Leaders from CCA student groups have launched a campaign to raise $35,000 for their working class and BIPOC classmates. (Courtesy CCA)
A handful of California College of the Arts students, energized by the movement for Black lives, have started a fundraiser for their classmates, hoping to offset the expense of a private art school education with unrestricted grants of $500–$1,000.
The Working Class & BIPOC Grant Campaign, launched July 2, seeks to “catalyze the change necessary to make our school viable for all of its students.” The fundraiser’s end goal, beyond raising $35,000, is to push CCA to create a separate scholarship for Black and Indigenous students and students of color.
Pointing to the high cost of living in the Bay Area and CCA’s 2020–21 tuition of over $50,000, the organizers, a coalition of leaders from five different student groups, hope to address an “unacceptable disconnect between higher education and the BIPOC artist community in the Bay Area.”
CCA’s student body is 14% Asian American, 13% Hispanic/Latinx and 4% African American. (In 2010, the nine-county Bay Area was 23% Asian, 24% Hispanic/Latinx and 7% African American.)
And while CCA distributes millions in institutional financial aid each year, only one named scholarship is specifically earmarked for African American students, with another four categorized as “diversity” scholarships. CCA says it is unable to use race or ethnicity as a deciding factor in bestowing scholarships because of Proposition 209, which most famously ended affirmative action practices at UC schools in 1996.
During a nationwide reckoning for racial justice, the student leaders behind the Working Class & BIPOC Grant Campaign have moved quickly and independently to circumnavigate such restrictions, opting instead for mutual aid. Their fundraiser is both functional and symbolic, modeling a program CCA might one day be able to implement (a repeal of Proposition 209 will appear on state ballots this November).
A Student-Led Campaign
Lindsay Guinan, a third-year animation student, is one of ten student organizers behind the fundraiser. “I’m so grateful to be living through the literal largest civil rights movement to date,” she says. Participating in recent Black Lives Matter protests prompted her to look critically at the communities in which she was already involved: “And CCA is a community that I think desperately needs help in terms of equity for Black students and Indigenous students and students of color.”
The fundraiser was originally planned to conclude in October, but Guinan says they may shorten the timeframe to release funds before the fall semester starts on Sept. 3. As of publication, the group, which includes members of the 24 Frames Animation Club, the Black Brilliance Club, the Students of Color Coalition, Student Council and Student Union of California College of the Arts, has raised over $12,000 from 132 donors—a feat achieved in under four weeks.
By establishing itself as completely independent from the school, the campaign has both advantages and disadvantages. Funds can be dispersed immediately, without going through official channels, but the campaign has to gather information about who is eligible to receive those funds on their own. To that end, they’ve created a survey for CCA students to complete; Guinan says they received 200 responses in the first two days.
Alongside demographic questions about ethnicity and gender identity are queries like, “Have you felt unsafe at CCA due to direct or indirect racism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, sexism, classism, national origin?” The survey also wants to know if students notified CCA of such experiences and if the school took action in response to any complaints.
CCA, like most institutions of higher education across the country, is currently examining its past and current practices regarding racial justice and equity. The President’s Diversity Steering Group, made up of faculty, staff and students, has organized an extensive list of recommendations submitted by members of the CCA community since the national uprisings following the police killing of George Floyd. Among the suggestions are calls to create a center for Black visual culture and curatorial practice, to establish a land acknowledgment on the school’s website, and to require white faculty members to attend anti-racism training.
‘More Funding is Needed’
CCA spokesperson Taryn Lott says the school expects the list of current and ongoing initiatives to grow, especially with regards to programming and curriculum, when members of the faculty return from the summer break. As for CCA’s response to the call for additional funding for working class and BIPOC students, Lott wrote in an email, “While CCA has made progress in raising diversity scholarships, college leadership recognizes that more funding is needed and continues to pursue increased support for our students.” Lott says CCA has raised $635,000 toward diversity scholarship awards since May.
The school currently distributes $25 million in institutional financial aid, 65% of which Lott says went to BIPOC and working class undergraduate and graduate students last year, which includes U.S. citizens, permanent residents and DACA recipients. Diversity scholarships comprise 10% of the school’s endowment at $3 million.
But Guinan says what she’s heard from CCA’s Black students in particular is that the diversity scholarship program doesn’t prioritize them and they often don’t see those funds. The scholarships, according to CCA’s website, are offered to “students from educationally disadvantaged families who have demonstrated academic and artistic achievement, students with demonstrated leadership in service to the community, and students whose work focuses on social or cultural issues.”
The Working Class & BIPOC Grant Campaign hopes to disburse $1,000 each to those who need help with rent and larger expenses, and $500 grants for assistance with artist supplies and other “hidden fees that really add up,” Guinan explains. CCA estimates the additional costs of attending the school while living in the Bay Area, factoring in fees, housing, transportation, food and supplies, can amount to around $25,000.
Last week, CCA announced all of the upcoming fall semester’s courses will be taught completely remotely due to new guidance from the San Francisco Department of Public Health—not, as the school had hoped, in a combination of in-person and remote instruction. Though the school’s Oakland and San Francisco campuses will be completely closed to students until it is deemed safe to reopen—meaning no access to studios, wood shops, computer labs or the library—the school will continue to offer single-occupancy on-campus housing for students who need or want to live at CCA.
Unlike SFAI, which recently enticed students to re-enroll with offers of a 50% tuition cut, CCA’s 2020–21 tuition is frozen at the previous school year’s rate. The only cuts were to a planned 4% increase.
The Speedy Delivery of Grants
Part of the impetus for keeping the Working Class & BIPOC Grant Campaign separate from the school, Guinan says, was a dissatisfaction with the speed at which CCA was able to disperse coronavirus-related relief funds to the student body. CCA received a total of nearly $1.4 million from the CARES Act fund, half of which will be disbursed in emergency financial aid grants of $500–$3,000 to eligible students between the 2019–20 and 2020–21 school years. Lott says their records indicate 745 students may be eligible to apply for these funds; so far 104 requests have been approved. (Dispersal was slowed by a lack of guidance from the Department of Education.)
Additionally, CCA launched their own emergency fund to assist with students’ basic immediate needs in the face of the pandemic. Of the $30,686 raised, only $4,700 has been distributed to 40 students (decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and factor in the students’ financial aid and financial need) in the form of gift cards to grocery stores, general retailers and an art supplies store.
In the spirit of mutual aid, the student-led fundraiser will issue its grants without any such limitations, trusting recipients to know what they themselves need. Guinan hopes the success of this campaign will push the school to ultimately change the way it supports its working class and BIPOC students, from the bottom up.
“We all are putting our careers at CCA in some sort of jeopardy in some capacity,” she says. “And I just want to acknowledge that our team is working super hard and tackling this in multiple ways. The energy and the momentum is really strong and I just feel grateful to have this opportunity to hopefully effect some structural change at CCA.”
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