Step 1) Vote

Once again Barnard Bwogger Dassi Karp recounts the events of last night’s SGA meeting. This week, SGA covered a range of interesting topics, ranging from the private non-vote to resident life’s sign in and fire safety policies.

Remember last week, when SGA spent an entire meeting not making the appointment they said they would? It happened again! This time, though, the private non-vote was prefaced by a frustrating meeting with Res Life, who seemed really sincere but unable to answer any question fully. Ready to be miffed? Read on.

Alicia Lawrence, Executive Director of Barnard Residential Life and Housing, and Josh Alexander, the Senior Associate Director, joined Rep Council to field questions from the reps and members of the SGA Campus Affairs committee. A number of questions involved housing for students with disabilities. Students who require housing accommodations are usually placed in housing before the lottery begins, and are allowed to pull in one friend to live with them.

Rep for Campus Affairs Mia Lindheimer explained that, for many students with disabilities, this means living in an apartment mostly of strangers. Lawrence agreed that this can be tough, but said that granting more pull-ins would just place too much stress on the lottery system. “We want to accommodate all of our students as best as possible,” she said. Part of the issue, she noted, is that many of the Barnard dorms are housed in pre-war buildings, and the disability accommodations are limited to certain rooms. Lawrence did say that she was open to discussion about ways to improve this system.

Another theme of the night was RAs. Many Barnard RAs have been complaining about their treatment and the lack of transparency in their job requirements. A recent student employment survey conducted by the Campus Affairs Committee found that 80% of RAs felt that there were not clear guidelines provided to them about what offences were fireable.

“It’s transparent to them,” countered Alicia, asserting that individual RAs are not sharing all the information about their circumstances. Res Life can’t detail specific offences, because “ethically, its wrong.” SGA members agreed that sharing information about individual RAs could be a violation of privacy, but pushed Lawrence and Alexander to share what kind of expectations are given to RAs when they start working. Alexander explained that while there exists a “comprehensive guide” that RAs are expected to follow, it does not include a full list because of individual circumstances that may come up.

At times, the questions and answers were strained, as the guests took a tone that, to my ear, sounded defensive. For example: Some RAs have shared that one of their guidelines require them to be a “good role model,” which they find vague. VP Finance Evie McCorkle tried to push for a definition of the term. Lawrence explained that this is covered during the intensive RA training. It includes following Barnard policy and being an all-around “good citizen.” Evie, always on the ball, asked what it would mean for someone to be a good citizen. Lawrence answered with more empty niceties, including “being a good team member,” “participating” and presenting your “best effort.” This question was dropped. I still don’t get it.

The guests were not completely unresponsive. Chelsea, one of the members of the Campus Affairs committee, said that the committee had heard that many RAs had not returned to the position after being unhappy last year. Alexander said that leaving RAs are asked to provide their reasons for not returning, and few if any cite unaddressed concerns. “Thank you for sharing that,” he said, “because it’s certainly different than what is communicated to us.”

Another question involved sign-in policy (our favorite topic). During interim housing periods at the beginning and end of the summer, students are not allowed to have any guests at all into their rooms. SGA President Angela Beam asked for an explanation why this is the case. Lawrence offered half an explanation: “There’s just so many moving parts happening,” like construction, and having less staff, specifically fewer RAs “we just can’t have the extra bodies.” McCorkle asked why having guests would affect the RAs: “Do RAs have to be told about visitors during the interim period?” They don’t.

Lawrence said that guests would increase the chance of an emergency occurring, and that there wouldn’t be enough responders available. So, apparently, students who are in interim housing, who are there because they have shown a need to not go home during that time period, cannot let anyone into their rooms–where they live as independent adults–just in case something happens to their guest and they can’t call an RA? This does not really make sense. As in all the conversations that happened last night, I would have to assume that there is something else behind these policies that Res Life does not want to share with the student body. Or, more likely, Barnard bureaucracy is just making things difficult because change is too complicated.

Just one more: Rep for Food and Dining Services Sarah Broniscer asked about the fire safety policy regarding Jewish students lighting menorahs in the dorms. Hannukah begins tonight, and this religious requirement is hindered by Res Life’s limiting which buildings students may light in, what hours they can light, and how many menorahs can be lit at once. Columbia’s fire safety policy is strict, but does no such thing, allowing students to practice their religion freely. Broniscer expressed polite frustration at being barred from lighting at all in her dorm, and said that many students shared her feelings. Lawrence was unmoving: “We were really flexible this year,” she said, referring to the slight increase of time granted for lighting.

During the closed part of the meeting, Rep Council was supposed to vote on the two candidates recommended by the appointments committee for the new Academic Affairs Rep. Alas, it was not meant to be. One of the candidates dropped out, and the remaining candidate, Emma Bellows (BC/JTS ’20), did not receive the mandated two-thirds majority vote for appointment. For a review of what this process was supposed to look like, check out last week’s article. Because of this vote and the overall botching of the process, applications for Rep for Academic Affairs will re-open in the spring. I hope that this doesn’t dissuade qualified candidates from running (though my guess is that those who would be really good at the job have already tried). Maybe one of the seven speakers from last week will try again. Meanwhile, Barnard is left without a student to represent them in academics, arguably one of the most important things we need representation for on campus. Not cool, SGA.

At the beginning of the meeting, Rep Council members went around and said what they were proud of this semester. These accomplishments include the textbook lending library which is being set up, upcoming changes to myBarnard, and better labeling and availability of halal meet on campus. These are pretty exciting. Here are some of the things I was proud of at this meeting:

  • the preponderance of millennial pink attire
  • the livestream and its wonderful tripod
  • the lack of open floor guests
  • SGA really trying to get stuff done, despite Barnard sometimes insisting on being its worst self

For more info, stay tuned for the semesterly SGA report being released today which, according to Beam, is “twenty-seven pages of glorious work.” I know I can’t wait to read it.

Image via WikiCommons