Senate Brief: Social Media Monitoring, SAF Increase, AVI Contract Renewal

Sarah Lawrence students are active participants on all kinds of social media platforms. Credit: Jerry O’Mahony ‘19

Sarah Lawrence students are active participants on all kinds of social media platforms. Credit: Jerry O’Mahony ‘19

STUDENT SOCIAL MEDIA MONITORING

Senate agreed to form a task force to address reports of the administration retaliating against negative posts on students’ social media.

The task force will discuss making a statement to the administration and drafting new language for the student handbook. The language would warn students that administration can monitor their social media under certain circumstances, and outline what those circumstances are. The task force would also discuss going directly to the administration with suggestions and complaints.

This discussion continued from last week, when Gillian Giles brought several stories from students about facing repercussions from the school after they made posts criticizing the school on their social media accounts.

“It doesn’t seem ethical, especially if there’s no formal rule,” said Giles, the Transfer Student at Large. “It’s something that needs to be looked into, something that people need to be held accountable for. Giles brought anonymous testimonies from four students, but the discussion focused on the story of one who worked as a tour guide. During one of their tours, the student’s group ran into President Cristle Judd, who the tour guide thinks forgot their name. Later, the guide posted on social media saying so, and was called into the admissions office. The guide was suspended from their job for two weeks without pay.

Other senators brought up that several of Giles’ testimonies were about students who either had college jobs or played sports at the college. Those students often sign contracts with the college or with their team restricting the kind of posts they can make on social media, and limiting the privacy of those posts.

Senate Parliamentarian Samuel-James Demattio said, “I think there’s little we can do. It’s very realistic. In the world outside this campus you will have jobs where you will sign a contract” that forbids saying anything negative about the employer.

Giles challenged DeMattio’s point, saying that the relationship between a student and a college employer is different than a normal employer/employee relationship. “Because these people are students here, and are paying a substantial amount of money to be here, they have a right to point out when their needs are not being met.”

One of Giles’ testimonies from the previous meeting concerned a student who complained on Instagram that they were not informed that Hill House wouldn't have hot water for a few days over the summer due to renovation. That student was one of many who had the same problem. The school responded to the Instagram post, saying that they were working on a solution, then called the student in to reprimand them.

“A lot of these times, [students’ complaints] are completely valid,” Giles said. Even in a case of criticism, Giles continued, students should not fear reprimand.

Dean of Students, Danny Trujillo, said that as far as he knows, the administration doesn’t actively monitor students’ accounts in general . “I don’t monitor, I know Paige doesn’t monitor,” Trujillo said. “All the things that come to us” are students reporting other students’ posts that made them feel uncomfortable.

“Sadly, we get one of those a week,” he continued.

Paige Crandall said that while she doesn’t actively monitor students’ profiles, she does receive messages from students who feel uncomfortable about certain posts. “Ironically, right before this conversation, I had three or four postings forwarded to me.” She said that most of those posts fell under free speech. “It’s not about the school, not about the administration,” Crandall continued, “but it’s about each other.”

Senate Treasurer Aliza Yousey remarked, “I think that’s important to teach people that their online accounts aren’t private, because they’re never private.”

STUDENT ACTIVITY FUND INCREASE

A prolonged debate stalled a vote to recommend a four-dollar increase to the Student Activity Fund (SAF). The Treasurer addressed this increase in the previous week’s meeting, but only asked for a two-dollar increase, half the necessary  amount.

Senate dips into SAF to student activities, Senate, and student wages. Due to New York’s minimum wage increase, SAF will have to pay an additional $7,100 to student workers. Last week, Treasurer Aliza Yousey asked Senate to recommend a two-dollar increase to SAF, which she believed would cover the increase in student wages. However, her belief was based on faulty arithmetic and a two-dollar increase would only cover $5,200 in increased student wages.

In light of this, Yousey asked for Senate to recommend a four-dollar increase in SAF charges.

