You have been hospitalized with a life–threatening illness. Your house was destroyed in a house fire. You need help. So, you reach out to Penn. But instead of support, you're only ignored. 

Student Intervention Services (SIS) is a department at Penn that aims to help with crisis intervention and prevention and provides Emergency and Opportunity Funding (EAOF) to help students in need. The program aims to aid students with one–time funding in situations such as emergency travel, clothing needs, medical expenses, and technology troubles. Their website outlines the scope of their funding, explains the process of receiving funding, and delineates the details of the application. It states students do not need to be First Generation Low Income (FGLI) or highly aided to be considered for funding. There are testimonials from past applicants talking about their successes with the fund. It clearly demonstrates that the fund is open to all students, no matter their situation. However, many students have been repeatedly ignored by SIS and left to fend for themselves in dire circumstances.

Edgar Rodríguez (C '26), a highly aided international student, was hospitalized for many days with tuberculosis (TB) in February 2023. “I received a letter that said I needed to pay 11k. So, I applied for Emergency funding,” he says. “I went to their building, and I submitted the emails. I presented my letters and documents," Rodríguez adds. They told him they would look into it. On the SIS website, they say they can help with medical expenses. In fact, they have a direct quote from a past applicant that provides their success story in receiving money to cover their medical bills. He says, “A month and a half passed, and … they said nothing.” 

Edgar says, “I followed up a couple of times. I said, 'I haven’t received a response from you guys.’” He says they responded with, “Yeah we are still checking on it.” He kept emailing and asking for updates and EAOF kept telling him they were still working on it. Edgar never got to interview an employee about his situation. The only communication he got was through sporadic emails he initiated. It was an extremely stressful situation for a student hospitalized with TB in a foreign healthcare system who now can’t afford the bills. Over a year after submitting his case, SIS and EAOF eventually helped Edgar. 

Similarly, SIS was unable to help another student despite a situation it promotes it can assist with. Valeria Bonomie Piñerua (C '25) applied for EAOF through SIS on Jan. 3, 2024. Her Macbook computer broke at the end of 2023, and she needed money to help cover the repair costs. She contacted the EAOF after submitting the required documents. “I forwarded them an email from the Apple store that laid out all the costs exactly … and said exactly what the repairs were for,” says Valeria. After she followed up multiple times, SIS claimed they lost the documents she sent. She sent them in again and called to follow up. She asked SIS if there was another email to contact and she says she was told by SIS, “No, no email. Don’t email us. We will take care of it.” 

She followed up on Feb. 12 and got no reply. On Feb. 19, Valeria sent an email airing her grievances with the process. She felt she had been let down as a highly aided student. The EAOF emailed back and said that they had awarded her a new computer. Valeria says, “I already have a computer. My request was for money to help me fix my old broken computer. So, now I have two laptops and I’m just gonna have to sell one.” She feels like she made progress, but not the progress she needed.

SIS and the EAOF promote laptops and technology as a need they can assist with. On their website, there are two testimonials from students who received funding for new laptops and one student who received funding for laptop repairs. One ‘20 SAS student notes that their laptop “arrived really quickly too.” Another PhD student attests that they were able to receive funds to repair their laptop and recover invaluable data. But their stories aren't universal.

There is a systemic failure of the department. Valeria says, “There has been only one person who has been replying to my emails, so I assume he is the only one in charge.” She says, empathetically toward the department, “I don’t want to put blame on one person. … I feel bad for the people at SIS. … I know a lot of workers do care about students.”

There is an understanding that money and finances take time. There are obstacles and policies to overcome in this process, but that doesn't mean students should be left in the dark.  International, first–generation or low–income, and highly aided students fight to be able to afford higher education. So, when emergencies happen, it becomes a massive burden. Edgar says, “11k is more than I pay in a semester … so it’s either I pay for tuition or I try to pay the medical bill.” The medical bill weighed heavy on him for the past year. “It has been a really anxious moment for me, not only for me but for my parents as well.” 

