Carnegie Mellon University
June 08, 2020

A Tale of Two Spreadsheets

By Cameron Monteith

Colleges across the country have responded to the coronavirus crisis through the creation of mutual aid spreadsheets. When students and faculty have trouble accessing essential resources, from housing to groceries, members in the community are stepping up that would be able to provide these necessities.

Enter the Pittsburgh Mutual Aid Spreadsheet.

It is 10 p.m. on March 12. Catherine Taipe, a sophomore studying International Relations and Politics and Social and Political History, sees that Carnegie Mellon has not yet made an official statement on housing procedures as the threat of COVID-19 looms. She makes some posts on Twitter offering help or housing to fellow students.

Liam O’ Connell, a sophomore Bachelor of Humanities and Arts student studying Ethics History and Public Policy (EHPP) and Architecture, saw Catherine’s posts and reached out to her. The two decided to create a spreadsheet where students throughout the CMU community could offer their goods or services to those in need.

“I was motivated by the fact that now more than ever, we need to care for one another as a community,” said Taipe. “Hopefully, the realization that community is important, whether on a CMU scale or in the whole Greater Pittsburgh area, will last beyond the pandemic.”

The spreadsheet provides short-term assistance to people whose situation was thrown into question, facing issues with food or housing security.

“It was also a way of making sure that the CMU community could stay intact during a time when we aren’t sure what might happen hours at a time, let alone days or weeks,” said O’Connell.

Twenty-four hours later, a similar spreadsheet run by juniors Tara Christian and Olivia Snavely began to gain traction on Facebook.

Christian was inspired to start the spreadsheet after a friend at the University of Michigan shared a template with her.

“Originally, we were envisioning a resource sheet for the CMU community, specifically with students who live in university housing and international students who could not go home,” said Christian, an EHPP major with a minor in Film & Visual Media.

Snavely, who majors in Creative Writing and minors in Politics and Public Policy, said that an incredible number of people and services have reached out. For example, a social worker offered their experience to help students gain access to resources through the two students and the spreadsheet.

Later, the creators of the two spreadsheets decided to consolidate, to ease accessibility for the Carnegie Mellon community.

The combined spreadsheet grew in size and usage and began to attract the attention of a group of activists in Pittsburgh, who provided listings of additional resources around the region, resulting in, the Pittsburgh Mutual Aid Spreadsheet.

Taipe, Christian, O’Connell and Snavely saw the incredible power of their collective work.

“The spreadsheet, and mutual aid efforts like it, exhibit that we can, and will, help each other,” said Taipe. “I hope that we can continue to be in solidarity with one another [after the crisis].”

The students also speak to the importance of empathy.

“Empathy is an incredibly powerful and underestimated tool, and every crisis we go through demonstrates that more and more,” said Christian.