Homelessness, Hunger, and “The WVU Rack”

Though there isn’t enough adequate national data to support this claim, Barbara Duffield, policy director at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) says she believes the number of homeless students has increased over the last few years.

“The Free Application for Federal Student Aid tells the NAEHCY that there are 58,000 homeless students on campuses nationwide.” -USA Today

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As a student myself, it is very hard for me to believe that there are homeless kids who attend WVU, or any other college for that matter. Discovering that an estimated 58,000 students are homeless across the nation is truly alarming. Since some schools aren’t required to keep track of the exact numbers of homeless students, that count would probably increase by quite a lot if they were diligently recorded.

What we don’t realize is that poverty can hide anywhere and can easily go unnoticed. Some students may be too embarrassed to speak up about being homeless or not having enough money for meals each day, while some may not know that their are resources out there to aid them in times of struggle. Depriving your body of enough food day after day can potentially lead to health issues and even hospital trips.

Inspired by other campuses like UCLA, WVU decided to bring “The WVU Rack” to students who may be homeless or hungry. Since “The Rack” (as most people call it) was first set up in the Fall of 2010, WVU has been contacted by staff members from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. out of pure curiosity about the pantry.

As seen above in the video, what once was a somewhat bare shelf in 2010 has grown to a whole new level. “The Rack”, which is tucked away in a small hallway in the Mountainlair, is available to all students to utilize. No one is ever turned away, all that is asked is to sign your first name on the clipboard attached to the rack to keep a record of how many people are using it. It is fully stocked all year long through charitable acts of the Greek community, as well as by staff and student donations.

Items typically donated include:

  • cans of soup
  • Ramen noodles
  • fruit cups
  • poptarts
  • water bottles
  • toiletries

…and so much more.

For more information visit sos.wvu.edu

If you would like to donate to The Rack, you may contact Jacqueline Dooley at the Student Organizations Services office at (304) 293-4397 or Jaqueline.Dooley@mail.wvu.edu.

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Should We Kick PNC Out of the Mountainlair?

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There’s been some pretty heavy debate on campus recently: PNC Bank’s five year contract with WVU has expired, and there’s been some serious disagreement about whether the bank should get another contract. Environmental groups on campus are upset with the Bank’s past behavior, while supporters argue for the Bank’s versatility and service. Currently, the contract to be WVU’s banking partner is up the air – should we give it to PNC again? 

Let’s weigh our options.

Reasons to Kick PNC Out

1. PNC has given loans to companies that fund Mountaintop Removal – in essence, PNC has helped fund the destruction of West Virginia. In 2011, PNC wrote loans to some of the largest coal companies in the U.S.: Patriot Coal, Consol Energy, and Arch Coal are a few examples. All of them use Mountaintop Removal, a high-impact form of mining that has a disastrous effect on the environment. MTR ruins streams, pollutes groundwater, destroys animal habitat and damages the health of local residents. By flattening mountaintops these companies are destroying West Virginia’s ecosystem. The irony is worse given West Virginia’s status as “The Mountain State” – do we want to allow a bank complicit in this destruction to make money off of WVU?

2. With the end of this contract, we have a rare opportunity to change WVU’s bank. I’m willing to bet the next contract will last another five years, and if we sign with PNC again, that’s another five years we’ll have to wait to get rid of them. Let’s capitalize on this opportunity. There are people at WVU who agree with me – last March the Sierra Student Coalition at WVU organized protests outside the Mountainlair against PNC. Let’s strike while the iron is hot.

3. West Virginia University is the flagship educational institution in this state – what kind of message are we sending if we take money from a bank like PNC? Besides the Mountaintop Removal issue, PNC is a Pittsburgh-based company. Why should we use them and funnel money to a bank outside West Virginia when there’s options like MVB and United that are WV-based? If we have PNC as our bank, we’re showing local banks that we don’t care about them. Should West Virginia University, the pride and joy of West Virginia, partner with an out-of-state bank that funds the destruction of our mountains? Even the Student Goverment Association at WVU gets somewhere between $40,000 and $52,000 for their budget from PNC’s rent payments for the Lair location. Bad juju.

Reasons to Keep PNC Bank

1. As the fifth-largest in the U.S., PNC is a powerful bank with national reach. There are PNC locations all over the eastern U.S. As a result, students coming from several states away can be sure they have a relevant bank. Students starting their first bank accounts with PNC here know that when they go home to New York, Ohio or New Jersey that they’ll have a bank there. Their parents will also be able to put funds in their accounts – we all know how important that is. If we keep PNC, WVU will be more appealing to students from far away. As we know, that’s WVU’s goal – look at our move to the Big 12 Conference.

2. PNC provides lots of excellent services to customers, especially students. The bank is no stranger to students – there are PNCs at more than 100 colleges and universities across eight states. With financial planning resources and flexible student accounts, PNC makes it easy for students to learn the ropes of banking. Plus, the organization offers super easy online and mobile banking, a must for modern times. But it’s not just about banking  – WVU outsources many financial services to PNC, including financial aid reimbursement checks. PNC is well-established and is a great choice for students – that’s probably how they won that first contract in the first place.

3. If we kick out PNC for idealistic reasons, can we be sure another bank can handle the workload? Currently, WVU outsources a lot of financial work to PNC, including the issuing of reimbursement checks. That’s millions of dollars a year transferred, cashed out, and deposited in, on and around WVU. Also, PNC operates a bank location in the Mountainlair and maintains ATMs at WVU campuses all across the state. Can we be sure another smaller bank can handle PNC’s workload? PNC is well established and their methods are sound. A smaller replacement bank might not have the resources to handle WVU’s complex demands, which could be bad for students. A lot of things hosted by the Mountainlair – Mountaineer Week, Homecoming, UpAllNight – benefit directly from PNC’s payments to WVU. Many students base their livelihood off refund checks – can we afford to risk a potential delay in issuing them?

What do you think? Should we keep PNC? Leave a comment or tweet at me. You can also come and speak your voice at the WVUSGA meetings every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Hatfield’s B of the Mountainlair. 

So we can argue whatever we like about PNC, but how is the University responding?

Normally, if a contract ends and the University is interested in finding another partner, they’ll begin the Request For Proposal process, and potential clients (in this case, banks) would bid on the job. Each potential partner would offer services at the lowest cost, and the University would pick the bank that wins. It’s basically like an anonymous silent auction where the University picks the winner. The RFP’s are usually open and up for the public to see – the RFP for the bank spot is not online yet. This may be because the committee overseeing the contract process hasn’t met yet, considering the anonymous student on the board was appointed by SGA late last week.

Or… WVU may be withholding the open RFP because they’re trying to make a behind-the-scenes deal. It’s no secret that United Bank definitely donates massive amounts of money to WVU, especially to the athletic department. I’m sure those kinds of donations could win brownie points when it comes to business deals. Maybe WVU is courting exclusive competitors in private – which one can come up with a sweeter deal for the University?

Whatever happens, I hope it’s in the best interests of the University, the students, and our state.

Rainforest Action Network on Flickr.

Rainforest Action Network on Flickr.