Throughout the month of October, you may have noticed the following advertisement when going to print your weekly readings at the P&CC or to split a pitcher of sangria with your housemates at QP:
Since the drastic cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) were announced by the Ford government back in January, you may have noticed the group Students for Students (SFS) cropping up around campus. Students for Students is a student run bursary program that aims to both raise awareness on campus of the financial disparity at Queen’s, as well as raise funding to support students impacted by the OSAP cuts. This week, I sat down with SFS’s founder Aimee McCurdy to learn more about her inspiration behind founding the organization, her experience working with the AMS, and her hopes for SFS’s future.
Name & Program?
My name is Aimee McCurdy, and I am in my fourth year of political studies.
What are some things you’ve been involved with on campus thus far in your degree?
I started QWIPG, which is Women in Professional Growth in second year, which I ultimately had to say goodbye to in third year when I founded SFS, and passed WIPG on to new hires. QWIPG is where I really began to understand how to navigate club culture on campus and how to get a club ratified with the AMS. That all really helped me start SFS in third year.
The OSAP cuts the Ontario government announced back in January of this year were devastating to students across the province. Can you walk me through what inspired you to start the Students for Students bursary?
I kept thinking how ridiculous the new policy was. I had a lot of friends message me, just talking about how concerned they were about being able to pay for tuition. People have also come to school thinking that they would be able to fund their entire degree because of the new OSAP policy [implemented under Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government], and following the cuts under the Ford government some people have been left with just four months to decide what they will do next year. Some students who were funding their education through OSAP have already been in school for at least a year [and] have dedicated time to their degrees which they now might not be able to finish, due to lack of funding. It’s also really difficult for some people to get a student line of credit from their bank in the event their parents’ credit is bad. The new policy didn’t really take into account the implications of students finding other funding to pay for tuition, and in my opinion, I don’t really understand what the purpose of the OSAP cuts were other than to cut taxes, which is really short-sighted, because at the end of the day, the more educated people there are in a community the more possibility for economic growth. I really didn’t want to see the negative impact from these cuts, and I really wanted to mitigate it as much as possible.
Photo by Students for Students
How does SFS work? How do students impacted by OSAP cuts apply for funding from SFS?
So the bursary has always existed at Queen’s. We [SFS] met with the bursary program and asked how we could contribute to it further. How can we get more people to know that it exists, how can we get more people to donate to it, that kind of thing. It is on our website, where you can see details about the bursary specifically, but to actually apply, you can go onto SOLUS, to the financial section, and apply to the bursary. Our bursary specifically is for Ontario students who are in need of financial aid, so if you qualify for financial aid and are an Ontario resident, you can apply for the bursary through the financial aid application on SOLUS.
So just to clarify, which specific bursary does an applicant apply to?
There are a lot of different kinds of bursaries; SFS has selected a bursary that is specifically for Ontario students. They gave us a special link with SFS so they know that the bursary is associated with SFS. [editor’s note: funds donated to SFS are accessed by Ontario students when they apply for the Queen’s General Bursary through SOLUS.]
What has SFS achieved thus far that you are particularly proud of?
We can’t really gage how much money is donated to SFS and distributed among students. I am really proud that October is the month that the AMS is partnering with us to make sure that every AMS business is doing something to donate money to the bursary program. Yesterday they were selling t-shirts in the ARC, the proceeds from the cookies at CoGro go to SFS, all the money in any tip jars are going to SFS, the P&CC is doing trash books where all proceeds go to SFS, and the Queen’s Journal is also giving us free advertising space as well.
Would you say that there’s a lot more awareness that has been generated on campus just about the trials and tribulations of the OSAP cuts and how they have specifically impacted students?
I think that there are a lot of people on campus that have come to realize that there is a [financial] gap between students. I’d say that most Queen’s students are financially well off…this is a school that attracts a lot of wealth, but there is a disparity, and I think people are beginning to recognize that just through the OSAP cuts, just because the struggle to pay for tuition wasn’t necessarily as visible when students have previously received adequate funding to pay for school. Of course, there are always going to be students that won’t care about the struggles of others. I was actually doing a survey to get testimony from students of how the OSAP cuts have affected them, and some students submitted answers just saying that affected students just ‘needed to get a job’ to pay for school, or claiming things like ‘I love these cuts, I’m saving money through the reduced tuition.’ I read one testimony from one individual saying that they were working two jobs and still didn’t know how they were going to pay for tuition, and the response I read right after that one just said ‘if people want to pay for school they should just get a job,’ which really shows a gap in knowledge of the struggle of paying for school. Especially in school, I don’t want people to have to work two jobs and then try to get good grades on top of that. How hard is that? I’m not even working one job and I find it incredibly difficult to manage my school. Last year I was working, and I was struggling a lot.
I was actually working at a burrito place downtown in second year and I found it really difficult too, and I was only working about 15 hours a week.
The hours in a day where people are potentially working takes time away from time that you could be doing school work, or sleeping. It’s hard to find energy to do schoolwork after finishing a shift.
How has your experience working with the AMS this past month?
It’s been incredible. The AMS has helped us out so much, they’ve really helped to take SFS to the next level, and I’m so grateful.
You’re also set to graduate this year; what are your personal goals for after graduation?
I have two pathways I’m currently looking at; I’m hoping to get a job or internship with the government while I study for the LSAT exam, as I’ve always wanted to go to law school. Another path I’m looking at is just to apply to master’s programs; I think I’m looking at Sciences Po and LSE (London School of Economics).
That’s amazing! What do you hope to achieve with SFS after graduating from Queen’s, and what plans do you have for the initiative on campus upon you graduating?
I’m really hoping that the bursary will not be needed forever; I know that bursaries for financial aid will be needed in universities forever, but I hope that bursaries attempting to compensate for government cuts won’t be needed. I hope the next person to take over SFS after I graduate will continue to build SFS to something even bigger than it already is.
This initiative you’ve started has clearly aided several people within the Queen’s community; is there any advice you could give to anyone else looking to make a positive impact on campus in making Queen’s an economically accessible place to be for all students?
I definitely think that we need to take the time to walk in other people’s shoes and cultivate more empathy in the sense of understanding that other people’s success, in the collective view implies the success of other people as well. If we want positive change in our communities and country then we need to have everyone moving forward together, and I don’t some people to not be able to not achieve their personal goals and contribute to our society just because they aren’t able to afford to go to school. I think we need to remember how different people have different experiences and the path to success shouldn’t be defined by economic means.
For more information on SFS, visit their website: https://www.sfsqueens.com/