SGO Meeting 12.10.17: Special Election Results, Affinity Groups Raise Demands, Concerns

On December 10th, 2017, the Student Government Organization (SGO) convened for their last meeting of the Fall semester. The meeting was so crowded that all seats in the room were taken, some people sitting on the floor. Representatives from Swarthmore African-American Students Society (SASS), Swarthmore African Students Association (SASA), Students of Caribbean Ancestry (SOCA), Queer Students of Color (COLORS), Swarthmore Asian Organization (SAO), Multiracial Students with Asian Ancestry (HAPA), and Swarthmore Queer Union (SQU) were present.

SGO “WINTERFEST” AND SPECIAL ELECTIONS

Co-president David Pipkin ‘18 began the meeting with a concern that the meeting time, 7pm on Sunday evening, was not convenient. He stated that SGO was considering a Doodle poll for a better time, recognizing that people committed to these particular times. He announced the SGO retreat which would take place in January, in which SGO would work to refocus and clarify goals and purpose.

The newly elected members of SGO were invited to speak. Nancy Yuan ‘20, the new co-president, highlighted the members of identity groups who had come out to the meeting and stated that she was determined to serve the constituencies that had supported her.

Umi Keezing ‘19, an executive board member, thanked members of the committees for signing up for shifts at Winterfest, an event showcasing the work that SGO has done this semester. The event will take place Wednesday 12/13 at 1pm in Sci Commons.

Pipkin raised the concern over the vacancy in Yuan's at-large Senate seat. Since Christian Galo, an at-large senator, had resigned and three students had campaigned to replace him in the recent special election, there was a possibility of accepting the second place candidate in that election to replace Yuan without holding another student-wide election. He stated that this was the "more intuitive" option, and that it would be "odd to do a back-to-back election."

Senator Akshay Srinivasan ‘21 pointed out that the second place candidate only received 21% of the votes, so he was not the preferred candidate of the student body. He recommended that this fact be “weighed” with the inconvenience of another election.

Pipkin stated that the previous election “took away time for doing things from Thanksgiving to today.” He did not want “to lose the same amount of time in January.” In response to questioning, Pipkin conceded that the period of time SGO lost to elections was only 15 days and that the senator election would be less of a disturbance than replacing the co-president.

He motioned to vote on the measure to adopt the second place candidate, which was unanimous among the executive board members present. However, the other co-president, Josie Hung ‘19, and Henry Han ‘20, Chair of Internal Affairs, were performing at an end-of-semester concert which precluded their attendance. Yuan was not allowed to vote as Hung's resignation did not take into effect until December 23rd.

Senator Katherine Capossela ‘21 asked why senators couldn’t vote. Pipkin explained that SGO had only passed the amendment for senators voting on amendments and impeachment. No vote had been taken on the special elections amendment because, due to low attendance of senators, there had not been a quorum. (The amendments were discussed in more detail at the previous SGO meeting.)

Srinavasan asked what provision of the constitution allows a senator to be appointed to a vacant position. Pipkin paused to look at the constitution. He said, “Technically in this situation it's the co-president who is appointing someone to vacancy.” For instance, with the agreement of the executive board, he could have appointed someone to replace Hung instead of holding an election. He suggested that they should investigate while the discussion moved on.

It was noticed that “a random senator has been editing” one of the constitution google docs. SGO undid the changes, while SGO members suggested more secure document control systems.

AFFINITY GROUPS SPEAK

Brandon Ekweonu ‘20, asked if those who came to SGO meeting would have a chance to speak about their concerns. When invited to continue, he said that the representatives of the various affinity groups had gotten together to “poke about issues with the administration and SGO” and that they had put together responses and specific initiatives. “SGO hasn’t played a role in any of this,” he emphasized. “There’s a current narrative that student groups are not interested in collaborating with SGO... We wanted to use this space and time to provide a physical document and voice our concerns.” Ekweonu passed around a document with a list of demands from SQU, ENLACE, Deshi, and SASS.

