Stop ignoring the problem

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SGA members Jordan Soffer '21, Nicholas Blue '20, Stephanie Ng '20, Grace Gault '22 and Gaby Baum '20 pose together.

It has been over a week since the change to the student activities fee. I’ve had mixed feelings about this matter and it’s taken me some time to really process the situation and formally write about it. I’ve felt frustration, anger and betrayal, but above all, I’ve felt that my voice has been ignored. Hearing this pitch for the first time, something didn’t sit right with me. I could hear some of the potential positives coming out of this change, such as “more opportunities for organizations to grow” and “greater contributions to the financial hardship initiatives on campus.” However, the more I allowed the proposal to sink in, the more I felt the reasons for the changes to the student activities fee were void. Under the current SGA structure, we have the capabilities to create those opportunities and achieve those goals. Some of the criticism we have received has included not looking into the budgets for off the top groups, not having plans for our $100k reserve and not having a diverse/ equitable membership that is representative of the student body. We’ve been painted in a bad light, and I’m just asking that we at least be heard this time.

For one, I will admit, I didn’t realize how Hillel was funded. To my defense, we have changed advisors three times during my four years in Student Government. Information gets lost between transitions, and our advisors have to get adjusted to their new positions. When Dean Gulati mentioned that Hillel has received $5 per student from the student activities fee for the last x number of years, it was a no-brainer that we would have to look into their budget to better serve the needs of the organization. However, we were never given the opportunity to conduct these investigations ourselves. Instead, we were stripped of this responsibility and criticized for our unwillingness to make student activity funds accessible to all students, with emphasis on the underrepresented students. 

Within the past two years, Student Government has worked hard to make the funding process much more transparent and accessible to the student body. We have actively been encouraging students to access this pool of money to fund any student activity/initiatives they desire. Switching over to the SCORE form has greatly simplified how students access their fee money. The SCORE form is an online form where any individual or group can request funds that are related to any sort of student activity, which includes events, supplies for activities, conferences, etc. Through this form, we have eliminated the need for most students to come and meet with our finance committee/general assembly, which was a deterring factor for students to try to access funds. 

This switch resulted in us depleting our general fund and dipping into our reserve to supplement the extra $9,000 that was spent. Under the new changes to the student activity fee, we are being told that we will be able to request additional funds if we exhaust the original budget we had requested. This new system requires that a good relationship and trust is maintained between administration and the Student Government advisor; however, that cannot always be guaranteed, this becomes a worry in this new system. 

This can simply be exhibited through the lack of Student Government input in the change to the student activity fee. Several members of Student Government were called to a meeting for the presentation of this proposal, which was only two days before the Board of Trustees meeting. This short timeline prevented us from having the opportunity to form a proper reaction to the matter. Had we been given adequate time, I would have liked to collaborate on this proposal to come up with something that both Student Government and the administration could have agreed on.

Another criticism we received was that we did not have plans for our $100k reserve. This is simply false. Throughout this academic year, we have been pushing to help replace the desks in Moyer and to help expedite the process of coin-free laundry with our reserve money. These are projects that are student priorities. One of our responsibilities as Student Government is to amplify the concerns of students and accelerate the progress in solving student problems. When we pitched the idea of funding for some of these projects, we were told that these were capital projects and that the point of the student activity fee was to fund student activities.

However, there is an inconsistency with what is considered a student activity when the college needs things to be funded. For instance, three years ago, we were asked to fund the Prevention Educator position, which was “essential for preventing sexual abuse/violence and bringing awareness to these situations.” I agree that this position is essential to the college, but if it was such a vital position, the college should have budgeted for it, and it should not have come out of the student activity fee. We felt pressured to fund this position, so we did. 

The biggest problem with having our reserve dissolved is that there is less weight behind our words, and less power to our actions. If students want new desks in Moyer, we as members of Student Government do not only want to voice these concerns, but also bring things to action. Although some people may disagree, college priorities do not always have to be student government priorities.

 The whole purpose of Student Government is to be the voice of the students and to represent student concern. What students hold as their top priority does not always align with the college’s view on priorities. That is our biggest role, as proponents of student voices. 

The whole purpose of Student Government is to be the voice of the students and to represent student concern.

Another problem I have with the SGA reserve being taken away is that this money is now meant to be put towards financial hardships. Repeatedly we have been told that we will be a part of the decisions as to where this money will go in the realm of financial hardship initiatives, but this limits who from the student body can access the funds. As someone who deals with financial hardship myself, I don’t think this money will ever reach me. However, if it was in the reserve/general fund, I would more likely be affected by it through some sort of club activity or college programming. Don’t get me wrong, the college has made great strides to improve equity at this school; however, should the student activity fee, which everyone pays, be funding financial hardships? I don’t know the answer to that, but there needs to be a discussion as to where the money to fund financial hardship projects come from, rather than just taking student activity fee money. 

We have also been called out for the lack of diversity in student government. I would like to call attention to the fact that the administration of this college is no more diverse than the student government. As a minority at this college, never once was I asked to weigh in on diversity initiatives the college was working on. Apparently students sit on committees that weigh in on hardship initiatives and diversity initiatives.There is no clarity as to how these students are selected to sit on these committees.

As president of Student Government, I understand the struggles of underrepresented students on this campus and continuously bring up concerns and think about ways to support and include minorities. When Student Government is being criticized for not being inclusive, I take that as a personal offense. I do not feel like there are enough students being included in these conversations around initiatives that are supposed to help them. I’ve had many frustrations with how our school has dealt with diversity and inclusion. I was even warned by my high school guidance counselor when applying here that I would face a lack of diversity. I don’t know what the answer to this problem is either, but I don’t think removing the responsibility of student government to autonomously manage student activity funds is the answer. 

If you’ve made it this far in the article, you may think that there is an irreparable clash between Student Government and administration. I want to make it clear that this is not the case! I really want this to work between us and I really want to make sure that we are able to positively affect as many students as possible. However, when our voices are taken away from us, I refuse to stay silent. The problem isn’t simply the money; it’s the lack of transparency Student Government has experienced and the fact that we can no longer operate under our own autonomy. There are structural changes that the college should consider, but this change to a budget system for Student Government is being framed as the solution to many of the larger issues the college is facing. It is not clear that this proposal will solve many of the problems the college is facing, but it is clear that it will cause a loss of student autonomy and voices. 

If you would like to join the conversation about this new proposal, Student Government invites you to share your voice at their Student Town Hall this Thursday, Feb. 13, at 7:00 p.m. in the Seegers Union Great Room.

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