Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.
After UT closed campus operations on March 13 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, students working within the Multicultural Engagement Center on campus were left with their projects and funding frozen.
Now, former officers and members have consolidated their efforts to create the Mutual Aid Collective.
“If we don't have any more access to our funding, we still do have agency over how we spend our time and how we decide to dedicate service to our community,” organizer Lynn Huynh said.
Huynh, an advertising and women’s and gender studies junior, said the collective was first developed to centralize and disperse the abundance of information about pandemic resources and funds. The collective then expanded their platform to fundraise and disperse their own emergency funds while advocating for changes in both local and national policy.
Huynh said she was initially surprised by the amount of support she was seeing come out of the UT and Austin community.
“You see all these stories about people hoarding basic necessities and not sharing (and) having a very individualistic mindset when it comes to the crisis, and that was very disenchanting,” Huynh said. “Seeing how many people were in our (direct messages) like, ‘How can I help?’ just made me feel really happy to see that there's still a community, and there's still people who think about the collective over the individual.”
The collective has been operating through social media platforms and has fundraised about $10,000 in emergency funds, which they have been dispersing to individuals in the UT and Austin community on a case-by-case basis.
“The idea behind mutual aid is that you are providing for your community,” organizer Sarah Phillips said. “It's solidarity, not charity.”
Phillips, an Asian American studies and government senior, said the overall goal of the collective has been to mobilize and support the UT and Austin community by providing resources and putting pressure on those in power.
“The Mutual Aid Collective is not just us providing for students,” Phillips said. “It's also pushing structures that have powers to do better and better serve the people that they're supposed to be serving.”
The collective has mobilized behind UT- and Austin-centric issues such as the “Double A” policy and the rent strike, organizer Alexzandra Roman said. It has also put efforts into highlighting more national issues. So far, the collective has hosted talks on Instagram Live about supporting undocumented students and their families, reproductive rights and solidarity with Black studies.
Roman, a government and women’s and gender studies sophomore, said hosting these live chats about wider issues is important, not only to give people a platform to share their stories but to inform others about how different communities are experiencing the pandemic.
“Every time I'm interacting with people or I'm seeing their stories, it reminds me not so much, ‘Oh, this is amazing work that we're doing,’ but (that) I'm not alone in my situation of being unmotivated and feeling like the world is in disarray,” Roman said. “At least through (Mutual Aid Collective) efforts I'm able to see that there's a community being built.”
Huynh said working with the collective has helped her find solidarity, not just with the rest of the organizers but with the greater UT and Austin community.
“There's also a sense of solidarity and, like, okay, we're all struggling uniquely in our own ways, and even though there are different layers of struggle that everyone is facing, we are all reaching out to each other and helping each other,” Huynh said.