The affinity groups’ main concerns included:

  • Campus journalism: SASS brought up SGO’s silence on the hurt students experienced due to campus publications. They also mentioned some SGO members’ disparaging remarks against Voices. They proposed that SGO provide funding and support an initiative to bring professionals to teach journalistic standards.

  • Minority representation in academics: Groups have been pushing for various ethnic studies programs including Black Studies, Asian American Studies, and Indigenous Studies departments with little response from administration. Students asked that SGO push for these initiatives as well as advocate for student input in choosing a new provost.

  • Affinity group representation in SGO: All students expressed concern over SGO’s lack of interest in reaching out to affinity groups. SQU recommended that one SGO member sit in on board meetings of these groups, including the IC/BCC Coalition. It was also proposed that SGO assist in elections for a BCC representative to SGO.

  • The Student Budget Committee (SBC) and use of funding: Students called on the need to address the reimbursement policy, which unfairly burdens low-income students. They also expressed concern over how SBC allocates funds to affinity groups, noting the cuts to funding for numerous affinity groups as well as past embezzlement.

Rares Mosneanu ‘18, a senator, asked for a tally of the affinity groups present.

 Ayn-Nichelle Slappy ‘20, the president of SASS, said that she and Pipkin had spoken on career preparation, toxic masculinity in communities of color, and other minor concerns of SASS.

Many affinity groups were concerned about SGO’s poor response to the ongoing issue with student journalism. In Slappy’s view, the issue was central to Student Life, but instead of a constructive reaction she heard only silence from SGO; no one had tried to reach out to her. She said that she could understand that SGO may be trying to be neutral, but silence is not the same as neutrality. The issue was stereotyped as only affecting “a couple of angry black people in SASS” and written off as “SASS being unreasonable.” Due to SGO’s silence, SASS had addressed the issue on its own by participating in the foundation of Voices. At a minimum, “SGO should give us support and no nonsense when we try to get chartered... it’s not just our responsibility to organize and talk about this issue,” Slappy said, it is also SGO’s responsibility to address. Her concrete recommendations included supporting Voices, bringing in specialists in journalistic standards to campus, a project which Voices was working with Dean Shá to arrange. “We can all benefit,” Slappy emphasized, and SGO could help by providing funding and programming.

Moving forwards, the “biggest thing is the struggle for black studies department promised 50 years ago.” Academics are not disconnected from student life, because “they directly affect all of us.” Slappy was also concerned about the lack of response from SGO on SISA's and SAO’s demands for academic departments of their own. Mentioning the episode in which a Swarthmore dean had compared Indigenous students mourning genocide to colonizers, Slappy said, “This event should have outraged the entire campus.” She suggested that students be included in the process to pick a new provost, and that the current provost engage students by explaining the process for organizing a new academic department. The administration could also help students by organizing workshops with Dean Miller for how to protest without being reprimanded. Slappy was clear that she did not mean respectability politics. Students should be able to “sit wherever [they] want and demand stuff,” Slappy said, but the reality is that “Black students are most vulnerable to suspension.”

Slappy added that Henry Han ‘20, the Chair of Internal Affairs, could help facilitate an election among all of the Black affinity groups, including SASS, SOCA, and SASA, to elect a Black Cultural Center (BCC) representative to SGO.

Gina Goosby ‘20 asked Slappy what SGO should have done in the midst of the student journalism crisis. Slappy said that it would have been a “good start” if SGO had spoken to the stakeholders and invited them to a meeting.

Jason Jin '20 said that they have been reaching out to a number of people including the co-president of ENLACE, the organization for Latinx students, over the student journalism issue.

Gilbert Orbea ‘19, the Speaker of the Senate, asked to hear SQU’s statement.

