The Student Activities and Greek Affairs (SAGA) of Loyola Chicago has shut down an on-campus student volunteer group because it says coordinators allegedly failed to provide the proper paperwork required to transport Chicago Public School (CPS) students to the Loyola Lake Shore Campus for tutoring.
The group in question, New Life Volunteering Society, meets with elementary-aged students from local CPS schools to tutor, talk and play games with the children. New Life partners with Chicago Youth Programs (CYP), an organization that promotes after-school programs for students in Chicago. CYP also partners with Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and University of Chicago (U of C).
Until a month ago, the organization used school buses to transport the minors to Loyola’s Mundelein Center after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students in the program mainly come from Greeley Elementary School, Walt Disney Magnet Elementary School and Chicago Math and Science Academy, all schools located on the Far North Side of the City.
SAGA at Loyola is tasked with coordinating special events, student organizations, Greek life and the Department of Programming. The university’s website states that SAGA’s goal is to foster positive social change. In addition to this, SAGA has authority over student activities and their existence on campus.
“[New Life] emailed every one of us and they told us we had a problem with SAGA,” said New Life tutor and first-year student Martina Mazzei. “They asked us to email them and tell SAGA that we cared about the program and didn’t want to see it get shut down.”
Mazzei contacted Leslie Watland, the assistant director of SAGA, who told her the group was being shut down due to a lack of proper paperwork needed to transport children to Loyola.
“Our department had no previous knowledge that [New Life] had entered into a business relationship with Chicago Youth Programs, nor that they were holding twice-weekly tutoring services as [New Life] never submitted activity requests nor contracts to indicate that,” said
Watland in an email to The Phoenix. “As such, the programs that occurred happened without university or departmental knowledge or approval.”
President of New Life Alex Paul said the organization was under the impression that all necessary paperwork was submitted and handled by the Loyola administration, as the service group has been tutoring and busing students to Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus for the past five years.
New Life members attended a conduct case meeting with SAGA and were found to be lacking in many of the necessary paperworks to partner with an outside company and transport minors to campus.
According to Paul, the New Life Executive Board was willing to cooperate with SAGA in order to provide the proper documents.
“SAGA ordered us to end all tutoring services and terminate our relationship with [CYP],” said Paul, a senior biology major. “More than 60 underprivileged kids are unable to return to campus and seek the academic support they need in order to succeed.”
Watland said she is unable to speak on behalf of any “confusion” New Life had with SAGA policies. There is a multiple-step process that student organizations must go through in order to transport minors to a location, in addition to working with an external organization.
“[New Life] appealed SAGA’s decision to terminate our relationship with CYP [on Feb. 27],” Paul said. “It is inexcusable that Northwestern and the University of Chicago can have a working relationship with this program, and Loyola cannot.”
Leana Allen, program manager at CYP, said that the organization and its university partners have never had an issue with student activities officials until now.
“This is absolutely unheard of. Our door into the campus is through SAGA. That’s how we’ve had such a long term partnership with U of C, Northwestern and UIC,” said Allen. “We utilize the student leadership on campus to help us gain access to the campus. We help other students be aware and informed through the student group. This particular issue is new to us as an organization.”
Cinaiya Stubbs, deputy executive director at CYP, estimated that volunteer participation from Loyola has gone down about 50 percent since New Life was moved to an off-campus location.
“We haven’t heard anything back about reengaging back on campus. [SAGA was] adamant about [New Life] not being on campus, but they didn’t provide any alternative options,” said Stubbs. “We don’t feel like we have any advocates on the side of the university to help us navigate an issue that we didn’t create.”
New Life has found a temporary place to continue tutoring its students at a boys and girls club in Uptown. But many student tutors have been unable to make it to the space due to its distance from campus and volunteers feeling unsafe riding the train at night, Mazzei said. While both SAGA and New Life work toward an agreement, Mazzei said she awaits the day when she can tutor her assigned student again.
“I give [my student] a fun thing to look forward to and a stable presence,” said the international studies major. “I don’t know what their home lives are like, but I like to think that if there is something going on at home they would be willing to talk to me about it and feel safe in that time we spend each week. So losing that is losing a nice way to feel comfortable.”