Senate Brief: Free Speech Boards, Social Media Monitoring

The free speech board outside of Hill House. Photo credit Jerry O’Mahony

The free speech board outside of Hill House. Photo credit Jerry O’Mahony

FREE SPEECH BOARDS SAFE; SENATORS CONCERNED ABOUT CENSORSHIP

Neither free speech board will be removed by the school, despite recent controversies involving messages regarding allegations about Sam Abrams.

However, if a message printed on a board is a “slanderous defamation” or “threatens physical or emotional harm to an individual or a very specific group of people” on the campus, the school will ask the student to clean the board.

If the student refuses or fails to clean the board, the school will charge a $50 “Community Impact Fee” to pay for cleanup, according to Paige Crandall and Danny Trujillo.

The school would charge the same fee if students got paint on the bricks around the Bates board, or caused structural damage to the campus.

Since students generally check out paint from the Student Affairs desk to paint the boards, some senators were concerned that students would feel that they would be monitored and restricted, which would discourage free expression.

“If we have so much policing, we might want to change the name from ‘free speech board’ to ‘protected speech board,’” one senator remarked.

“If I wanted to paint something about something on campus that would be controversial, I would feel afraid to slide my ID across that table,” said Diversity Senator Priya Maskey.

Crandall remarked that “somebody checked out the paint, and they used the free speech board. So it’s working.” Crandall said that if someone has a message they feel is radical, “I would encourage them to try [painting it on a board] and see.”

Senators questioned her logic. “It’s presumptuous to say that it’s working,” said Senator Isoke Atiba, one of the Senior Class Co-Presidents. “It works for whoever [used the paint], but it doesn’t work for someone who has a different message.”

Crandall said the administration checked student IDs because they were concerned about cleanup. Often, said Crandall, excess paint makes a mess.

“Who’s going to pay for cleaning up? Is it senate?” Crandall’s question was met with a chorus of snaps.

Senate passed a formal recommendation that the “Office of Student Affairs release the paint for students to use at their discretion with the point that if they don’t, Senate will make [the paint] available using Senate budget.”

Senate also discussed paying for Community Impact Fees, or at least covering the cost of cleanup supplies.


SARAH LAWRENCE MONITORING STUDENT SOCIAL MEDIA

Several students reported requests from the college to take down social media posts that cast the school in a bad light, Transfer Student at Large Gillian Giles addressed.

Giles read two of five testimonials they gathered from students affected by Sarah Lawrence’s monitoring. One was from a member of a soccer team who expressed frustration about the lack of hot water during preseason, and the other was an admission student who was “called into” a superior’s office after posting about a problem with the college on personal social media.

Several senators mentioned that in both those cases, the students signed contracts preventing them from posting anything “improper” about the college. The NCAA contract grants coaches access to public social media, and often on-campus job contracts have a similar clause.

“When you sign a contract to get paid, you give up some of those rights,” Ian Gonzales said. Gonzales is the other Senior Class Co-President.

“I understand that people are being employed, but they are paying a significant amount of money to go here,” Giles said. “A significant portion of students have to have a job. So that’s a significant portion of students who can’t speak out against the college.”

Crandall and Trujillo said that there was no formal policy about monitoring student social media.

Senate expressed interest in a future recommendation in the student handbook that “student speech cannot be silenced” before they tabled the discussion for next week’s meeting.

TRANSFER STUDENT DONNING

Transfer students are “not happy” being randomly assigned to dons when they arrive at Sarah Lawrence, Giles brought up at the meeting.

“The overwhelming consensus among transfer students is that they’re dissatisfied with the transfer system at Sarah Lawrence,” Giles said.

“Many students are upset because they feel their dons don’t have the tools to help them as a transfer student,” Giles said. Additionally, transfer students don’t get FYS courses, and are assigned to random dons who are often not involved to their field of study.

Senator Margaux Morris clarified that teachers have a financial incentive to join the pool of potential transfer dons. It is unclear whether they receive extra training to be a transfer don.

Though it’s not communicated to the student, it’s an “assumption among faculty” that the student will find another don that suits the student’s academic interests.

“That’s what’s been happening,” Giles said, “but it’s an enormous amount of pressure to put on a student the first semester.”

“I fully support Gillian’s effort to work on transfer donning, because it’s not working,” Trujillo said.

Crandall said that the administration was addressing transfer students’ concerns.

STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE

Senate Treasurer Aliza Yousey brought up the possibility of increasing the Student Activity Fund (SAF) again this year.

SAF is a fee that is added to every student’s tuition. It pays for events on campus, Senate funding, and student wages. Last year it went up by six dollars. Currently, it stands at $350 a year.

Yousey commented that since the New York State minimum wage is increasing from 11 dollars an hour to 12, the school may need more funds to cover the difference. According to Yousey, every dollar increase in minimum wage equals $7100 in extra student wages.

There is not yet a solid plan to increase SAF next year.

Paige Crandall said that since the Black Squirrel will “most likely” not be employing students to make its signature milkshakes next year, the potential increase to SAF will not be as high as it could have been.

“We don’t know right now how [the Black Squirrel] going to be re-envisioned,” Crandall said. “It’s not going to be the Black Squirrel as we know it.”

All events previously held in the space, such as open mics, will be held in the Barbara Walters student center from next year onwards.

Since the Black Squirrel revenue will no longer be contributing to the Student for Students Scholarship Fund, there may be a new source of revenue to that fund, Crandall said.

The Senate made a motion to recommend a $2 increase to the SAF.

BARBARA WALTERS CAMPUS CENTER SURVEY

Senate discussed an upcoming survey asking for student opinion on aspects of the BarbaraWalters Center, including hours and functions.

Students who complete the survey will also be entered into a raffle for a $50 Amazon gift card.

Crandall remarked that the campus center is on schedule and on budget. She also announced that the amphitheater will be usable in the spring.

COMMITTEE REPORTS

Admissions and Enrollment discussed a potential survey on whether expectations about Sarah Lawrence matched up with experiences once students arrived on campus. The Diversity committee may recommend school-wide breaks for religious holidays to Kanwal Singh and President Judd. That committee also started conversations about outdated language referring to trans students’ dead names, names assigned at birth but no longer used, in official college paperwork. General committee debated the calendar changes which came out on Friday, with Spring Break being cut to one week. Sustainability committee discussed a campaign to have paper straws on campus. The Freshman Class President reported a good turnout to her meeting about gun violence. She will be starting a gun violence awareness club beginning this Spring Semester, which will involve students calling their state senators.

Jerry O’Mahony ‘19

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.