Slug Support provides a lifeline in the COVID-19 crisis

Emergency student assistance program rapidly shifts to remote work while fielding increased caseload and providing crucial help to some of campus's most vulnerable students

"COVID-19 Slug Support Campaign"
The Covid-19 Slug Support Campaign raises funds to help students whose lives have been disrupted by the pandemic.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded and shelter-in-place orders expanded across California, UC Santa Cruz’s emergency student assistance program, Slug Support, had to change gears rapidly to keep pace with the pandemic's massive disruption for the most vulnerable.

On March 10, the campus switched classes to remote instruction and directed students to return to permanent homes if possible. The Division of Student Success, and in particular its Slug Support office within the Dean of Students office, has been hard at work since, helping students with limited resources as they confront logistical problems complicated by the pandemic economy.

“Many students have reported losing wages since so many businesses have shut down or they were working on campus and are unable to work remotely,” said Mariah Lyons, director of Slug Support.

Tools for crisis

The crisis has hit some students with multiple compounding challenges, Lyons said. One student (who uses the pronoun "they") reported losing a position as a nanny, so they couldn’t pay rent. They returned to their family home, but are still stuck in their lease here, and they can’t find a subleaser. A sibling has also returned to the family home, straining internet access for remote learning.

“I have a student employee whose parents lost jobs in the hospitality industry,” said Gwynn Benner, assistant vice provost and managing director of the Student Success Equity Research Center. “Now her salary needs to support a family of four. There are millions of new unemployed people. Some of them are going to be our students’ parents, uncles, aunts, and other family.”

Slug Support reached into its toolkit of emergency financial and food assistance and has innovated new ways to help.

“We have been able to provide a lot of financial awards from our emergency fund that have helped students bridge the gaps in rent, transportation home, and needed textbooks, among other needs,” Lyons said. “Additionally, we can purchase e-gift cards for students who aren't in Santa Cruz when they are food insecure, making it easier to support students remotely.”

Through connections with student assistance offices at other UC campuses, Slug Support has helped students in distant locations find needed services.

Emerging support

Many students relied on campus libraries and computer labs to do coursework and to study, Lyons noted. Slug Support is working with Benner to organize the new Slug Tech program to lend laptops and cable modems.

Computer networking company Netgear donated 300 cable modems to the new program. And the Jacques M. Littlefield Foundation, a previous supporter of the First Generation Initiative, came forward to help purchase new computers.

“The foundation emailed me, saying, ’We’re here for you. What do you need?’” Benner said. “The following week they sent funds for us to purchase Dell and MacBook Air laptops for students in need. It was a tremendous gift.”

More than 500 donors have given to an emergency COVID-19 Slug Support Campaign as of May 1, raising more than $150,000.

While making their own shift to remote work, Slug Support’s staff of four case managers began responding to a rapidly growing number of requests for help. The team is fielding as many as three times the typical number of cases, Lyons said.

“The Slug Support case managers are amazing,” she said. “Our team had to quickly adapt to a remote service and set up ways to still provide crisis services to students. We have been able to set up a full-service remote program in a short amount of time.”