Senate Brief: Elections, Big Senate Goals

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SENATE ELECTIONS AND BYLAW CHANGES

Senate postponed Executive Committee elections indefinitely in light of their push for administration to make the Chair of Student Life an elected Senate position. The assembly passed the motion unanimously.

The Phoenix understands that since Senate met, administration has launched a pilot program allowing the Chair of Student Life to sit on Big Senate and Executive Committee meetings. However, the Chair will not be an elected position and will not be a voting member of Student Senate.

If the College had fully cooperated, the Chair of Student Life would have become an elected position on Senate’s Executive Committee, known as Exec. They would have sat alongside such positions as the Treasurer and Parliamentarian.

Student Life advises the President on policies and procedures, and discusses options to enact her directives.

To allow more time to work out the deal, the assembly voted to postpone Exec elections will be postponed until May 16 at the latest. Since the pilot program was agreed upon, elections will be held on May 9.

Administration routinely gives similar presentations to Student Life and then to Senate. Senators felt this was redundant, and said the administration uses the divide to excuse inaction on important issues. “When there’s an issue that senators want to bring forward, the administration says, ‘That’s for Student Life,’” said Samuel James DeMattio, Parliamentarian. Senators on Student Life attested to similar demurrals from administration when they mentioned the same issues during that committee’s meetings. DeMattio characterized it as “running in circles.”

Senate voted to bring the two groups closer together to increase transparency and strengthen student coalitions.

Senators also discussed what postponing Exec elections would mean to early-year club budgets. Before the first round of funding in October, clubs are funded by a “summer senate” that meets in August to allocate the first few weeks’ worth of funding. Summer senate would not be able to meet without an elected Exec, and so would not allocate that funding.

“I think that this is the mountain that we die on, because if there’s no [Exec election], there’s no funding,” DeMattio said.

DeMattio and other senators later emphasized, publicly and to the Phoenix, that this move would not hold the summer funding hostage, since the next generation of Exec will be elected on May 16 at the latest.

Paige Crandall selects the student members of the Committee on Student Life out of a pool of applicants. According to Student Life Chair Sasha Madden, Crandall fills the open seats with people from that pool. If there are multiple applicants for one position (for instance, a Sophomore Class Representative), two applicants often share both the role and the vote. Madden herself was in that position last year.

Members of the Committee nominate their fellows for the Chair and Vice Chair positions. Both positions are open to staff, but “staff and faculty aren’t ever interested in the chair position because they tend to sit back and let students get that organization and leadership experience,” Madden told the Phoenix.

The Chair of Student Life is selected by administration after an opaque and “inefficient” system, according to Sarah Almeida, the SSSF Representative to the Committee on Student Life. Almeida is also an editor on the Phoenix. The sitting Chair and Vice-Chair of the group send out an email to the entire student body inviting applications, which then are reviewed by the administration and the Chairs. “They just tell you you’re on it,” Almeida said. “It’s such an inefficient system. So many spaces get left unfilled.”

Another concern senators had with Student Life is the strong non-student presence. While students have a voting majority, three faculty members--Angela Ferriolo, Michael Cramer, and Kevin Pilkington--sit on Student Life along with two staff members, Josh Luce and Rachelle Rumph.

Making the Student Life Chair an elected position would increase accountability. Many senators voiced issues with a supposedly student-facing organization having an unelected chair and so many faculty members.

“While we certainly value their voices and input,” Madden told the Phoenix, “[faculty and staff members] oftentimes intentionally take a backseat so that student voices are prioritized.”

Survey information is controlled and divvied up between members of the Committee, according to Hannon. “No one member of student life sees all the results,” she said. Hannon continued on to say that each member of the Committee was given a section of the survey results to look over and then to present. “This wasn’t an attempt to obfuscate or keep information from students, we just wanted to make sure we had time to get to everything,” Madden told the Phoenix. Madden casts the decision to split up the survey results not as a sinister action, but a sincere attempt to facilitate discussion.

“I feel like there should be a united front of all student leaders to advocate for the change we want to see on campus,” DeMattio said.

Senators were concerned about Senate overreach. “The only drawback I see is the centralization of power,” remarked Arya Burke, Transfer Student at Large. Hannon agreed: “I’d be wary of messing with that format, because a lot of good things come out of that committee, even if it doesn’t come to Senate first.” DeMattio concurred, but argued that bringing the two groups closer wouldn’t mean Senate would take over Student Life. “We have representatives on Student Life, but that doesn’t make it a subcommittee,” he said.

The exact language of the motion was “In order to open up a dialogue with administration about the function of executive committee, we motion to postpone Senate elections indefinitely until the end of the semester.”

Penny Kapusuzoglu was going to send out election packets to the student body the day of this meeting. Now the packets will go out either when the college agrees to place the Student Life Chair sits on Exec or late April in preparation for the latest-date May 16 election.

Senate also voted to adopt the new bylaws discussed last week. They also voted to update the Senate bylaws’ preamble and purpose to reflect what they feel the Senate stands for, and to reaffirm that it is “for the students, by the students.” The preamble also now explicitly states that “[i]f the interests of the students conflict with those of the college, the first responsibility are those of the students.”

BIG SENATE GOALS

The first two Big Senate Goals groups presented their action plans for the rest of the semester.

The Sexual Violence Awareness and Advocacy group urged “getting more involved with student groups” and promoting those already-established groups. They also hope to fund transport to the Westchester Victim Assistive Services.

That group consists of senators Sophie Edwards, Tova Grenne, Ilyssa Daly, Samuel-James DeMattio, and Rosa Mykyta-Chomsky.

The Accessibility group emphasized transportation to off-campus mental and psychological services, and ensuring that the Barbara Walters Center is as accessible as possible. They have an upcoming conversation with Steve Schafer and the head architect of the Barbara Walters who has been working with Sarah Lawrence for 10 years. They discussed the new location of the LGBT+ space, moving the Spiritual Space, and making sure those spaces were, again, accessible as possible.

Accessibility also proudly announced that the Bates elevator now stops at Career Services, which was their first main goal.

That group includes senators Lauren Cuevas, Jessie Shiner, and Kelsey Copley.

The other four groups will present their plans next week.

COMMITTEE REPORTS

SSSF reminded the assembly that Mayfair is on May 5, and that all senators have to help.

Curriculum is seeking feedback on what students enjoy and don’t enjoy about the registration process. Their main goal is to simplify the process for students, but whatever change they recommend won’t happen until at least ’20-’21.

Diversity made a recommendation that the President consider offering winter-break housing more in-depth.

Student Life discussed the isolation survey results, in keeping with the President’s charge to find solutions to isolation problems on campus.

The Senior Class Co-Presidents had a “huge week this week.” They met with AVI and ensured that there will be both beer and wine at Bacchanalia. They also secured funding for their wedding event—at which they will provide a ceremony for any students who already have the proper paperwork for marriage—and their “One Cheese Pizza” event, which only cost $10. Additionally, Ian Gonzales, one of the Senior Class Co-presidents, DM’d Frank Ocean on Instagram but has not heard back.

The First Year Class President pushed for a repair service for the bikes outside the library.

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.