ASG fails to disburse student engagement stipend this year

Erica Snow, Assistant Campus Editor

Amanda Walsh didn’t buy textbooks this quarter.

A Communication senior and former president of Northwestern’s Quest Scholars Network chapter, Walsh said she planned to buy books with a share of an Associated Student Government-sponsored stipend for students heavily involved in extracurriculars — but the applications were never released and the funds were not disbursed.

The Student Engagement Stipend, a fund awarded to 20 students by ASG of $500 each, aimed to help students with financial need pursue time-consuming student group positions and was established in 2014. Walsh sat on the committee that reviewed student applications that year and planned to apply for the stipend this academic year. ASG allotted $10,000 to the stipend program in this academic year’s internal budget, which was $80,000 total.

But this academic year, the funds were not paid out because discussion over how to reform the process has not yet been resolved, former ASG president Noah Star said. Instead, the funds will “roll back” to the pool of money ASG controls, he said.

Walsh said although the process may have been imperfect, the money would’ve been beneficial to her and other students.

“I was already planning on the ways I could use that money,” Walsh said. “It was really frustrating that logistics and because something wasn’t perfect and something wasn’t the best it could be would take that opportunity from students like myself.”

In 2014, part of the application review process involved a committee of students — who didn’t have access to applicants’ financial aid data — ranking applications based on merit, before the Center for Student Involvement, now called the Office of Campus Life, weighed in.

Star, a Weinberg senior, said he objected to how large a role students played in determining their peers’ financial fate. He said ASG was “actively in conversation” with administrators about the program throughout the year, but because it reached no satisfying reforms, Star said ASG decided to use this year as a “fact-gathering and brainstorming year” instead.

In addition, Star said SESP junior Matt Herndon’s unexpected resignation as vice president for accessibility and inclusion in November made administering the program less feasible.

Deciding to delay the stipend a year was ultimately a correct decision, Star said, because it gave future leaders more time to decide how to change the system and implement the stipend using a more fair process.

“We’re acutely aware of the impact (of) not having a program this year,” Star said. “But we do believe that putting forward without improving it in the way it needed to be improved after its pilot year would’ve been a mistake in terms of making sure a program like this exists in the long term.”

Jourdan Dorrell is ASG’s vice president for accessibility and inclusion and served on the committee in 2014. She said the problem wasn’t with individual members of the committee who reviewed applications, but the structure of peer review may have favored some student groups more than others.

“Looking back, I do think that is one of the biggest reasons why we didn’t do again because there was no way to make it completely fair,” the Weinberg junior said.

Current ASG president Christina Cilento said she wants to make the student review process more objective.

Cilento, a SESP junior, plans on presenting the 2016-17 budget for Senate’s approval at Wednesday’s meeting. Included will be $10,000 for the renewal of the stipend, and she said she is interested in partnering with Student Enrichment Services to put the stipend application on SES’s newly launched online common application.

Cilento said the review process could be more fair by emphasizing the hours a student devotes to a group instead of the name of the student group.

“The stipend fits in really well with the types of things Macs (Vinson) and I wanted to accomplish during our year,” Cilento said. “We have two very different ways the stipend has been treated: One year it was allocated, and the next year it wasn’t. Looking back on that, we can maybe understand why both of those happened and try to move forward and create something that will work for this upcoming year.”

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