With fall student events canceled or restricted by Covid-19 safety guidelines, many students are wondering where their $436 student activities fee is going this year. The fee was set by the Board of Trustees before students were sent home in the spring and, like tuition, has not since been reduced.
Many traditionally expensive student events, like concerts and dances, are not possible this semester, and many clubs will not be able to execute their usual programming. But budget proposals, according to SGA Finance co-Directors Mason Olmsted ’21 and Alice Hudson ’21, reflect the dedication and energy of student organization leaders.
“It blows my mind how creative these clubs have gotten,” Hudson said. “It goes to show the passion of the students with these organizations.”
All non-remote students paid the activities fee, bringing the total pool of money to $1.2 million. The SGA Finance Committee allocates the money through review and approval of club budgets, a process that usually takes place at the end of spring semester. Because students were sent home before that budgeting process could begin last spring, the meetings between the Finance Committee and student clubs were moved to this fall.
Students who are studying remotely can still participate in student activities, and many clubs are adding virtual components to better include remote members.
Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB) is the largest recipient of these funds. Their budget this year is on par with previous years but is allocated to an array of new programming such as virtual escape rooms and trivia night.
MCAB is also hoping to use its funds to expand its collaborations with and support of other student organizations. MCAB President Trishabelle Manzano ’21 said she is especially excited for opportunities to partner with groups like the International Students Organization (ISO) and Middlebury College Musical Theatre Organization.
All speakers that MCAB is considering scheduling will be virtual. With no travel costs and, in some cases, reduced speaker fees for virtual talks, a wider array of voices is now possible within the MCAB budget.
Manzano said that the process of rethinking their programming and spending has allowed MCAB leaders to also reevaluate their methods.
“We’re hoping to retain as much spirit as possible, but also to create a shift toward being more inclusive and intentional about the program that we put on to best support the student body, rather than to just remain with what we’ve traditionally historically done in the past,” Manzano said.
Other student clubs are also rethinking their programs and proposing new ways to engage members.
On Tap, Middlebury’s tap dance group, increased their budget to fund the purchase of individual, portable wooden dance mats so that they can practice and perform outdoors.
The women’s ultimate frisbee team asked for money to purchase cones that could be spread around the pitch at six-foot intervals to help team members maintain physical distance. Players can only travel from cone to cone in gameplay. In the spring, when their season typically picks up, the team may even play matches with these adapted rules.
As they are currently unable to host rallies, Feminist Action at Middlebury is requested funding for Masterclasses in Adobe Illustrator and other programs that are useful tools for activism.
Alongside these innovative proposals, some clubs have received funding for what are typical major events, like tournaments and trips, that may not actually be possible later in the year.
“The way we've been operating so far is assuming that events will get to happen this spring,” Hudson said. “That's the big question mark: what is the spring going to look like?”
Since the student activities fee is the same as last year’s, the Finance Committee is able to make funds available for those tentative events. Hudson said that if those events do not take place, the SGA Finance Committee will be “getting a hefty reserve of returned allocations.”
The Finance Committee currently has $110,000 in reserve money following the club budget approval process. Clubs are able to submit budget proposals or new money requests until mid-spring, and having reserves helps ensure that funds are available for those circumstances. The remaining reserve funds and any returned money from clubs who underspent their budgets are allotted to various projects at year’s end, like the proposed MiddKidd Mega Project last spring.
Just under $70,000 of the pooled fee money covers expenses unrelated to club spending. This year student break bus services have been expanded to address challenging travel circumstances due to the pandemic, with a total cost of roughly $25,000 for the year. Additionally, $7,800 went toward the cost of school-wide activities portal Presence, and $4,150 was set aside to fund February outdoor orientation. $10,000 went towards Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) subsidies.
Other destinations for funding include the $3,500 J-term workshop fund, a $5,000 SGA retreat, campaign reimbursements totaling $1,000, $500 in SGA survey prizes, and various awards amounting to $6,000. Most of the fee money, however, is dedicated to funding the budgets of student organizations.
Olmsted and Hudson do not want clubs to let the possibility that events could be canceled or the difficulty in planning given Covid-19 safety guidelines keep them from applying for funding.
“We don't want any clubs to feel like it would be too hard to do anything this semester because of Covid,” Hudson said. “We have the same amount of money, and so we really want clubs to come in and take advantage of this and get creative with their budgets this year.”
Cat McLaughlin is a super-senior feb from Gilford, NH. As a political science major, she became interested in journalism through media studies. In her free time she enjoys alpine skiing and sailing. She also has worked as a ski coach at the Middlebury Snow Bowl, is a lover of Proc dining hall, is hooked on iced coffee, and watches the Pride and Prejudice movie at least 20 times per year.