The fan-favorite discussion series What Matters to U (WMTU) is at risk of disappearing due to a lack of sufficient funding from the University of Miami – but there may be a way out.
WMTU was founded in 2019 with the vision of bringing high-profile figures to discuss topics relevant to the UM community. At the time of its inception, the organization received an initial donation from a donor that has served as the main source of funding for WMTU’s conversations.
However, as of recently, those funds have run dry.
Over the past five years, the donation was handled in a conservative manner that allowed WMTU to bring in speakers from all walks of life – from Tabitha Brown, an entrepreneur and social media personality, to Bill Nye, the iconic scientist and TV personality who brought joy and curiosity to young minds all over the world.
“We were given a certain amount of money we could use over a certain number of years. But at the end of the day, we can only use so much of that money. Eventually, it would have run out, no matter how cost-effective we used it,” Frankel said.
Several student-led organizations across campus receive funding predominantly from the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee (SAFAC). However, Frankel noted that these speaker events require a large amount of funding that exceeds the annual amount distributed by SAFAC.
“We utilize money from SAFAC, but it mostly goes towards things like our AV production, which is pretty limited, but none of our SAFAC budget goes towards the speakers themselves,” Frankel said. “We’re talking tens of thousands.”
In order to revive WMTU and bring new speakers to the U each year, a petition was created by the WMTU Agency this past week to justify putting a question on the Spring 2024 election ballot that would raise the student activity fee by a minimal amount.
“The current fee is $167. With UM’s undergraduate student population, this equates to $2,088,168,” Paige-Tatum Hawthorne, a senior majoring in management and the treasurer of Student Government, said.
The new amount would equate to $2,213,208, adding $125,040 to WMTU’s now decreased budget.
“Through the student activity fee, a variety of different organizations and events are funded. For example, the reason HP was able to get people like Flo Rida and Quavo was because of the student activity fee,” Frankel said. “Instead of our speakers being funded through an outside source, it would be funded directly through students.”
While the funding wouldn’t be available until the 2025-2026 school year, the petition reads that “this funding would provide the WMTU agency with the necessary funding to secure high-profile speakers like Pitbull and Chris Bosh.”
WMTU has created a space for students to speak directly to lifelong icons and get to know them beyond their celebrity-status.
“I think of the small moments we are able to provide. I always think of Marlee Matlin, an actress who was born with hearing disabilities,” Frankel said.
Matlin took to the WMTU stage in March 2023, where she gave invaluable advice to students and brought awareness to accessibility issues in the acting workforce. During the event, Matlin was able to connect personally with a student who grew up as a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA).
“The identities and the voices we can bring to campus through this agency are really important,” Frankel said. “I think it would be an avenue, that if it were to be lost, would be severely missed.”
Hawthorne also emphasized the importance of cultivating such a platform on campus, noting that, “WMTU really cares about representing the student body and ensuring all their members provide a diverse, inclusive, and fresh mindset.”
Alumnus Brooklyn Stafford, a former logistics coordinator for WMTU, is holding onto hope that this organization will keep bringing pivotal speakers to the U.
“It means a lot to have these accomplished individuals believe in our potential. Without these speakers, we miss out on inspiring an entire college of students hungry for stories that show that success isn’t outside of their grasp”
Students can access and sign the petition here.