SMAC Provides Aid to Underrepresented Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By John Taylor Wildfeuer


A student-led advocacy group at City College, Students Making a Change (SMAC), is offering $500 in Direct Emergency Financial Relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for students who do not qualify to receive money from the CARES Act.


The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) provided $2.2 trillion in federal relief to Americans, but excluded undocumented individuals and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients. SMAC senior fellow Marjorie Blen says she fears the economic stress may be hurting City College attendance. Marjorie notes that “There were 5,000 classes dropped in spring, that worries me…we have to help students where they are.”


When polled on their needs, Denise Castro, program coordinator for SMAC, said students’ “number one answer was money”.

Any student who took at least five credits in the Spring 2020 semester and plans to take at least five credits in the coming Fall 2020 semester is eligible to apply on their website. Currently, SMAC is not accepting any applications, but they are advocating for more funds to provide more grants.

As funds are limited, priority is given to low-income students with the highest need, and those approximately 800,000 students who were excluded from the CARES Act based on their citizenship status. Students who qualify will receive a check in the mail at the address they included in their application.

Gift cards like this helps low-income students at City College with much-needed access to groceries. San Francisco, CA. Aug. 11, 2020. Photo by Starr Wilson/The Guardsman.

SMAC is a City College student-led non-profit organization, funded by Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, that seeks to empower underrepresented students at City College through financial aid and leadership programs, advocacy for student rights and resources and calls for budgetary reform.


Since 2009, SMAC has pursued issues that concern community college students, particularly those of historically marginalized communities. When they started, they were working to increase access to vital resources by expanding college-level English and math courses, and to improve on-campus counseling, especially for AB540 classified undocumented students (who are eligible to pay in-state tuition in California).


To date, the organization has provided 561 students with these emergency grants, which, including other SMAC programs that provide gift cards for groceries and laptops to low-income students, amount to approximately $350,000 in student aid. SMAC was able to fund these programs with support from the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families (DCYF; grocery cards program) and the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO; laptop program).


SMAC sent a letter to the Board of Trustees on July 23rd requesting that they match SMAC’s Direct Emergency Relief efforts, which would provide an additional $300,00 in student aid for more than 500 students. As of August 19th the SMAC team has heard no reply from the Board of Trustees.


Trillia Hargrove, junior fellow at SMAC, asserts that “there are many things the institution could be doing to help us… it feels like they’re avoiding us”. This feeling was echoed by Marjorie Blen who felt the Board of Trustees, and some members of City College faculty, were “unhappy with us for going around them to help students… but they have so much more they can do than us with their student lists and through Canvas.”

On the SMAC website, under COVID-19 Resources, is a comprehensive list of aid available to students affected by the pandemic, as well as links to other organizations that address student needs like food insecurity, technological inequity and financial hardship.


Those wishing to support Students Making a Change can do so by joining SMAC Leadership Programs to become community organizers and campus advocates.


SMAC Almnus Elitininanesi Mafua’ofa testifies on their website that “SMAC leadership has given my life purpose. SMAC provided safety, comfort, friendship, family, and love. And most of all, SMAC provided me with a platform to be a voice for others and for myself.”


Supporters can also make donations on the SMAC website, either as a one-time donor or a “monthly sustainer”. Students who have received aid can make a difference by sharing their experience on social media, the SMAC website, or in an email to the Board of Trustees, from whom the organization is seeking contributions to Direct Emergency Financial Relief for students to match the $300,000 already dispensed.


The Guardsman