Surbhi Bharadwaj

Data on the usage of Yale College’s online emergency funding request system in its first year show that the plurality of students have used the program to purchase winter clothing.

Last fall, the University launched the new online funding request system — called Safety Net — which allows undergraduates to request monetary aid during times of unexpected financial hardship. According to data released by administrators in October, more than 2,800 users have visited the site since its launch last year. The data on its usage puts winter clothing as the most frequently requested category, with 30 percent of the students who submitted requests asking for funding to buy warm clothing. Technology expenses and money for books and supplies were requested second and third most frequently, respectively. With an average of 400 visitors per month, the data has been lauded by administrators as evidence of the initiative’s initial success.

“Thanks to Safety Net, Yale College can now respond nimbly when students ask for help meeting unexpected needs,” Yale College Dean Marvin Chun wrote, along with the announcement of the data. “And because Safety Net brings together requests and resources in one place, it has made the process of identifying and allocating funds transparent, efficient and fair. For the first time, Yale College can now survey the range of students’ emergency needs, budget for them in advance and direct students to resources that can support them.”

Assistant Dean of Yale College Rebekah Westphal told the News in an email that Safety Net was a product of discussions within the Yale College Dean’s Office about “how to better support our highest-need students in emergencies and through periods of unexpected financial hardship.” After a team dedicated to the project was created through the Center for International and Professional Experience, the site was officially launched last September, she said.

Westphal added that Safety Net acts as a “centralized system” for collecting funding requests for students in need. According to Westphal, the site is “transparent, consistent, equitable and easy to use.” Westphal also noted that Safety Net is “an important development,” since it provides data for administration on what students need and when funding is typically distributed.

“Safety Net has — as Dean Chun hoped it would — brought a great deal more equity, transparency and consistency to the process of addressing unexpected financial hardship among students,” Assistant Dean of Assessment Kelly McLaughlin wrote in an email to the News. “As such, Safety Net is proving to be an accessible and powerful form of support to students in times of unplanned need.”

The announcement of the data noted that each Safety Net request undergoes a “rigorous assessment process” that ensures priority is given to students with the highest need. According to the site, the current system includes eight different request categories — winter clothing, technology expenses, support during breaks, books and academic supplies, medical expenses, job and national fellowship interviews, emergency travel (pre-arrival and departure expenses) and “others.”

Westphal said that while the results have not been “particularly surprising,” they have been “incredibly helpful.” She added that they are currently exploring the potential expansion of Safety Net for the future, including discussions on developing a new version for nonemergency funding. Westphal also said that the gathered data has “already informed quite a few updates and changes.” She cited the site’s increased transparency about what can and cannot be considered for funding, something she noted is “a way to manage [the] expectations” of students.

“To be sure, Safety Net will continue to evolve as the development team analyzes the data and the feedback from users, be that from the students who request support or from the administrators who make the funding decisions,” McLaughin said. “In that light, Safety Net’s story has just begun.”

Aside from Safety Net, this year has seen other new initiatives to help students in need. The Community Initiative — an organization dedicated to providing funding and resources for first-generation, low-income students — recently hosted a thrifting event for students, in addition to offering a Career Closet at the Asian American Cultural Center for students to borrow formal outfits. The group has also partnered with the Yale College Dean’s Office to offer a Winter Clothing Grant, which provides as much as $250 to cover various winter items.

Still, purchasing a winter wardrobe poses a financial burden for many students.

Robert Lopez ’22, a FGLI student from Arizona, told the News last year that “buying clothes for the winter has been the greatest financial struggle so far” during his time at Yale.

According to the data, almost $100,000 has been distributed through Safety Net.

Alayna Lee | alayna.lee@yale.edu