Student Government launches Student Involvement Fund
Fund will award 20 students dedicated to extracurricular activities, receives controversy amongst students
After more than two years of development, American University Student Government and AU Club Council released the Student Involvement Fund, a series of monetary awards meant to make campus involvement more accessible.
This year, the fund will be awarded to 20 students who display worthwhile dedication to their organizations, in the amount of $500 each. Despite the monetary award, some students take issue with the initiative because they see it as rewarding and supporting those with enough disposable time and income to occupy unpaid club positions.
“I currently am working about 40-50 hours a week in addition to a full course load and my extracurricular activities, so it comes as somewhat of a slap in the face to see something like this,” said Victoria Vena, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and the president of Phi Alpha Delta, in an email to The Eagle.
A version of the fund was originally proposed by SG President Devontae Torriente at the end of his spring 2017 semester, The Eagle previously reported. Although it was originally meant to debut that fall, bottlenecks within the Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) slowed the process.
“As someone who has been involved in various student organizations and leadership positions prior to joining AUSG, I think it's incredibly important that we invest in our students, their organizations and their leadership potential,” Torriente said in 2017.
To qualify, students are asked to write an essay about their involvement with at least one organization and have their faculty advisor verify their experience.
Emma Lovato, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, argued that funding should be directed toward students who lack the financial flexibility to occupy an unpaid club position.
“If their motive here is to increase student involvement and to motivate students to be involved on campus by providing financial compensation, they’re marketing to the wrong kids,” Lovato said. “To market to the most involved kids is really reaching the wrong audience here.”
Lovato works three jobs, both on and off campus, and because she’s so busy, she doesn’t have the time to get very involved with clubs, she said.
“I just had to resign as the Queer Women’s Advocacy Committee Coordinator for AU Pride,” Lovato said. “I don’t have the time to commit to the program, because it’s not a paid leadership position.”
Other students see the fund differently. Alex Russo, a senior in the School of Public Affairs and a member of Judicial Board, explained that the fund addresses an unspoken responsibility of campus leaders – to put up much of their own money to fund events for their clubs. It’s also a recognition of the fact that students make sacrifices, he said.
As vice president of AU College Democrats last year, Russo said he paid hundreds of dollars of his own money to cover various expenses. He said he will definitely be applying for the fund this year.
To be eligible for the fund, students are also required to hold above a 2.5 GPA and need to have completed at least two semesters at AU. Those already stipended, such as Student Media leaders and some higher-level SG members, are ineligible, and students who receive the award once will be unable to apply again.
Made up of three members each from Student Government, Student Media Board and AU Club Council, BAC is tasked with allocating the entirety of the student activity fee at the end of each spring for the coming year. The Student Involvement Fund draws from rotating contributions made by each of the three major organizations, each giving $20,000 once every three years.
The advisory committee is also responsible for deciding which 20 students receive the award and will conduct blind reviews of each applicant to prevent any instances of bias. A major factor in the selection process is how dedicated students are to their organization, which will be valued much more highly than the sheer number of organizations they are a part of.
“This is about quality over quantity,” said Bobby Zitzmann, the SG comptroller.
A statement released by SG’s executive board said “Student involvement is viewed holistically; therefore, students will be granted full consideration even if they are involved in only one organization on campus.”
Despite disagreements over the fund’s use, students appear to agree on at least one thing: the need for some sort of accountability for the use of the awards after they’re given out.
“Once awarded, it is students' own business how they spend their money,” Zitzmann wrote in an email to The Eagle. “Whether they use it to help pay for school or for other personal expenses, it is not the place of Student Government to tell students how they should manage their own finances.”
This story has been updated.