Submission: Financially punishing BruinCard replacement charges call for more tolerance

It is possible your mom threw it away, thinking it was trash. You could have also dropped it down the crack between the floor and elevator shaft. Perhaps you lost a broken one on the way to getting it fixed. Or maybe you forgot you were holding it, became frustrated or surprised, and snapped it into pieces. You might still be using the taped-up remains for years on end for fear of the fee.

That is just a sample platter of the often overlapping stories students tell of losing their BruinCards. More than 450 students shared these tales with the Undergraduate Students Association Council’s Financial Supports Commission in a survey about BruinCard replacement affordability.

It is easy for lightning to strike amid the tumult of attending one of the most rigorous universities on the planet during the collective fight to come of age. Natural human error was the reason more than 55 percent of student respondents told us they lost their BruinCards – their tickets to dorm entry, meal swipes, work clock-ins and their final exams. Over 26 percent of respondents lost their cards more than once. The consequent $25 replacement fee has a drastic effect on students.

“I once lost it on a Saturday night and went an entire day without eating because the replacement office is closed on weekends. It then took all the money I had to replace it – until I got my next paycheck a week later, I had nothing,” said Haley Nelson, a third-year student. “It’s completely ridiculous for them to (cost) so much.”

Emma Gillette, a fourth-year student, wrote about how she was prevented from using campus resources, such as utilities from the Campus Library Instructional Computing Commons, Night Powell and Campus Events Commission programs, when she lost her BruinCard.

“I wasn’t able to pay for it at the time so I wasn’t able to use the resources that I pay for with my student fees and tuition, which was incredibly frustrating when I have to pay more to access the things I’ve already paid for,” Gillette wrote. “It was also frustrating to not be able to be in the library at night during finals and to have to buy another card just to (turn) in finals.”

These students’ travails are not outliers. Twenty-five dollars is deemed an exorbitant price to pay for a decorated piece of plastic by 96.7 percent of our respondents. Over 47 percent of respondents had experienced financial hardship in replacing their Bruincards, and more than 4 percent of others said losing their BruinCards would cause them difficulties.

Students shouldn’t have to choose between entering their prepaid housing and being able to afford food. This fee cannot be seen as a lone island, but a piece in an archipelago of piled-on charges. It’s a mistake to think that every student can endure these numerous fees. After all, we cannot expect students to get a return on their educational investment if they are peppered with fees that may prevent them from accessing the facilities and resources they are entitled to.

FSC seeks to find out what rationale the university has for the high price of BruinCard replacement. We are seeking a constructive discourse on how to thread the line between incentivizing good behavior and maintaining affordability. One possible solution is an initial $5 replacement fee that climbs by $5 per loss and caps at $25. Students would be held increasingly accountable with such a system instead of being unreasonably punished at every turn.

Certainly, some might think that students who lose their BruinCards are simply being irresponsible. But there is no meritocracy to be had in simple accidents, so there isn’t a reason to pose financial hardship to a majority of Bruins. Health care is an apt analog here: Hardworking people are dealt detrimental hands through little fault of their own in both scenarios, but sudden medical hardship can bode fiscal ruin to these Americans, which is inefficient for our economy in the long term.

Congress, however, has passed sweeping laws to offer services such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, which counter that failure of the free market. Ensuring that all people can contribute to their communities leaves our nation better off. UCLA should embody that principle by making fees more proportional to what they cover so that each student can learn to their fullest potential.

Deterrence shouldn’t spell annoyance or destruction – momentary or long-term. Twenty-five dollars resonates differently with every student; class, creed and origin mean we all feel these fees differently. Inflicting more acute inconveniences on the most emergent, marginalized voices in academic spaces cordons off upward mobility for those who have already begun with a head start.

It is the university’s responsibility to consider how much a fee can directly impact students. Let’s work together to ensure everyone gets a fair shot.

Benowitz is a second-year political science and classical civilization student and a member of the USAC FSC office.

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