each other

Collage of hands holding paper hearts
(Clare Martin • The Student Life)

This piece is the third in a series on mutual aid groups at the 5Cs.

What does it mean to pledge that nobody fails at Claremont McKenna College?

For Brooklyn Montgomery CM ’22, that question first came up when Nobody Fails at CMC began petitioning for pass/fail grading at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020. It wasn’t just about grades, the group discovered.

“Throughout the whole campaign, we got 60 to 100 student testimonies of how terrible their situations were, essentially. A lot of them were struggling financially because a family member had lost their job,” Montgomery said.

The goal of supporting students beyond academics continued throughout the pandemic and after the transition to campus, focused on filling the gap between students’ needs and the lack of resources provided by their institutions.

Montgomery attributes much of NFACMC’s success to the way it makes aid accessible. 

“​​Something we’ve really tried to embody is not having too many requirements. When students apply, we have a form that they fill out with generally what they need it for,” she said. “But we kind of have an honor code where if you need that money, you need it.”

The group set up a form where students could request aid and ended up fulfilling all 30 student requests they received, raising more than $45,000 through GoFundMe and Venmo during the spring 2021 semester.

Montgomery said that NFACMC also reached out to alumni and created an ongoing social media campaign to solicit donations.

“It’s really about just targeting any population that’s relevant and asking them to help in any way they can,” she said. 

But as last semester progressed, subsequent events called for further student organizing.

In response to the death of George Floyd and the following protests, Kamara Anyanwu CM ’22 and Aishat Jimoh CM ’23 worked on a joint fellowship project to create an art expression website for Black students at the 5Cs.

They called the fellowship Broken Silence 5Cs, which blossomed into its own mutual aid group.

Students would directly message the organization over Instagram with their personal stories and needs for financial support, and Broken Silence would direct a social media campaign to mobilize around the student’s personal experience. 

According to Anyanwu, Broken Silence 5Cs filled a unique gap between elected student bodies and mutual aid organizations. “As student requests for aid are often relayed to Broken Silence 5Cs by the student body, the organization steps up to fill the mutual aid amount by fundraising on social media,” she said.

Anyanwu added that the different organizations have group chats where they communicate on different projects, and they often share money and resources amongst themselves. 

“A lot of the resources we got [in summer 2020] as far as [education on] outreach or how to create teams, or how to diversify labor so people don’t get burnt out, actually came from Occupy Pomona and Nobody Fails at Scripps,” she said.

Anyanwu and Jimoh, like Occupy Pomona, also expanded their outreach beyond the scope of just the 5Cs, focusing on the houseless community in Los Angeles County.

The two began creating what they called “necessity bags,” which contained food, hygiene products, toiletries and more, that they delivered to those in need. The two lived in off-campus CMC housing for the entire remote academic year, allowing them to conduct much of the work with necessity bags in person. They put out a volunteer form and, together with other 5C students, handed out the necessity bags.

The fall 2021 semester revealed a different landscape of student mutual aid needs. As students arrived back on campus, not every mutual aid organization sustained membership levels and some failed to carry through to the new semester.

Some groups, like Broken Silence 5Cs, have also diversified their goals. 

Broken Silence 5Cs continues to host mutual aid fundraisers, but it’s also begun extending its work internationally.

The team is beginning to partner with local vendors in Ghana, an initiative driven by Jimoh’s semester abroad. Anyanwu also expressed interest in possibly formalizing the organization through a charter at the Draper Center to ensure leadership and longevity, as both herself and Jimoh are closing in on graduation.

To Anyanwu, the existence of mutual aid speaks to a larger problem in institutions of higher education. “The fact that students must support each other is proof of the failure of these institutions,” she said.

“As our institutions are failing we have a responsibility to take care of, love and support one another. And using our voices to support mutual aid fundraisers is one way that we can do that.”—Kamara Anyanwu CM ’22

“When students decide to attend these institutions, the institution is agreeing to take care of the student, not only by providing them with an education but a conducive, safe and nurturing place in which they can flourish academically and experience growth that will impact their lives after this point,” Anayanwu said. “As our institutions are failing we have a responsibility to take care of, love and support one another. And using our voices to support mutual aid fundraisers is one way that we can do that.”

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