By Alexandra Holyk
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) offered $40,000 in grants to students on Thursday, with each selected applicant receiving $400 for COVID-19 relief.
In an email forwarded to The Eyeopener, RSU executive director Reanna Maharaj confirmed all of the funds were depleted and the application portal was closed within two hours of its opening.
Money for the grants was collected from the 2019-20 executive committee’s budget and donated by seven of the RSU’s Equity Service Centres. According to now-former RSU president Vanessa Henry, the RSU’s financial controller Priya Paul reviewed the executive budget and “spotted areas where we could invest.”
“Every single equity centre donated a portion of their own money…and then the RSU executives matched the amount,” Henry said.
Applications became available through AwardSpring starting at 10 a.m. on Thursday and were offered on a first come, first-serve basis. According to Henry, Ryerson’s vice-provost, students Jen McMillen reached out to the RSU to help distribute the funds in a “safe and feasible” way.
“By using AwardSpring, we can leverage Western Union Business Solutions so that students can get their funds electronically, rather than by cheque,” McMillen told The Eye.
Full-time undergraduate students who had not received financial aid from Ryerson—including faculty or program-specific grants, or the Ryerson Relief Fund—were allowed to apply for the grant. Eligible students also had to identify with one of the RSU’s seven Equity Service Centres and provide a written explanation as to why they should receive the grant.
“If we make the criteria specific, it allows people who haven’t received any funding from anywhere [to have] the opportunity to get [the grant],” said Henry.
However, once students tried to apply for the grant, some said AwardSpring crashed and created difficulties in accessing the portal.
“The deadline changed suddenly. It used to say the deadline is May 15 and now if you look at it, it says the deadline was May 5, which doesn’t make sense,” said second-year graphic communications management student Sara Al Basha.
Fourth-year student Zakaria Mohamood said he was successful in applying for the grant, despite having to complete and submit his AwardSpring profile before having access to the grant application. But Mohamood also said he was unsure on how to state he identified with an equity service group since he didn’t have a problem with other community-specific applications.
“I noticed that [the grant application] stated I was not qualified. I was very confused as I…[met] the requirements,” Mohamood said. “I realized that even though I stated I was part of a marginalized community, my profile application was not complete,” adding that many other students he spoke to were also confused about the process and were unable to apply in time.
Henry said it is up to the new executive team to increase the grant once all of the money is allocated to students.
“[The 2019-20 RSU executive team] made sure that…at least 100 students were able to receive it,” Henry said. “The executive director…has gone over that process with [the new executive team]. Now it’s in their hands.”
Current RSU president Ali Yousaf said the executive team will review student feedback to determine whether they will increase funding. “At the end of the day, our priority is to help students who need it most, and this is a very effective avenue for that.”