The Student Organization Funding Committee, better known as SOFC, has attempted to address classism in funding student organizations — and its members believe they finally have a solution. The procard is a declining debit card that is given to each org with a pre-approved amount loaded on it. Before the procard, students in organizations would have to pay out of pocket to take part in activities like tournaments or trips and wait to be reimbursed by their treasurer from their respective organization. The introduction of the procard in five different organizations, Model UN, Mock Trial, Wellesley Debate Society, Wellesley Out Loud and BOW (Babson, Olin, Wellesley) Climbing –– chosen specifically because of their high costs –– is intended to prevent student members from fronting large sums of money for expenses ranging from transportation to hotel stays. Now, everything can be paid for directly from these orgs’ account, eliminating the need for students to initially cover the costs. Now the question remains, will the trial solve the problem of classism in joining student organizations? As a treasurer for a small cultural org and an active member of SOFC, I believe it is an important step in the right direction.
First, the reliance on student reimbursements is a problem that needs to be addressed by the college. While it might be obvious at first glance, allowing SOFC to issue procards to student organizations is one of the most effective ways to battle classism on and off campus. By providing procards cost will hopefully no longer bar students from participating in extracurricular activities. For example, students who are a part of the Wellesley Debate Society used to be required to pay travel costs and registration fees for tournaments. If only students who can afford to pay upfront participated in debate, they would be the only students representing Wellesley at the tournaments. Every student should feel like they can join an organization regardless of how much money they are able or willing to front. Having students from all economic backgrounds diversifies not only the organizations on Wellesley’s campus, but the activities they partake in off-campus as well. While it won’t solve some of the subtler sides of classism that students experience on campus, Wellesley College’s resources ought to be used to help level the playing field.
Second, as a treasurer of a student organization and a SOFC member, I am aware that the student body villainizes SOFC every time funding for their org gets cut. I understand that cuts are frustrating, and I think that issuing procards to all student organizations can potentially reduce overall spending. Since treasurers and bookkeepers will have to work together to navigate the new system whenever SOFC decides to issue procards to orgs, the procards in addition to the new annual budgeting deadline will open lines of communication between SOFC and organizations that are crucial to decreasing overall spending. SOFC has seen very obvious attempts at applying for money for unrealistic events in order to amass more overall funding. While this might help a particular organization in the short term, as this behavior accumulates it hurts funding for everybody because it stretches SOFC’s overall budget too thin, which is what leads to funding cuts. Improved communication will force organizations to justify their expenses, thus deterring frivolous spending, and also provide context for important expenses to the bookkeeper, so they can help students acquire sufficient funds for the organization. This in turn can make sure organizations receive more of they money they requested.
The reason funding gets cut is because organizations apply for more money than what exists in the collective “pool” SOFC draws from. Part of this is because organizations apply for more money than what they need, anticipating cuts and hoping to end up with their original desired amount. Since organizations apply for more funding than necessary, there are often funds left over which then get reverted back into a separate “pool,” which cannot be used to fund organizations the following year. As a result, SOFC reverts thousands of dollars each year because organizations are granted funds they do not spend. This is all money that could have been used to fund other organizations who would have greatly benefited from extra money. However, with increased communication and accountability between SOFC and organizations, the money SOFC allocates can go farther and be used to pay for activities students will enjoy. Additionally, once the money on declining debit cards is out, there is no way to retrieve it.
Ensuring that money isn’t a limiting factor when a student is deciding which organizations to join is crucial, and it would be a mistake for SOFC to not give this trial with the five organizations a chance. Classism is an issue that requires an approach from all angles, and changing the way organizations, which are fundamental to social life and activity on our campus, are funded is an important first step. Institutional change and social change often go hand in hand and as students are no longer asked to front money to be a part of an org, perhaps this campus can work to take more steps to be an inclusive environment.