Here to stay until the job is done: An update from the Basic Needs Coalition

By and

In the midst of a nerve-wracking summer, remote fall quarter, disruptive pandemic and historic election, members of the Basic Needs Coalition (BNC) raised nothing short of $91,946.76 in community funds. In accordance with our mission, these funds were used to ensure that access to basic needs were not barriers to success for our peers and fellow Stanford community members.

In these last 90 days well over 1,000 donors, 100 coalition members and dozens of other dedicated individuals have unceasingly affirmed that we cannot continue to allow students to fall through the cracks — cracks that exist due to our prideful institution’s stubbornly narrow understanding of the diverse student body it decided to admit.

Here we provide updates to our stakeholders, through insights from just a few of the many amazing community members that have shaped the BNC, community members that took the time these last few months to simply and sincerely ask, “How can I help?”

A data-informed approach

Photo of Patricia Wei ‘23

Patricia Wei ’23 is one community member who found her answer in the Basic Needs Coalition. As a local student, Patricia was spared from the worst of the March mass eviction that abruptly unhoused a majority of Stanford’s undergraduate population a week before spring-quarter finals. 

Patricia is aware of how lucky she was, noting “how important it is to acknowledge your privileges” and that “Covid hitting really showed me I need to step up for my community because I care about these people so much, I just want them to worry less, I just want them to know they can still be cared for.” 

Despite joining as a rising sophomore with no prior organizing experience, taking on a full course load, a part-time job and supporting her family, Patricia found herself indeed stepping up in important ways for this community. Most recently, she has served as a key coordinator in BNC’s collaborative data analysis efforts, involving ASSU members (notably Hannah Mieczkowski, co-director of affordability) and the Stanford Daily Data Team. This data was collected to inform holistic, permanent solutions to meeting the community’s basic needs. Their analysis of the 2020 ASSU Community Needs Survey revealed the (unsurprisingly) far from insignificant number of students struggling to meet their basic needs. To this point Patricia clarifies that, “we acknowledge that Stanford students have it relatively better compared to students in other universities or colleges. But the fact still remains: one person struggling with basic needs at Stanford is just one too many.”

Fundraising to support those we can

While the Coalition fully affirms that Stanford must take ultimate responsibility for establishing a more permanent solution, we would be no better than the institution if we ignore those in our own community currently struggling with basic needs. With or without an ongoing pandemic, our work strives to center the simple fact that being caught in this struggle is far from conclusive evidence of failed character or lack of effort.

Both the past and present refusal for the institution to fully recognize this unmet need remains the fundamental reason the BNC organizes robust fundraising campaigns in support of its Basic Needs Fund (BNF). Designed by a diverse group of student organizers and fundamentally informed by generations of First-Generation Low-Income (FLI) students and their experiences, the BNF is a diligently managed fund that allows trusted community leaders to distribute support and funding more equitably and efficiently than Stanford’s rigid and narrow policies allow.

Photo of Thea Rossman ‘20

Thea Rossman ’20 brings important insights as a class-privileged student with the humility and class consciousness critical for doing this work. Returning from a leave of absence and then choosing to stay at Stanford for a coterminal master’s, Thea took the prospect of an extra year as an opportunity “to rethink my relationship and responsibility to Stanford, and really understand it as one of my communities.” 

Thea has been instrumental in BNC fundraising efforts and securing fiscal sponsorship with the Academic Mutual Aid Foundation (AMAF). This sponsorship allows donors willing to contribute larger amounts to mutually benefit from tax deductions. AMAF’s 501(c)3 status enables people to send money through donor-advised funds and some corporate matching policies. On top of that, an anonymous donor has offered to match every three dollars raised with one dollar, up to $10,000, for any donations made before Dec. 18.

These new partnerships open significant doors for larger donors and different funding resources. This has been a ray of hope amongst Coalition members, as much of the previous fundraising came from small-dollar donations personally provided by community members. 

Knowing that a disproportionate amount of that funding came from other FLI students and those in close association with the FLI community, Thea stresses that, “People in my position — Stanford students, faculty, and alums who have a family safety net, who have access to high-income careers, or who grew up class-privileged or wealthy, or all of the above — have not done our fair share. And we need to get real about that.” 

Preparing for a long road to real change

With so many people supporting their mission, the BNC recognizes the importance of ensuring that graduation, burnout and other phase-out processes do not break the momentum for change that so many have already invested in. As such, BNC’s advocacy and fundraising efforts are complemented by a robust new-member onboarding program headed by Sreya Guha ’22. 

Photo of Sreya Guha ‘22

Sreya also had little organizing experience prior to the BNC, yet this Coalition has served as a critical incubator to her development as a leader and change maker. Drawing from her own observations while settling into the BNC, Sreya’s onboarding strategy assumes no prior experience with organizing. Instead it centers direct, personal connection to nurture new skills and leadership in anyone looking to learn. Sreya notes how the open and honest culture of the BNC is also reflected in her onboarding, as “there is no pretense at all of superiority, people are just really excited to welcome people into the Coalition… setting up one on ones and making them semi consistent removes the intimidation. It allows new members to honestly say they have no idea what’s going on.” 

And her strategy has worked. Today the BNC enjoys a culture of mutual mentorship, honesty and care as members of the Coalition excitedly welcome any and all interested contributors. In line with sustaining BNC efforts, members new and old are consistently encouraged to contribute only as much as is healthy and reasonable for them. Truly the biggest struggle is convincing interested members that they can meaningfully contribute regardless of past experience, or lack thereof. To such members Sreya promises, “You don’t need experience at all. People don’t need to know how to fundraise; new ideas from inexperienced people make this interesting and so dynamic. It doesn’t take years to be creative, the investment and passion in our community is more important.”

A sobering reminder

Photo of Poojit Hegde ‘23

Lastly Poojit Hegde ’23 affirms the power of this passion through his experiences as a strategist on our social media team. To Poojit and many others in the Coalition, the deep care fueling this work comes from a genuine love for the communities that we serve. In recalling some of the testimonies shared by students for social media campaigns and long-term advocacy, Poojit realized, “I can’t live in other people’s lives, but even just reading their experiences is the next best thing. I’ve seen the impact that we can have.” 

Despite the immense sums being raised, Coalition members are well aware this is not the permanent solution Stanford students need. As Poojit confesses, “There is so much more to do, and that kinda pushes me to stick around.”

In closing, for all the amazing work this Coalition has done and continues to do, it is absolutely imperative to remember that it is Stanford, the institution, not our volunteer work force, that needs to take responsibility for the lack of basic needs access that has plagued its most vulnerable community members, even before this pandemic began. 

At the same time we also honor Stanford, the community, that has and always will push for necessary change in this institution, change fueled by a shared and timeless commitment to doing what’s right. 

Keep up with BNC and our work through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. If you are interested in helping students right now, share our story to your networks and or please donate to our Basic Needs Fund to give us the resources to support our community. Since August the Fund has only been able to meet half of the nearly $180,000 in need requested by students. If you wish to be involved with long term advocacy and the search for permanent solutions, or if your organization would like to build a partnership with us, contact us at [email protected] or through any of our social media accounts

If you are interested in supporting other members of the Stanford Community not currently supported by our Basic Needs Fund, see Students for Workers Rights and their current campaign aiming to raise funds and awareness for Stanford’s overlooked but highly essential campus workers.

Contact Kiara Bacasen at kbacasen ‘at’ stanford.edu and Lizzie Avila at eaavila ‘at’ stanford.edu.

The Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of op-eds and letters to the editor. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email letters to the editor to eic ‘at’ stanforddaily.com and op-ed submissions to opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com. 

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