On Sunday, September 30th, the executive board of SGO convened at 7PM, mainly to discuss the behavior of the Chair of Appointments, Joshua Siegel ‘20, towards the leader of an IC group and proposed changes to the Student Budgeting Committee’s (SBC) constitution. Before that, they discussed the appointments of all the senators on to the Appointments and Organizations committees, each led by one of the Chairs. All the members voted in favor of the appointments.
While Siegel apologized for his actions, various members of SGO were conflicted on how to handle the situation. Both Ken’delle Durkson ‘20, Chair of Diversity, and President Gilbert Orbea ‘19 had met with the leader of the IC group and listened to their concerns. Siegel also planned to meet with them the next day. Both the ideas of impeachment and demotion were brought up, but neither action was taken at this meeting.
The board also discussed the way in which they wanted to address this incident to the wider Swarthmore community, since most of what occurred was through private email correspondence. Durkson mentioned drafting a letter to release to the public, but not everyone was in agreement. It was agreed that Siegel and the leader of the IC group would meet and report back on what they had discussed, but the entire group was left considering how SGO could repair relations with IC groups to which they may have caused harm.
At 7:40, the senators began filing in for the general meeting, which was to promptly begin at 7:45. Beginning with administrative announcement, Orbea made sure everyone had joined the SGO Slack group and then handed out SGO t-shirts to those who did not attend the retreat. Orbea had created an oath that they had all SGO members sign. According to Vice President Kat Capossela ‘21, the oath was created to hold all members to a high standard, being on time to meetings and doing the work required of them on their committees.
Capossela talked about the SGO transportation initiative for low income students and students on financial aid to go into Philadelphia. For now, this initiative will be a subset of the free SEPTA ticket lottery, which is emailed out to students every month. There will now be a separate part of the form for low income students and students on financial aid to fill out and be guaranteed a ticket. Students will be limited to two SEPTA tickets per month, but Capossela hopes they will be able to scale up the project to include things like Uber rides to the airport.
Finally, Orbea mentioned that the Matchbox weekend hours have been extended to 7:00PM as a trial and that an email should be going out to the student body shortly to remind students that this extension is only temporary. Orbea and Capossela also revealed the committees for the year, reminding members that committees should meet at least once every two weeks and that while senators had assigned committees, they should also feel free to work on projects that interested them.
For the rest of the meeting, Chair of the Student Budget Committee (SBC) Yin Xiao ‘20 explained the proposed changes made to the SGO Constitution. Before the meeting began, Xiao had sent a letter to all of SGO, extensively explaining his reasoning for the changes. He wrote:
“The SBC Constitution also provides a better check-and-balance system between SBC and SGO. SBC must be empowered to stand and hold SGO accountable to any possible misbehaviors, and SGO needs to remain enabled to serve as an additional line of defense against possible irresponsible SBC decisions. This check-and-balance can only be achieved if SBC and SGO are seen as equal and independent of each other. SBC rejects the hierarchy SGO tries to impose but recognizes, in good faith, the important role of SGO as a student institution—it is with goodwill that SBC asks that such recognition to be reciprocal. Thus, it’s in the best interests of both SBC and SGO as well as the student body who we serve that the two student institutions are independent.”
At the meeting, Xiao explained the old general structure of SBC with two main branches: the committee, which mainly met to approve supplemental funding requests and spring budgeting; and the office, which processed reimbursements and handled SBC emails.
He then went on to give an overview of the changes outlined in his letter. In addition to some changes in staffing levels and reducing the power of the Chair of SBC, the changes would also drastically alter the SGO-SBC relationship. While before the SBC Chair could vote in SGO matters and the Student Organization Chair had a vote in SBC committee, both these votes would now be taken away. This proposal sparked an impassioned outcry from many members of SGO, since SGO’s role in voting on funding would be taken away.
Xiao argued that SBC is a nonpolitical organization and therefore needs to be separated from the politics of SGO. For example, he said, since SGO voted to support Sunrise, they could no longer be unbiased when it came to providing funding to chartered groups on campus that did not support the movement. Orbea argued that SGO had never forced or coerced SBC into making a funding decision, though Xiao offered an example of when in 2006, SGO overruled an SBC decision not to give funding retroactively in order to fill its budget deficit.
Regardless of what happened in the past, all members were acutely aware of the fact that SBC had approved a request from $60,000 for the past weekend’s concert, known to students as “Fall Worthstock.” To many, this seemed like an irresponsible use of SBC supplemental funding - this funding request consisted of 10% of the year’s total funding and 1/3 of the year’s supplemental funding - especially since the headliner performer ended up canceling at the last minute.
Furthermore, Orbea brought up SGO’s transportation initiative as a contrast to the concert. He argued that while SBC argued that both proposals were not fully developed with specific details, Fall Worthstock was given their full funding while the transportation initiative was not. He continued by emphasizing that SGO only requested $20,000, 33% of what was requested for the concert, and ultimately only received 6.7% of the amount that Fall Worthstock received. “That number,” Orbea declared, “hurts me.”
In his letter to SGO, Xiao had written, “I stand by every single decision the Committee has made and will make collectively, including those regarding the full funding of Fall Concert and the partial funding of SGO’s transportation initiative as a pilot program.” In the meeting, he tried to defend SBC’s decision making, saying that they took into account how many students would benefit and its effects on the greater community. Many SGO members were quick to point out that it seemed unreasonable to argue that a two hour concert would provide a greater benefit than free transportation for the 750 students on financial aid.
By then, the discussion had turned chaotic, with the meeting set to end in five minutes. Orbea motioned for 10 more minutes of debate, mostly for everyone to understand for what SGO was being asked to vote. Orbea explained that internal changes to SBC like staffing changes and the addition of a Project Committee could be implemented immediately without SGO approval, but approval was required for everything else. He added that he was in support of many of the changes, but SBC’s complete independence from SGO concerned him. Xiao made a final pitch for approving the constitution that night, saying that SBC’s independence was necessary, and the constitution was able to do that while still maintaining channels of communication between the two groups.
With so much unresolved discussion, most SGO members did not feel ready to vote and decided to hold another meeting next Sunday from 7:45 to 8:45PM to further discuss these changes. Xiao invited all members to email him with any questions and encouraged them to read his letter in full if they had not yet done so. The meeting adjourned at 9:00PM with no resolution on the constitution.
Correction: We stated that the concert was 10% of the supplemental funding. It is 10% of the total budget including spring budgeting. We also stated that the Matchbox hours would be extended. They have already been extended, but is only temporary. It was reported that Andrew Barclay, Director of Student Activities, and Katie Price, Assistant Director of Co-Curricular Programming and Outreach, worked with Orbea to create the oath. Orbea created the oath entirely on his own.