Mutual Aid: How College Students Survive

To date, the Georgetown mutual aid network has raised $25,000 from current students and some alumni, and has distributed $20,000. The money, which is meant to be used for “textbooks or weekly groceries, medication, things like that,” has been raised from more than 900 donors, Ms. Huynh said, “so it’s really shown the power of small grass-roots movements.”

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a sociology professor at Temple University who studies college affordability, said: “These mutual aid networks are springing up because the new economics of college, which is what I tend to call it, puts students at a significant economic disadvantage.”

She cited exorbitant tuition costs and ever-rising living expenses to argue that college students, in general, are often misrepresented as more privileged than they are — and that was even before the pandemic. “We did a survey of 38,000 students around the country, and nearly three in five students were dealing with either homelessness, housing insecurity or food insecurity,” she said, referring to a June study of the pandemic’s devastating effect on student finances.

“Students continue to lead the fight to address their basic needs,” she said.

Campus mutual aid networks mirror similar efforts that have sprung up in communities nationwide this year. But several college organizers defined their efforts as distinctly left-wing and political. “It’s a form of community care that is in response to the failures of capitalist structures,” said Hadeel Hamoud, 20, a junior and one of the founders of Duke Mutual Aid, who cited the Black Panthers’ aid program as an inspiration.

Ms. Tallapragada at Rice was one of several students who said they started their networks based on the advice of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who wrote a 12-page mutual aid manual with the activist Mariame Kaba, and tweeted about it in March. “Myself and a lot of other college students at different colleges have been referencing that tool kit,” Ms. Tallapragada said.