Now in its second year, Nobody Fails at Scripps settles in for the long haul

Collage of two people holding hands, surrounded by stars
(Clare Martin • The Student Life)

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

The line at Blaze Pizza in Claremont wrapped all throughout the restaurant on a warm Thursday in late September. It’s not unusual for lines to be long there, especially at dinner time on a Thursday or Friday night. But on this night, the space was packed with Scripps students and others from across the 5Cs.

Many showed up that night because Nobody Fails at Scripps partnered with Blaze for their most recent round of mutual aid funding — the first round solicited since students returned to the 5Cs. A similar event was held the next evening at Pepo Melo. 

“They didn’t raise a ton of money,” NFAS organizer Uma Nagarajan-Swenson SC ’22 admitted. 

But the in-person events did garner a lot of attention.

“I think they gave us a lot of momentum and a lot more legitimacy,” she said.

NFAS began in response to a specific crisis: students wanted a universal pass grading policy for the spring semester of 2020 as a result of the then-nascent pandemic. Then, as student need became apparent, the group did a round of mutual aid fundraising before the fall 2020 semester, followed by another before spring 2021. Last semester, some organizers were unsure if NFAS would continue to exist past their graduation last spring. 

Through a casual recruitment process on social media and then Zoom, the organization added new members and kept going this year.

“I really love the way that we operate because, I mean, the way that we operate is there’s not a hierarchy, there’s just capacity,” Maddie Moore SC ’22 said. “And so for this round of mutual aid funding, it was a lot of Julia [Thomason SC ’22] and I leading our meetings because we were students that had experience and had the capacity to take on more things.”

NFAS has become something beyond an informal fundraising group for Scripps students. Including the most recent round, they’ve raised about $150,000 in a little over a year for students. But the organization also has almost 1,600 followers on Instagram and has taken on issues beyond Scripps’ walls, becoming involved in the fight to reinstate Drew “Ziggy” Carter PO ’23 at Pomona at the beginning of this semester. 

Nagarajan-Swenson understands the power that the NFAS’ reach can have, and hopes to begin doing more work beyond fundraising. 

“There’s a lot of things that need to change,” she said, in regard to the ways in which she feels Scripps is failing to meet student need, “and that’s definitely something we’ve been thinking about, like how do we continue doing this work without letting the institution of Scripps get away with this?”

It’s a daunting question, and not one that NFAS has a clear answer to, at least right now. After all, NFAS is a grassroots organization and an anti-institutional one at that. 

“We rise to meet the urgent needs of our students,” Moore said. “So I think it’s hard to anticipate what the future holds because we can’t really anticipate what that’s going to look like.”

“We rise to meet the urgent needs of our students. So I think it’s hard to anticipate what the future holds because we can’t really anticipate what that’s going to look like.” —Maddie Moore SC ’22

Moore mentioned that NFAS wants to create an ongoing mutual aid fund. She and Nagarajan-Swenson both talked about wanting to lay the groundwork for the longevity of the organization. 

Institutional memory doesn’t last very long at the Claremont Colleges, so taking steps to establish NFAS with younger grades was a priority for Nagarajan-Swenson and Moore.

“I would definitely say to any underclassmen … if you are looking for places to meet people, I think –– find those organized hubs on your campus because that’s where I know I’ve made the greatest connections,” Moore said. 

Now on campus, NFAS is still figuring out what it means to be physically in community. Up until a month ago, the organization had never operated in-person. 

One effective fundraising event this time around was the art market, where NFAS sold art donated by students from across the 5Cs. 

“I think NFAS is the community because, even like, I’m an NFAS organizer, but I would say anyone that donates or participates … it’s the community supporting itself,” Moore said.

Still, even organizers are a little mystified about why NFAS has had such prolonged, profound success since their inception almost a year and a half ago.

“The beginning of Nobody Fails was really controversial with the universal pass stuff. Students at Scripps knew our name and some of them really hated us,” Nagarajan-Swenson said. “When we started doing mutual aid work, it definitely became less popular to hate us … I don’t know, our politics haven’t shifted.”

Nagarajan-Swenson’s housemate, Lily Hibbard SC ’22, also offered her take on why Nobody Fails has been such a success. 

“You guys have been really clear about your politics and about the fact that you’re really for students, like you guys have been unwavering in who you serve and why you’re doing what you’re doing,” she said. “I think that spoke to a lot of people.”

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