UMass SGA returns to weekly meetings following winter break

The SGA also confirmed new election commissioners and appointed senators to committees.

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Will Katcher/Daily Collegian

By Alex Genovese, Collegian Staff

The Student Government Association at the University of Massachusetts reconvened Wednesday evening via Zoom as students began the spring semester.

Following officer reports, Attorney General Hayden Latimer-Ireland introduced the Student Legal Services Office, or SLSO.

“[SLSO] is committed to protecting the rights and interests of students by providing high quality counseling advice, research, education representation and referral services for all of the fee-paying students at the University of Massachusetts,” said Latimer-Ireland.

SLSO is seeking to hire a third staff attorney. However, according to Latimer-Ireland,“There was an administrative miscommunication that resulted in hostility between OGC and SLSO. The OGC expressed lack of support for the office’s future litigation authority.”

“The litigation authority of the [SLSO] Office has normally been extended in 10-year increments, that has been shortened to three years largely due to OGC’s involvement,” said Latimer-Ireland.

“I think it’s also just important for everyone to realize that really the general issue here at hand is that we just had an administrator who totally violated our shared governance and unilaterally sidestepped policy, and made their own decisions to invite the University’s attorneys to try to fight our attorneys,” said Kyle Kendall, chair of the administrative affairs committee.

“There’s attempts to make a policy change without consultation” said President Sonya Epstein.

Next, the senate confirmed two election commissioners: Thomas Nguyen, a senior communications major, and Ayomide Osho, a freshman studying legal studies.

Chair of the finance committee Prabhu Rajkumar asked Epstein about the two other applicants to the election commissioners position. Additionally, he asked if the senate could wait to vote until they received those applicants. Following a brief recess, Epstein sent a redacted version of the applications of the other two candidates.

Additionally, the SGA voted to appoint two new members of the ways and means committee and one new member to the undergraduate services committee.

A motion to establish a select committee on officer compensation was then tabled until the next senate meeting. According to the draft, the committee would “be tasked with investigating the efficacy of different methods of compensation for SGA officers in the place of monetary payment.”

“Essentially what it would be is it is the establishment of a select committee of SGA so that we can investigate non-monetary ways of compensating the work done by undersecretaries, special assistants, senators and a number of positions, primarily those that are not currently paid, because we don’t want to have to take that that money out of the Student Activities fee and it’s not feasible to students to do that,” said Senator Michael Suchecki, the sponsor of the motion.

The motion also reads that there would be a minimum of 10 members, including the SGA president, speaker, certain members of the cabinet, two chairs and four senators at minimum, appointed by the speaker.

The motion was tabled for review.

Finally, the senate recommended to the faculty senate that they create a social justice general education requirement. The bylaw proposal reads that the social justice gen-ed would help “to solidify our students’ understanding of social justice issues.”

“The social justice gen-ed is part of the list of demands from the Racial Justice Coalition” said Epstein.

“Having this education, students will be able to gain awareness of their own identities and social justice issues around them” said Chair Audrey Gabriel.

According to the motion, the gen-ed proposal contained seven requirements.

First, the social education gen-ed (SJ) must be “discussion-based and center personal reflection.” Second, the social justice gen-ed must be based on “reflection and effort put into assignments– essays, presentations, etc., rather than multiple choice.” Additionally, the course must have “assignments that encourage introspection.” For the third requirement, “each class or discussion section must have 30 students or less.” Next, the gen-ed must “[discuss] specific social justice issues and how they connect to current events, individual’s identities, and the bigger picture of how we perpetuate and dismantle systems of oppression.”

In the fifth requirement, the gen-ed “cannot be fulfilled by AP or IB courses.” Sixth, any course proposed must be “endorsed by the SGA’s SOJEC Committee as well as the faculty senate Gen-Ed Council in order to be deemed appropriate for SJ distinction.” Finally, “certain DU/DG courses may count for SJ, but not necessarily.”

“In order to ensure that this is done carefully and intentionally, we hope it will be in place for class of 2026,” said Zach Steward, a junior African American studies and legal studies major.

Vice President Jennie Chang also explained that this will not cause any delay in graduation for current students and that they will work to make sure that this will not interfere with future students or finances.

Addressing questions about STEM majors, Secretary Sara McKenna noted that “power structures and inequalities impact every aspect of our lives and STEM students need to be able to view their work through a social justice lens to ensure they are working towards equity in their careers.”

Many presenters described personal testimony, including Gabriel, who noted her sympathy with everyone who is afraid of additional classes interfering with graduation.

“As a woman of color in STEM to be surrounded in male dominated predominantly white classes and labs and have people not understand why it’s important to me that we’re on the same level […] it’s so important and it’d be a disservice to ourselves and to the UMass community to not implement this,” she said.

Debate quickly appeared, with some senators arguing that it was not truly representative of the student body. The chat function erupted with debate and discussion.

Senator Nick DeFranco wrote, “it is bigger than supporting social justice, I am very passionate about social justice and all of us here are, and I think it’s wrong of anyone here to question people’s intentions. All I am saying is that there is a) an additional class for students, and b) majority of the school has presumably not heard of this.”

“I do not see what is wrong with wanting this to be heard by more than 5 percent of students and to wait and not rush a vote on this,” he continued.

Other students voiced their view that a vote against this proposal is not truly supportive of the social justice initiative. McKenna responded with “If you are questioning the feasibility of adding this requirement, but not the justification for other gen-ed requirements, I would think for a bit about whether or not you are actually ‘supportive of this.’”

The chat debate devolved into chaos, with Senator Jack Murray writing, “Prabhu if you think SGA should improve outreach start on your own misleading polls.” Additionally, Senator Adrienne Ashe wrote, “@ Senator Rajkumar is being willfully ignorant.”

Following questions, there was a vote to open up debate.

Rajkumar began by stating that the SGA shouldn’t be adding a new gen-ed, calling it a “burden” to students. Additionally, he noted that adding a new gen-ed would result in more costs.

Senator Afia Abrafi argued for more students’ input, but also stated that she was “not going to sit here and allow people to insinuate that due to the fact that I do not support this that I am a racist or do not support social justice. That is simply insulting and disgusting.”

Gabriel stated that she “had to learn about [social justice] because of years of racism, sexism, and classism in my education.”

Steward noted “let me just apologize if my earlier comment came off as offensive to some” but also noted that “it does kind of feel as though we’re hindering progress.”

Abrafi responded in chat, writing that “a chuckle and an apology is not an apology.”

DeFranco wrote in chat during the debate that “it is insulting to accuse people of not supporting social justice. It is ridiculous and immature to think that because we are bringing up these important points of more outreach and adding another gen-ed to a student’s work-load that it is somehow non-supporting of SJ or ‘hindering’ the minority communities and the progress of social justice. Utterly ridiculous.”

Following a poll vote over Zoom, the motion was approved.

Finally, the SGA added a motion to approve the purchasing of bulk items to the Capital Equipment Reserve rules to allow for the purchasing of locks for the ESO lockers. Following a short discussion, this motion was passed.

Alex Genovese can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @alex_genovese1.  

Correction: There was no debate on the motion to establish a select committee on officer compensation. The motion was tabled by the sponsor to the next senate meeting.