A student-led mutual aid fund that supports financially struggling LGBTQ students of color at UNC-Chapel Hill aimed to raise $500 within the first week of September, but the fund reached its goal nearly overnight.

Eri Kakoki, a junior and the co-president of UNC Queer and Trans People of Color, said the fund went live the night before September 1. By the afternoon of September 2, donations had met the $500 threshold. Most people have discovered the fund through the small digital flyers the organization posted on its social media pages, she said. UNC QTPOC has also asked other campus LGBTQ organizations to promote the fund to their own members.

“It really came down to: People cared about the community, and they wanted to make sure that queer students were safe and in good health,” Kakoki said. 

UNC’s School of Education Graduate Student Association donated $300 from funds it had previously raised, said doctoral student Sean Hernández Adkins, the association’s president at the time. The other $200 consisted of individual contributions, Kakoki said.

The group uses its Venmo handle, @QTPOC-UNC, to collect and distribute donations. Although white queer students can apply to the fund, Kakoki said LGBTQ students of color are prioritized. To request aid, students can fill out a form on UNC QTPOC’s website. 

“We would distribute however much they needed,” Kakoki said, “whether it was for a meal, or for gas, or for things like housing, for instance, which was major because a lot of people had to move out of their dorms early this semester because of the pandemic outbreak. That really left students in kind of disarray, and a lot of people needed help with the transition.”  

To verify that applicants are UNC students, the form requires them to submit their names, class levels, and university-granted personal ID numbers, and then they must specify a dollar amount to request. From there, they are encouraged to provide only as much detail as they feel comfortable about why they are requesting these funds.

“We really felt that what was important to this community is trust, and we didn’t want to force people to explain themselves,” Kakoki said. “That’s not what we plan to do to our community. There’s no way to prove if you’re LGBT+, and we certainly don’t feel like pushing them to send a picture of themselves or anything. So, I guess part of it is based on trust, but we’re really relying on that PID as verification.”

Andrea Pino-Silva, a UNC alum and digital organizer who advised the group in setting up the fund, said that while larger charities and community organizations are essential for achieving longer-term goals, mutual aid funds help fulfill immediate needs. Mutual aid funds also incur fewer overhead costs, so more of the donated money goes straight to the communities in need.

“The power is really much more in the investment of the community itself, who’s leading the fight and should be getting the funding directly,” Pino-Silva said.

So far, the fund has received eight requests. Kakoki said some requests have involved housing expenses, while others have related to LGBTQ-specific medical and hormone treatments. 

For now, requests are capped at $100, but UNC QTPOC hopes to raise that maximum, Kakoki said. As a semester of virtual undergraduate classes continues, the organization plans to keep spreading awareness of the fund via social media and word-of-mouth. After surpassing their $500 goal, they’re still deciding which number to aim for next.

“Just because this is moving a lot faster than we first expected, you know?” Kakoki said. “It’s really on the rise here. But we’re definitely planning on upping our goal so that we have a greater capacity to help the community on campus.”

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