Several senators raised concerns that the SAF’s cost to students was already too high. Currently, students are each paying $232 to the SAF. That number has more than doubled since 2001, when students paid $160.

Senator Margaux Morris noted that this increase could be in response to inflation. $160 in 2001 would have as much buying power as about $225 today.

“In the Latinx community, we have the concept of la tanda,” Senator Genesis Rico said. “There’s a pool of money and whoever needs money can take it. [It’s a] no-interest loan.” Rico likened the SAF to that pool, and reminded senators of the size of the increase: “It’s two dollars! And it goes to us.”

Junior Class President Jordan Valerie Allen said students are priced out of coming to Sarah Lawrence because of “these kind of moves.” Allen continued, saying that students could use the two dollars that would be spent on the increase elsewhere. “That two dollars can be used for food, meals that the students wouldn’t be having otherwise.”

“I definitely see your point,” Yousey said. “I want to offer that the programming dollars do a lot for students.” She later conceded that SAF charges have “increased by a lot” since 2001.

The skirmish prompted an informal vote asking if senators would be comfortable increasing the SAF budget at all. The majority of senate said they would, but senators Allen and Giles said they would object to an increase of four dollars or more.

The time allotted for the discussion ended without a conclusion, but Senate still stands to recommend a two-dollar increase to SAF next year.

AVI CONTRACT RENEWAL

With AVI’s contract coming up for renewal, the Senior Class President moved to compile objections and concerns students have with the food service.

The discussion quickly moved to AVI’s lack of transparency and how they have actively “obfuscated” their services, as Senator Margaux Morris put it. Students are unaware of the different values of meal swipes at the pub—the largest of which is the dinner swipe, $8.25—and at Bates, which is worth $10.25. Additionally, students typically don’t know about the various breakfast and lunch combos at the pub which can save students money. At breakfast, for example, students can order a bagel and either coffee or tea as a combo, which would cost less than ordering those things separately. Some pub workers will charge the meal as a combo without being asked, though during rush times this is more rare.

Several senators, including upperclassmen, expressed surprised that combos existed at all. On AVI’s website about its Sarah Lawrence catering, the word “combo” never appears.

Other senators were concerned with the meal swipe system. “A big concern for me is meal swipes, and being able to share them with other people,” said Murray Hannon, New Student at Large. Hannon said that swipe-sharing groups on campus like Facebook Group SWIPE-U might be a “bandaid” to a larger issue. She said that other schools have programs to redistribute unused swipes between students, and suggested that Sarah Lawrence work with AVI to have a similar system.  

Parliamentarian Samuel-James DeMattio commented that Sarah Lawrence was an “undesirable school” for companies like AVI, who have to consider the large population of vegans, vegetarians, and people with dietary restrictions at the college.

Senator Matt Landry-McWilliams addressed the possible psychological effects of running out of the meal plan near the end of semesters, as many students do. “We talk about mental health, and we talk about this food insecurity—not being able to feed ourselves and pay for our meals, it’s affecting our mental health, and it’s affecting our culture,” Landry-McWilliams said to nods and sounds of approval.

Most first-year students have little concept of what they are agreeing to when they sign up for a meal plan. “Incoming students have to choose a meal plan before they know their housing,” Morris said. Gonzales confirmed, “If you live on campus, you have to have a meal plan, which is a thing I think shouldn’t happen.”

Paige Crandall said that five years ago, students’ meal swipes would expire at the end of every week. “It was a different place,” she said. Crandall mentioned that AVI’s service can differ greatly between contracts, and that student “feedback is very important and helpful.”

COMMITTEE REPORTS

SSSF reported that they had made the largest number of care packages this year at their last meeting. Student Work discussed a rough timeline on Cristle’s charge to “look into” donning, which should be ready by April. The Senior Class Presidents announced that there will be a Salsa Dance Club starting this semester. Senators finished the fall semester by attending a tree-topping at President Judd’s house.

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.