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Stronger together: Rice community members should embody principles of mutual aid

By Thresher Editorial Board     1/26/21 10:32pm

Mutual aid networks have cropped up around the world throughout the last year as a response to the pandemic. The concept, which is not a new one, is fairly simple — a community voluntarily shares and receives resources and services among one another, monetary or otherwise, with the goal of making the whole community stronger. Still, it’s radical, especially in a country that encourages individualism, capitalism, and a ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ mentality — an expression that, by the way, is nonsense.

In September, a group of undergraduates established Rice Mutual Aid to bring the practice of mutual aid to our community. This week, the organizers spoke with the Thresher about their mission, which organizer Anh Nguyen summed up as “solidarity, not charity.” So far, the group has collected over $2500 in contributions from the Rice community, and has redistributed almost $1500 of it. They’ve also shared resources for finding cheap and free textbooks, highlighted students who run their own businesses, and signal-boosted fundraisers that have helped cover staff member Margarita Rodriguez’s funeral expenses, a student’s mother’s cancer treatment, and more.

The support Rice Mutual Aid has been able to give our community so far is phenomenal, but they have their sights set higher. Moving into the spring semester, they said their goal is to destigmatize mutual aid — both giving and receiving. Mezthly Pena, a first-generation, low-income student, told the Thresher that she notices fellow low-income students are often the ones donating the most to the fund, whereas students in higher income brackets don’t seem as engaged.

If that’s true, it’s a problem. The Rice community is stronger when it collaborates and works together, a message that has been broadcasted to every student here since before we even applied. That means that we shouldn’t be resistant to offering help when we can, or afraid to ask for help when we need it. And it means that we should never equate a community member asking for help with requesting charity, freeloading, or being lazy.

The values behind Rice Mutual Aid can be found in other pockets of Rice. Two students are launching a food-delivery app soon that will allow Rice students to request food delivery from students who are already on their way to a restaurant — closing the accessibility gap between those who have a car or can afford Ubers, and those who can’t. In quarantine, many students have discovered talents for mask-sewing or jewelry-making, and have been able to sell those goods — sometimes even donating those profits back into the community. And many of Rice’s institutional structures, such as Peer Academic Advisors, Rice Emergency Medical Services, aspects of the residential college system and more, are grounded in similar principles of community support.

To make our community stronger, every member of the Rice community — including ourselves — should find ways to bring principles of mutual aid into our individual actions. Supporting fellow students can take many forms, and it doesn’t have to be a big investment. A small monetary contribution to a mutual aid fund, or volunteering your time, skills or other resources can go a long way in building community. Students shouldn’t have to prove that they deserve the aid needed for an equitable college experience, so we also call on our community members to ask for help when you need it. All students deserve the bare necessities, like food and housing, but they also deserve access to enriching experiences that are often more accessible to higher income students — from buying drinks at Coffeehouse to going to Austin City Limits on fall break. Even what may feel like a minor contribution of aid can strengthen our community — and we’re always stronger together.

Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Rishab Ramapriyan, Ivanka Perez, Amy Qin, Nayeli Shad, Ella Feldman, Katelyn Landry, Rynd Morgan, Savannah Kuchar, Ben Baker-Katz and Simona Matovic.

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