Last spring, many students from Scripps College struggled to adjust to virtual classes, citing challenges like chronic illnesses, hearing impairments and paying out of pocket to improve internet speed. Through a series of posts on Instagram, newly formed organizing group Nobody Fails at Scripps broadcasted these personal experiences and circulated a petition in favor of a universal grading policy — but their demands were not met when Scripps faculty ultimately voted to uphold letter grading.
“We lost, as folks may remember,” account administrator and NFAS organizer Rose Gelfand SC ’21 said.
Despite this, NFAS had quickly built a strong following. Gelfand and other organizers realized that with this new platform, there was more they could do to help meet the needs of students.
The group decided that mutual aid fundraising would be the best way to move forward.
“Mutual aid efforts have a long standing history, but our efforts were inspired by Occupy Pomona, who mentored us in May/June when we did our first round of mutual aid,” Madison Seto SC ’21, another NFAS organizer, said via email. “They were inspired by mutual aid efforts at Wesleyan [University], and we were happy to pay it forward later in the summer by sharing knowledge with the Claremont Student Worker Alliance.
“I think it speaks to the collective power of caring and how much groups are willing to help each other out and are rooting for each other’s successes.”
In early summer 2020, NFAS raised $55,260. When starting their most recent cycle in January, they anticipated a goal of $30,000, as predicted by their interest form — but after receiving twice as many applications to receive funds, Gelfand said they had an “Oh, shit” moment.
They promptly upped their new goal to $41,701. They reached their goal the night of Jan. 24, hours before their Jan. 25 deadline, but Gelfand said this fundraiser took greater outreach.
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“We’re doing all of the tactics that we did last time that worked for us,” Gelfand said. “But I think culturally, [mutual aid] had more steam over the summer. So even with us doing exactly the same thing that raised $55,000, we’re not feeling like we’re getting the same response that we needed to be getting.
To revive engagement and meet their fundraising goal, NFAS organized a speed dating event, a virtual party and a student-sourced art raffle. They sold tickets to the two events on a sliding price scale while also offering tickets for the raffle via Venmo donations.
“It was sort of a win-win that one of the ideas that we came up with to make money also would bring folks together,” Gelfand said. “Because that is not our primary goal [as an] organization, but it also is really important to us as organizers and as people.”
“I think the speed dating event went super well. We had about 40 people come for the dates and everyone seemed so excited to be reconnected with Claremont people. The actual dates lasted for about an hour, but people stayed on Zoom for upwards of two hours to keep chatting,” event organizer Julia Thomason SC ’22 said via email about the speed dating session
Two attendees expressed similar sentiments about the event.
“It was the greatest serotonin boost of the pandemic,” Annika Ragnartz SC ’22 said via email.
“Everyone was so happy to see each other, [and] it felt like we were part of a community for the first time in a while,” Ayla Huhn SC ’22 said via email.
Though the fundraising events themselves were lighthearted and fun, both Gelfand and Seto expressed urgency toward securing funds for those who needed them for rent payments at the beginning of the month — hence the Jan. 25th deadline.
“We didn’t want students to be stressing about rent when school started, [so] we aimed to collect a majority of our funds by the 25th and start distributing them in time for rent payments,” Seto said.
In addition, both organizers mentioned untapped potential sources of donations who they were working to reach. Seto noted NFAS’s attempts to reach more parents and alumni.
“We try to get students to have meaningful conversations with their parents or extended family,” Seto said. “We saw parents coming through in the final days of our first round of mutual aid fundraising and really making a difference.”
While the group has had success making inroads with parents and alumni, Gelfand said that task has proven more difficult with the class of 2024. The group’s concerns about a lack of first-year engagement also speaks to the potentially troubling longevity of NFAS.
“We really believe that Nobody Fails is something that should outlive us, and most of us are seniors. It’s so hard to keep institutional memory on a college campus, because people leave and things disintegrate and re-form. We don’t want this to die when we all leave,” Gelfand said.
“One thing I wish we’d done differently — and will continue to work for in my last semester here — is recruiting and retaining underclassmen to continue this work,” Seto said.
But even if the group does continue to exist after the class of 2021 graduates, it’s hard to say what NFAS will be in the future. The organization was founded in response to pandemic-related hardships, so the question remains: What will become of it?
“The whole thing about Nobody Fails is that we have just been a constantly adapting force to handle whatever situation the school throws at us or the world throws at us, and we really want to constantly morph our frameworks and our tactics to meet the needs of students,” Gelfand said.
Seto and other members had hoped to establish a permanent mutual aid fund — something alumni expressed interest in supporting through recurring monthly donations. Logistically, that has proven to be challenging, organizers said. Forming a permanent mutual aid coalition to allow for constant donations would likely require NFAS, or some iteration of that group, to register as a 501(c)(3) organization.
“What we do kind of absolves the school of responsibility,” Gelfand said. “We’re just gonna constantly be raising money to make sure that students have places to live, right? That’s not our job, but we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do and we care about each other.
“Mutual aid is a really important revolutionary practice, but it doesn’t take the place of the institution that’s supposed to be taking care of these students,” she said.