Two weeks after promising low-income students a $1,000 Student Support Stipend, Emory revealed on March 28 that the money was a partial advance of housing and dining fee reimbursements earmarked for all students regardless of socioeconomic status. After the Emory community erupted in disbelief, Emory administrators apologized and issued an additional $1,000 to low-income students on April 2. While Emory did ultimately provide low-income students with the funds it had initially promised, its decision to do so was less a proactive show of support than a knee-jerk reaction. As the pandemic progresses, the University must clarify and honor the commitments it makes to students.
When Emory announced the creation of the Student Support Stipend in an email to those who qualified, many students assumed it would supplement any additional reimbursements in the future. But we were understandably blindsided when informed otherwise. One student, Tania Trejo-Mendez (20C), told the Wheel that “it seemed a lot like Emory took the credit for … listening to students and staff, and after taking credit for this and patting themselves on the back, they rolled out these specifics.”
While the administration atoned for its failure by apologizing to the community and revising the Student Support Stipend, the University’s misleading communication has betrayed student trust. While students rightfully called out and prompted Emory to reverse course, the burden of generating institutional change has clearly fallen on students and staff each time the administration has made a mistake. The University’s decisions to protect Bon Appétit workers, create a student commencement task force and extend a pass-fail option to all students came only after protests by students and community members. Such a burden is undue when many students can only afford to focus on their day-to-day subsistence.
The University has diligently preserved every communication regarding COVID-19 on a public message board except for two — the announcement that the Student Support Stipend was an advance on the fee reimbursement and Interim Provost Jan Love’s subsequent apology to low-income students. The omission of these important messages suggests that the administration is attempting to erase its mistake from the record to save face.
Emory administrators have a responsibility to support low-income students, but their poor communication has undermined this commitment. The initially unclear nature of the Student Support Stipend was inconsiderate and harmful, as low-income students had already incorporated the stipend into their financial plans under the assumption that it would supplement their reimbursements, not eat into them.
The miscommunication may have been an honest mistake, but it has nonetheless caused demonstrable harm. Sergio Eraso (23C), a recipient of the stipend, told the Wheel that he had to modify his family’s budget as a result of Emory’s unclear communication. “I thought that was very disingenuous of them,” Eraso said. “I’m offended that they just didn’t tell us upfront … I think that’s one of the worst parts.” With Emory amending the Student Support Stipend, students like Eraso will have to reassess their financial prospects yet again.
Throughout this crisis, Emory must maintain timely communication as it proactively aids low-income students. The worsening pandemic threatens to exacerbate low-income students’ unequal access to health care, stable housing and food. On top of these difficulties, low-income students already deal with immense financial challenges to worry about Emory’s miscommunication.
With the notable exception of its initial response over spring break, Emory’s administration has frequently approached the COVID-19 pandemic reactively rather than proactively. As Emory approaches the upcoming summer and fall semesters, it must tackle pandemic-induced financial and academic hardships before they cause harm rather than mitigate the damage after it’s been done. Thus far, Emory has proven itself unreliable for those needing consistent support during this time of upheaval and uncertainty. Emory must do better.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board.
The Editorial Board is composed of Sean Anderson, Brammhi Balarajan, Zach Ball, Devin Bog, Jake Busch, Meredith McKelvey, Andrew Kliewer, Boris Niyonzima, Nick Pernas and Ben Thomas.
The Editorial Board is the official voice of the Emory Wheel and is editorially separate from the Wheel's board of editors.