Valeria identifies as highly aided and says she does a lot of research into the resources Penn has to offer her. She says, “Especially since I am highly aided, that I would receive a little more care in this process.” 

SIS and EAOF claim they are open to all students, no matter the circumstance, but Edgar and Valeria were stonewalled at every point in the process to get financial support. What is the point of the fund if the students who need it most cannot efficiently access it?  Valeria says, “Whether you are highly aided or a little aided or anything in between … things happen and if this fund is going to be available and claim that it is going to be expedient, then they shouldn't be misleading students like that. Especially students who are in crisis.” 

When reached for comment, SIS wrote in an email, “Emergency and opportunity grant funding supports pressing student needs that can impede academic success. Through an individualized approach, each application for support is reviewed by Student Intervention Services, Penn First Plus, and Student Registration and Financial Services to ensure each request meets all requirements. 

The team strives to honor all requests that fall within the scope of support. Factors affecting the distribution of awards include, but are not limited to, a student’s demonstrated financial need as determined by Student Financial Aid and federal financial aid policies.” 

Their comment is a reiteration of what is on the SIS website, repeating what Edgar and Valeria had already seen. 

When asked what he would tell students who plan on applying, Edgar says, “I would tell them not to put their hopes high. The EAOF won’t be all in to help you.” He says that the only thing you can do is, “… be on top of them and connect with them a lot. If not, then they forget.” Valeria still encourages students to apply. She says just be wary of the process, and try everything to communicate with them, including going in–person.

The shortcomings of SIS and the EAOF are something I have experienced myself. In August 2023, my childhood home in Dallas, Texas burnt down. My family lost everything and our life was turned upside down. I came across the EAOF program through SIS. I met with a caseworker on Sept. 20, 2023 and sent the required documents to EAOF. Sept. 27, 2023 passed and I had received no communication. I emailed, called the office, and went in–person. I was met with nothing. 

On Oct. 20, 2023, over a month since I had officially applied, I received an email from my caseworker. The email explained that they decided I needed to fill out financial aid to receive money. I wanted to pull my hair out. They had dragged this on for a month, only to decide there was more paperwork for me to fill out. I explained that I could not fill out the financial aid form because the forms required to fill it out had been incinerated in the fire. The response from SIS was that the financial aid department would help in filling out the application. After many back–and–forth emails, calls, and meetings, there was no movement in my case. I told a director of financial aid I felt I had been ignored, once again, and threatened to take further action. Within an hour, they responded. They said that I could not be considered for funding if I didn’t fill out financial aid. 

I couldn’t believe it. I hadn't been listened to again. 

On Dec. 4, 2023, I reiterated that filling out financial aid would make my situation worse. I would have to chase down the IRS, college board, FAFSA, and the financial aid department itself. It would take at minimum a month. At that point, it would be nearly 5 months after my house had burned down. I was appalled by the ignorance of the department and directors. SIS had failed me and their own mission. I knew that I wasn’t the only one who had been vain in my attempts to receive funding.  

SIS and the EAOF need to prioritize their applicants. Their level of attention and efficiency is essential to helping students in crisis. The EAOF has ‘emergency’ in its name for a reason, and they need to live up to their name. Edgar calls upon the department to “Be more human to your students … be more responsible.” Valeria says, “If anything, this shows that Penn should put more resources into services like EAOF because it is apparent that a lot of students need emergency funding." Overall, she notes, “There needs to be a little bit more care and intention in this process.”

Many students experience crises during their time in college, no matter if it is a catastrophic house fire, the exorbitant costs of hospitalization, or a broken computer. SIS and the EAOF are not doing what they have attested they can do. There is a history of repeated violations of their mission statement and a continued absence of diligence in their department. Students in crisis deserve thorough, diligent communication, and thoughtful consideration for their difficult circumstances.