Collectivize Amherst Builds Mutual Aid Networks

Founded by three first-year students, the independent organization Collectivize Amherst is assisting Amherst students and community members enduring financial hardship through mutual aid funding. Central to the group’s philosophy is the concept of “give what you can, take what you need.”

Since last fall, student-founded independent organization Collectivize Amherst has assisted Amherst students and community members enduring financial hardship through grassroots fundraising within the community, activism, and service projects.  

Founded by the first-year students Phoebe Neilsen ’25, Nichole Fernandez ’25, and Hibiscus Zhang ’25, Collectivize Amherst is based on the philosophy of mutual aid.

In a statement to The Student, the organizers explained mutual aid as “a mode of moving through society where we recognize that everyone has unique sets of needs and skills/funds to provide. It rests heavily on the anarchist principle of ‘give what you can, take what you need.’”

“It’s ultimately all about forging a culture of community care,” they added.

Collectivize Amherst utilizes its Instagram, @collectivizeamherst, to accept and share requests for aid from community members.

So far, the group has held several events and raised over $1,000 in emergency funds for those who’ve contacted them. Funds have been raised for students’ medical bills, copayments, and technological needs, and have been used to help a displaced student seek asylum and fund living expenses. The group generally crowdfunds their projects through Venmo or other digital payment services.

The group also held a “Guerilla Flea Market” on the town common on Dec. 10, which engaged the broader Amherst community in a non-traditional marketplace where one could bring whatever goods they had to offer, and take whatever goods they needed.

Each student-founder coordinated similar projects and organizations in high school and saw the need for such a group at Amherst. “We were frustrated by the lack of abolitionist groups and general activist culture on campus,” they explained. “Mutual aid allows us a way to address [the unequal power dynamics at Amherst] and counter the individualism that is fundamental to the structure of higher education.”

The use of Instagram also allows the group to connect and network with other social justice organizations in the Pioneer Valley.

“Our mutual aid work is going to be inclusive of everyone in the Pioneer Valley,” the group stated. Their plan going forward includes the “vision for Amherst College to become a collective space, integrated into the entire [surrounding] community.”

“We’ve been building connections with other organizations in the pioneer valley, such as Touch The Sky and Demilitarize Western Mass,” said the founders. Furthermore, they have also been working to expand “mutual aid work to include more in-person events,” and move toward “building an arts campaign.”

The early successes of the group have not gone unnoticed.

“If someone wants to help and it’s not a burden, that’s awesome. I feel like there’s so many low-income kids here that can benefit from this, and very many wealthy kids that want to help as well — there’s such a spectrum, it’s the perfect place it seems,” said P.J. Smith ’24. “I can’t think of a way to criticize that.”

The founders have been motivated by their early successes, and look forward to the future.

“Many of the people we’ve collaborated with so far have expressed gratitude for the work we do. It’s moving given how recently we put this project together. We’re really excited to keep going,” they wrote.