Why We Need the Student Empowerment Fund

We, as students, negotiate with the University administration every day, and time and time again we have learned a simple lesson: money talks. It’s time for us to invest in a fund that gives us the agency to complete our own large-scale projects centered on improving student life. The creation of the Student Empowerment Fund will provide the student body with the tools necessary to begin the important work of taking their ideas and turning them into meaningful actions.

Our goal is to accumulate enough money to allow future Hoyas to make a meaningful and lasting investment on campus. The Student Empowerment Fund would begin at the start of Fiscal Year 2021, by taking $50,000 from the roughly $1,090,000 annual student activities fee budget. With continuously mandated contributions, the fund is estimated to grow to roughly $1,300,000 by Fiscal Year 2036. Although this 5% cut in annual Student Activities Fee spending will lead to some budget cuts in the short term, we must have solidarity with our future Hoyas. Minor cutbacks today gives them leverage in future negotiations with the University.

We know that the Student Empowerment Fund can facilitate change on campus because a similar effort has worked before. Between 2001 and 2010, half of the semesterly student activities fee was paid into an endowment that eventually grew to roughly $2 million. The original intent of this fund was to create an endowment which would provide enough in interest every year to cover the entirety of the student activities fee. However, students soon realized that this goal was unattainable. In 2010, the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA) sought input from the student body on a plan to change this fee structure and allocate the endowment account to projects that would benefit all students in the immediate future. Following a campus-wide referendum, students granted $2 million to the HFSC to fund the addition of Riverside Terrace, an outdoor area not originally included in plans for the center. The resulting center opened in the fall of 2014 and incorporated elements of sustainability, maximized square footage, and featured beautiful design, inside and out.

Student voices are loudest when they work in tandem with the University administration to concretely impact student lives, as seen through the HFSC.  The student body showed its commitment to campus improvement and had measurable impact through our financial buy-in to the project. In the future, if we seek to replicate HFSC’s success, we should be willing to make a similar financial investment. The University and the students both win when we are given agency in campus planning. The Student Empowerment Fund will grant us such agency.

The only way we can make a big impact on our campus is if we start saving now. In order for the fund to reach an impactful size, we decided we would need to write our bylaws such that money cannot be withdrawn from the fund until 15 years have passed. After 15 years, the Finance and Appropriations Committee will work with members of the student body to evaluate proposals that will be submitted to the general student body through a referendum, allowing Georgetown students the final say on how the money will be spent. The Finance and Appropriations Committee and student activists will then work with the university to make these projects a reality.

Why 15 years? First, once the fund grows to larger than a million dollars, it will have reached a size that commands significant attention from the university and guarantees students a seat at the table. Second, 2036 is an important year for Georgetown. The university enacts change on a twenty-year planning cycle, during which they cement plans for new buildings and programs. This fund will become available at a crucial time for student negotiations with the administration. We want to have the most impact and voice during that planning period. 

The Student Empowerment Fund is the best possible way that the student body can invest in our campus’ future. We are asking for your support to transform our system to become active and equal partners of the university. If you want to help us make this happen show your support by signing on to our petition, which can be found on GUSA social media.

Eric Bazail-Eimil
Eric Bazail-Eimil is a Senator for the Class of 2023 and chairs the Finance and Appropriations Committee of the 14th GUSA Senate.

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