Gretchen Trupp ‘19 said, “SGO has no interest in working with us… it never sought our input.” The “reimbursement process places unreasonable burden on low-income students” by requiring them to front money for expenses, an issue which was exacerbated by Student Budget Committee (SBC)’s funding cuts. Trupp said, “We send people to conferences, pay for vans, and arrange Pride Month programming,” which requires SQU members to “front hundreds of dollars from our [their] pockets.” According to Trupp, the reimbursement process can take longer than two weeks, and as long as two months in some cases.

Another problem was students repeatedly being misgendered. Maya Henry ‘20 said that the IC was already arranging programming around this issue for faculty and staff, but SGO could promote programming for students.

Trupp emphasized that the lack of queer and trans people in leadership positions, both in the administration and faculty, as well as SGO, was another serious concern.

The policy on gender neutral bathrooms was also an issue, with Trupp and Henry stating that it was unacceptable that students had to walk up and down one or more flights of stairs to find a gender-neutral bathroom. An additional issue was the use of paper signs for gender neutral restrooms, an easy issue for SGO to fix with its budget.

Trupp requested for someone from SGO to be a liaison to SQU, which Orbea offered to do. However, Henry and Trupp wanted to get input from SQU’s membership, and raised concerns about respecting the privacy of SQU members at closed SQU meetings.

Roman Shemakov '20, Chair of SBC, said that he had spoken with Henry about the funding issues. Henry pointed out that that conversation had only taken place because she had taken the initiative to come to SGO. “I don't think affinity groups should have to come here,” Henry said, “someone should have talked to me [first].” Shemakov pointed out that fronting money was not a policy that SBC could change, since it had been implemented by lawyers in 2013 after concerns about funding being used for alcohol. “Students can use the OSE credit card,” he said, while Henry and Trupp shook their heads, stating that this was not an option.

SBC AND CAMPUS JOURNALISM

Shemakov characterized the narrative of “SBC going after affinity groups” as “misguided” and “kind of facetious.” He said that SBC had increased funding for SCF, SAO, SASS and ENLACE, but cut SQU and MSA. “SBC makes a lot of accommodations [to affinity groups],” Shemakov stated, but “last year we allocated $100,000 less than previous years.” He believed the cuts were equal across the board. He was meeting with Dean Shá to create non-discrimination guidelines, but emphasized that “SBC has never discriminated [against affinity groups]... SBC has a more diverse board than anyone has ever had.” This last statement was quickly retracted after criticism from Goosby. However, Shemakov stated that “SBC has gone out of its way to accommodate as many groups as possible.”

Ekweonu said that “SBC has failed student groups” and expressed his disappointment that “the way [the issue] was discussed [in prior SGO meetings] put the blame on treasurers for not doing enough research,” instead of trying to find a solution. He recommended treasurer training every semester, where supplementary and emergency funds would be mentioned. Goosby suggested treasury open hours. Ekweonu suggested that since the reimbursement policy arose in response to the alcohol problem, with the ban on using school funds for alcohol, it would be possible for SGO to contact admin and reverse the reimbursement policy. Pipkin stated that this would “complicate [their] advocacy on getting the alcohol policy out of the way.” Orbea asked, “is that really our goal?” Pipkin highlighted “ridiculous” aspects of the policy, such as requiring party permits for gatherings over ten people, which were causing some students to get in trouble. He said that SGO, in emergencies, could pay out with a 2-day turnaround and wait for SBC reimbursement.

Slappy stated that a member fronted money for SASS Thanksgiving, which amounted to several hundred dollars.

Shuang Guan ‘19, a co-president of SAO, said that her organization had had a really bad experience with SBC last spring. A former member of SAO and chair of SBC, Jigme Tobgyel ’17, had requested $1000 from SBC in SAO’s name, which was not authorized by SAO’s leadership.

Shemakov stated that Tobgyel had wanted to get department funding, but under the department’s rules he had to be affiliated with an affinity group to request that funding. Concerns that he had behaved improperly was investigated and it was found that “SAO did give permission,” so Tobgyel was allowed to continue in his role as chair for spring budgeting. Shemakov added that SBC had amended its bylaws so a similar situation could never occur again.

