OPINION | The importance of mutual aid on college campuses

Growing up in the lower-middle class, there were times when my family had to seek government assistance and financial aid in order to stay afloat.

For years, it was a normal practice for my mom to drag my siblings and me to the WIC office every month, where we would sit in the waiting room for hours at a time to get the vouchers we needed to buy groceries. Without these vouchers, we were left scrambling, yet the process of getting them felt far more complicated and time-consuming than it needed to be.

To the predominantly upper-middle-class community around us, the need for government assistance and financial aid existed somewhere between the lines of being socially tolerable and socially contemptible — but a few people defied that shallow, prejudiced perspective and showed my family kindness.

For instance, my mom’s newfound friends bought my siblings and me Christmas gifts during our first few years in Colorado Springs. People from our homeschool community also donated money to us from time to time and some locals employed my mom’s cleaning services after reading her advertisements online. Because of their compassion and charity, we found a way to make ends meet.

Today, I find myself in a place where financial and housing insecurity is no longer a hindrance to my day-to-day survival. I think that this privilege has shielded me, especially in recent years, from using my resources to donate to and support others.

I believe that as a society, we tend to hoard our wealth because we fear poverty — we don’t want to be the ones holding up cardboard signs on the side of the road, or the ones creating GoFundMe pages for unexpected health conditions we don’t have the extra income to pay for, so we keep our money in our pockets.

We are so afraid of being screwed over by the very system that we are taught to respect and admire that we just stand by and watch while it destroys the livelihoods of people in our own communities. The more we give into this capitalist, “wealth-hoarding” mindset, the worse the issue of poverty will become.

One way that I have started combating this harmful mindset is by donating my disposable income to mutuals on campus (usually via Cashapp, Venmo, etc.) or to like-minded individuals on Instagram and TikTok who are using social media to seek the financial help they aren’t finding in their local communities. This practice is called “mutual aid.”

Rather than giving random, inconsistent charitable donations from time-to-time, mutual aid challenges you to give what you can as often as you can, but to also ask for what you need in return, whether it be financial aid, a sense of community or social support.

On college campuses, mutual aid can be a life-saver for students who receive no financial help from their families, or who struggle to work due to factors outside of their control (such as being disabled or otherwise being targets for workplace discrimination).

According to the New York Times, during the peak of COVID-19, “Student-led mutual aid networks … raised tens of thousands of dollars to help peers cover basic costs of living.” While this speaks to the horrendous financial pressure put on students in this country, it also speaks to the positive impact that mutual aid can have on college campuses.

As a general rule, I think that all college students who care about making a difference in their community or on their campus — and who recognize the corruption and discrimination that this country fosters on a systemic level — should start practicing mutual aid themselves.

Mutual aid will look a little different for everybody, but I find it has expanded my understanding of charity, pushing me to start doing what I can to support others simply because people deserve to be helped — and I have the ability to make a difference.

Photo caption: The UCCS Financial Aid Office. Photo by Taylor Villalpando.