A few days after Christmas of 2021, a GoFundMe circulated the minds and social media of the Concordia community. Senior international student Theodore Yumba Mutumba Jr. needed $15,000 by Jan 15, 2022 or he could no longer be a Concordia student.
Within a week, 373 people donated $15,971. Sophomore Shova Ghimirey organized the GoFundMe, hoping to solidify Mutumba’s place at Concordia. Although both Ghimirey and Mutumba are incredibly thankful for the community’s aid, Mutumba’s situation cannot be solved by money alone.
Using those funds, Mutumba paid off his debt and was able to register for classes this semester. Mutumba, however, was not able to enroll in the courses he needed to complete his degree.
Despite his appeals to professors, most are unable to override because of COVID-19 social distancing regulations. Although these are not the courses he needed, Mutumba had to register for classes so his student visa remains active.
Director of Global Learning and International Enrollment Matthew Beatty said international students must be registered for a minimum of 12 credits by the 10th day of registration, and if they are unable to do so, Concordia is legally obligated to report to the Department of Homeland Security.
Mutumba is glad he was able to register for classes because being deported would have led to more problems in his future.
“It would be worse for me if I was to ever leave school because of insufficient funds since it would show on my visa record. It would be likely that my visa application—if I wanted to go back to school or even Concordia—would be denied if I had this on my record,” Mutumba said.
While he was able to maintain his student visa for this semester, Mutumba is still reeling from a theft from his vehicle in July 2020; his laptop, passport, social security card and banking information were stolen.
“(The suspect) took out loans with my social security which worsened my credit score,” Mutumba said. “Before this, I was able to rent an apartment and pay my student loans, but now, I am being denied.”
Police have investigated and closed the case twice, and Mutumba has even appealed to the Federal Bureau of Investigations but has yet to hear anything.
Mutumba feels frustrated because the police have not been able to catch the suspect, and Concordia is not able to provide more financial aid since his identity got stolen.
“I wanted to give up because I felt like I was fighting on my own. (International students) are far away from home by themselves. The only people we can rely on while being here are school officials. If they cannot help us, then we find ourselves helpless,” Mutumba said.
Mutumba’s family was unable to help substantively because his father also financially supports Mutumba’s two sisters in Canada. Further, COVID-19 hurt Mutumba’s father’s business, making it even harder for Mutumba to receive financial help from his family.
“The pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty for lots of families and that has created a ripple of unanticipated financial need and hardship in a number of different areas that students wouldn’t have experienced years prior,” Beatty said.
Beatty recognizes the many factors that make Mutumba’s situation harder, including the adverse effects of the pandemic, difficulty wiring money internationally and added resistance to applying for loans in the U.S.
“Concordia is not established as a financial institution, but rather as an academic institution. We try to do a good job and we have provided access for many, many students for over 130 years,” Beatty said. “When things don’t go smoothly, it gets to be stressful, and certainly, there’s pressure from a number of different layers for the student.”
Ghimirey said that creating a more diverse, equitable campus “comes from the first step of treating one issue the right way. If we succeed in this one story, Theo’s story, then we can improve overall diversity. It will make an impact if they just try. We just need Concordia to try.”
Ghimirey reignited Mutumba’s hope to stay at Concordia, but he still has to find a way to pay for any future schooling. Mutumba is currently discussing options with financial aid representatives, such as the cobber flex year.
If Mutumba is unable to graduate from Concordia, he plans to either go to Belgium where he has residency or go back home to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to find work.