Senate Beat: Students Demand Improved Access to Services for Low-SES Students

This week’s Senate was dedicated to a public forum on incidental expenses and financial emergencies for Reed students and constitutes part of an ongoing series of public forums planned by Senate this semester. With a wide range of administrators present, though, discussion soon turned to how Reed’s administration could improve transparency and access to vital services for low-SES students. Below, we summarize questions asked by those present, along with potential solutions offered by administrators.

Textbooks and bookstore scholarships. Senator Gabi Stonoha began by discussing his reliance on textbook reserves for reading-intensive classes, which allows him to avoid spending hundreds of dollars on textbooks. This led him to ask: could Reed organize other schemes for improving access to texts, given the restrictions on library reserves?

This led Vice-President Natasha Baas-Thomas to ask about the status of the bookstore’s scholarship scheme, noting that Senate has had to “deal with some of those things this semester.” In response, Director of the Reed College Bookstore Jessica Valeske confirmed that the bookstore was unable to offer scholarships this year. Scholarship funding is contingent on the profit made by the bookstore, and current textbook prices left the bookstore unable to raise the required resources without raising prices for all. She added that while the bookstore has secured temporary funding for a limited grant scheme for the spring semester, the bookstore remains on the lookout for a reliable source of funding for bookstore scholarships.

Laundry and incidental expenses. Head Treasurer Paulina Polyumptewa continued the discussion on incidental expenses by asking if laundry expenses were explicitly factored into financial aid package. They noted how many could find laundry expenses an unexpected shock, especially as the majority of laundry aid came from the Low-SES/First Gen Student Group, which could only offer the scheme after Funding Poll.

Director of Financial Aid Sandy Sundstrom confirmed that laundry was indeed factored as a personal expense in Reed’s financial aid packages. Amy Shuckman, Assistant Dean for Residence Life, concurred by noting that Reed was discussing ways to make laundry more accessible for students living on campus. Furthermore, Schukman explained that Reed is currently in the process of asking for information from the suppliers of Reed’s laundry machines.

Honored Citizen bus passes. A student present noted that TriMet had recently included low-SES residents into its Honored Citizens scheme for subsidised bus passes. Given the low income of Reed students, they added that it would cheaper for Reed to offer Honored Citizens passes in place of its existing subsidised monthly passes. A representative of the Business Office, which administers the existing bus pass scheme, noted that while such a scheme would lower the total financial costs of the subsidized bus pass program, the administrative cost of having students offer proof of income status would be considerably higher.

Access to health insurance. Many students present discussed the stress of navigating the intricacies of health insurance. Some on Reed’s health insurance plan talked of their difficulties in finding providers that would accept their insurance outside of Oregon. Senator Keegan Samaniego added that other students on various state insurance plans found applying to Oregon’s public insurance scheme while living on campus difficult.

Access to social services. In response, Dayspring Mattole of the Office for Inclusive Community highlighted an underutilized resource. Gabe Baker, licensed clinical social worker at the HCC, is a resource qualified to help students navigate health insurance, as well as the broad range of social services able to Reedies. Yet she noted that students would only learn about her services on referral from other staff at the HCC. She added that she would discuss means of lowering barriers to Baker’s services with her.

As a more permanent solution, Vice President for Student Services Mike Brody proposed having social workers come to Reed at various points during the semester to help students access resources. Senators Gabi Stonoha, Keegan Samaniego, and Vice Treasurer Mitzi Zitler are to participate in an informal working group with Brody on this issue.

Institutional access to resources. A student aired their concerns about the increasing demands made of the Low-SES/First Gen Student Group and its services, funded by the Student Body. They continued by asking administrators to consider taking over some of the services offered by the student group. Many administrators concurred: Mike Brody noted that Reed has had to centralize access to aid in response to an investigation by the Committee for Student Success into access to resources. Mary James, speaking from experience, noted that Reed’s services were unsustainably “organised like a village,” with a great deal of Reed assistance in fact happening on a one-off basis, from sources only available by word of mouth.

News separately announced by Senate this week includes:

  • Senator Keegan Samaniego, liaison to ResLife, announced that Naloxone and sharps containers will be available in residence halls within two months. Resident Directors (RDs) will soon receive Naloxone training, while Community Wellness is actively advertising on Handshake for a coordinator to handle Naloxone rollout across Reed.

  • Senator Isabella Hoff, ex-officio member of SCAPP, announced that a survey gauging interest in Arabic-language instruction at Reed will be available in an upcoming SB info. Arabic-language courses are currently available via cross-registration at Lewis and Clark.

  • Vice President Natasha Baas-Thomas, reporting on Senate’s ongoing wage review, announced that total wages paid by the Student Body will increase next semester from $68,460 to $71,850. Student positions that will benefit from significant wage increases include Renn Fayre and Paideia Czars.

  • Finally, this year’s Election Czars are Ellie Pobis and Nitya Vikrant, while Sadie Bell has been appointed as J-Board secretary.

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