Pipkin tried to move the conversation to one of Slappy’s concerns, but she requested for Guan’s concern to be properly addressed.

Guan stated that she had been the treasurer of SAO, and received an “extremely unclear” message from Tobgyel requesting permission to deposit money in SAO’s account. It was only later that she realized that money had been withdrawn when some SBC members mentioned that SAO was going to a conference. Since Shemakov’s name had been on the proposal, she held him responsible for the lack of clear information that she had received from SBC and OSE.

Shemakov clarified that as assistant manager, he was required to take responsibility for all similar proposals. He said that the allegation that “SBC might have embezzled funds blemishes its reputation… [Under the new bylaws,] leaders of SBC cannot apply for SBC funding ever.”

Responding to Slappy’s comments on student journalism, Pipkin said that SGO had “essentially arrived at hosting a dialogue on campus journalism,” but “Voices said they didn't want to be involved.” He said that he wouldn’t “blame anyone for not engaging in SGO,” but it left him at a loss how to move forward.

Lindsey Norward ‘18, speaking on behalf of Voices as Editor-In-Chief said, “My understanding is when the conversation came to campus journalism, Voices was called a ‘joke’ and dismissed as a bunch of angry affinity groups complaining.” She pointed out that SGO hosting the event would preclude neutrality and create a power dynamic unfavorable to Voices and unproductive for campus journalism culture. Because of the entrenched power dynamic and other issues, she emphasized the need for professionals to address these issues before a conversation could be productive. SGO could help support these efforts and provide funding. She added, “If you're not going to endorse Voices, at least make [SGO] a space where people can make their voices heard.”

Pipkin stated that in his view an endorsement was not appropriate. As Voices was going through chartering, “a SGO statement would undermine the idea that [Student Organizations Committee] SOC is following the rules.” He said that “as an individual, [he] was not pleased with the Kaepernick article.” He explained SGO’s bias response policy, which had almost been triggered by a previous Daily Gazette editorial suggesting that low-income students should be grateful to the college (The SGO consensus was that this incident did not merit a response by SGO). In his opinion, the September 2017 Daily Gazette article entitled, “Kaepernick’s Well-Intentioned but Ineffectual Protest” did not “rise to the weight of a response by SGO.”

Norward said that “to be honest, [she doesn’t] expect endorsement.” However, that did not let SGO off the hook for acknowledging the incident and providing training. She also stated that what was unacceptable was the rumors being spread about her, calling her a hypocrite, and other personal attacks against those involved in Voices. It was unacceptable that SGO members had called some treasurers “incompetent” for not being aware of SBC protocol and referred to Voices as a “joke” publication.

“Please have some respect for us,” Norward said. She said that Voices was founded, not because of one misstep by The Daily Gazette editorial board, but because “the same publication can apologize twice in two years for the same thing but no policy was instituted.” Norward, who had previously been on The Daily Gazette editorial board, said that she understood that the people involved had largely good intentions, but due to the failure of sensitivity to marginalized groups and policy, the good intentions had not not been sufficient.

Slappy said that the concern that one’s voice would not be fairly heard is present “for any person of color, ever.” Within SGO, she cited an example from when SBC had been reviewing the budget for the Women’s Resource Center (WRC). A male board member of SBC made a joke: “guess I'm not a feminist but I'm slashing the budget for this group.” Slappy stated, “You’re carrying the history of your institution whether you like it or not... It’s not our responsibility to say that you’re not racist, it's your responsibility to prove it.”

Shemakov stated that he had not heard of that incident.

Slappy said that SBC would have to announce and advertise its new anti-discrimination policy, rather than make it quietly, because “[their] fears are valid.”

Norward emphasized the need for SBC’s spring budgeting not to be a one-stop shop, but have a revision process so that groups could still receive funding even if they made errors in their proposal. Results like SOLIS receiving only 22 dollars were not helping demonstrate that SBC cared about affinity groups.

Shemakov stated that as a Questbridge scholar (a recipient of a scholarship program for low-income and first-generation students), he had emailed Valeria Fernanda ‘20, previously SOLIS’ president, about the article in which SOLIS members protested the funding cut. He was unaware that they were on leave from the college and therefore did not respond to his request. However, he emphasized that supplementary funding was an option for SOLIS and other groups. Pipkin asked if SOLIS had not been funded because they did not follow the process. Shemakov said he was not familiar with the details of that particular case.

Yuan reiterated the existence of a power dynamic putting some groups at a disadvantage. “We need to not have affinity groups reach out, but have SGO reach out and offer solutions,” she said. “[SGO is] not a comfortable space for affinity groups.”

Trupp said, “If a student did come to SGO, SGO should listen seriously and address its own bias.”

MOVING TOWARDS SOLUTIONS

Ekweonu said that he was taking note of who had stayed in the room, as the meeting had now ran more than a half-hour over, and many SGO members had left. “It sends a message about what you think is important,” Ekweonu said. Speaking to Yuan, he said, “your response, personally, is one of the most positive I've heard from an SGO rep.” He stated that, while SGO representatives ought to “respond like they are trying to help to solve the issue” it often felt as if “SGO is poking holes in [their] concerns” instead.

Yuan mentioned two issues that had been discussed in previous SGO meetings, paying for Uber with SwatPoints and 3-ply toilet paper. “[These kinds of issues are] less important than issues that are making students upset and harming their mental wellbeing,” she stated. “SGO does have institutional recognition” and it should use that to help those who had not obtained that level of support.

Norward said that she had often heard SGO members say that issues like those raised by the IC/BCC coalition are "too complex." “Can anyone speak on that?” Norward asked.

Yuan said, “It's just about priorities and putting out time and effort,” recognizing that “each of the affinity groups are already working on these issues.”

According to Srinavasan, the “issue isn't complexity, it’s that SGO uses the structural aspect and doesn't recognize its own complicity in systems of oppression, which [it views] as too hard to change… [It needs] a reminder that we have so many issues with discrimination and bias today.”

Dell brought up the previously mentioned concerns that SQU meetings are private. “[Affinity groups] are spaces for specific groups... No one wants to intrude on your space.” He asked, “What is your preferred method of us reaching out?”

Henry said that for SQU, “the primary concern is people being outed,” but coming to board meetings would be appropriate because board members had already committed to being out.

Slappy stated that many affinity groups were already represented in SGO. “Representatives should go to their own affinity group,” she said, perhaps in addition to SGO rep in the IC/BCC coalition. “I want to see an email in the next three months addressing all my concerns,” said Slappy.

Capossela mentioned that just because someone in SGO was a member of an affinity group, didn’t necessarily mean that they identified strongly with that identity.

 Pipkin recommended an expansion of the IC/BCC liaison to SGO.

Ekweonu highlighted a concern with the constitutional review committee and oversight from those not in SGO. Pipkin explained that the division between constitutional committee members and students who showed up was not voting powers, as no one on the committee has voting powers, but the "expectation of familiarity" with the constitution. Srinavasan characterized the constitution as “pretty fucking confusing... we should provide summary or explanation to help [interested students] understand what's in it.”

Shemakov extended a personal apology from SGO for the affinity groups' concerns. He said, “Our initial response is rejection. [Calling SBC problematic] is like calling our baby ugly, which can be hard to come to terms with… It’s easy to stay isolated in meetings that people rarely come to."

Pipkin said, "I'd like to echo that... I hope I haven't had a resting angry face during this meeting, I’ve been watching my positionality.” He recognized that "there are issues… We’re going to get right on the salient ones... it’s taken too long.” He wanted to accept “personal responsibility for fixating on amendments and taking an overly legalistic approach to change.”

The meeting was concluded at 9pm, an hour after the scheduled ending, when members of Drama Board told Pipkin that they had the room reserved.