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SGA Is Critical Of USenate

Once again, Barnard Bureau Chief Dassi Karp sat in on Barnard’s Student Government Association meeting. This week, she reports on University Senate updates, endowment proposals, and the ever-present technological difficulties.

We all know how to use these, so please do so.

The main focus of the evening was a presentation by Barnard University Senator Kira Dennis, joined by one of Columbia College’s University Senators, Josh Schenk CC’19. They were there, according to Kira, because “a lot of the time my job seems a little sketchy,” and they wanted to fill in the non-Senator plebeians. The University Senate is made of 108 representatives of students, faculty, administration, and staff from across the University. Barnard has three representatives: one student, Kira, and two faculty: Lisa Northrop, Chair of the Physical Education Department, and Professor Mignon Moore of the Sociology Department. The representatives sit on various committees to discuss University-wide decisions and policies. The committees cover a wide range of issues. Kira sits on the student affairs committee and the committee on diversity.

Schenk described some of the Senate’s recent initiatives, which include discussions about mental health, disabilities, and grad student unionization; a reorganization of space in Lerner Hall to provide more casual spaces for students to build community; and the recent vote to affirm the University’s current policy on academic freedom. Fascinatingly, the Senate has also been considering changes to the University’s relationship policy. Currently, all students are permitted to have romantic relationships with professors, as long as they are not their direct supervisors. Of peer institutions, only Cornell and Penn have similar policies. Students have proposed a policy which bars undergraduates from these romantic relationships but, as Schenck explains, “it’s still very controversial. Not all faculty members support the change.”

Kira apologized for the amount detail provided, because “that was a lot of Columbia lingo for us Barnard students,” but our brilliant representatives were familiar with concepts like “Lerner Hall” and “academic freedom” despite their insular Barnard ways. It’s almost like the University Senate discusses University wide issues and Barnard is a college in the University.

VP Finance Evie McCorkle and Junior Class President Aashna Singh pushed Kira and Josh to explain how the USenate picks policies to focus on and how they actually get anything done. They especially wondered about the point re-affirmation of the academic freedom policies, which seems to have made no difference to anything. Schenk agreed that “it affects nothing,” but explained that it represents a return to the discussion of what academic freedom means at CU. As far as how priorities are made, Schenk demurred, saying “it’s a little complicated.” Maybe one day we will be able to understand such complex subjects. Maybe taking LitHum will help. Another interesting question was raised by Seven Sisters Rep Julia Pickel, who asked why Barnard does not have a representative sitting on the USenate Commission on the Status of Women. Great question. Josh and Kira do not know.

At the end of the meeting, SGA heard about a presentation for another endowment fund proposal. In an impassioned speech, a member of the the finance committee explained that paying for laundry can present a real financial burden to low-income students. Some students haul their laundry over to friend’s Columbia dorms to use the machines for free. “If you do that,” she said, “bold, brave, cool.” But not everybody’s going to do that (and it’s probably not allowed). The proposed program would purchase two-hundred laundry cards to be divided between the classes for students who need them to use for the rest of the semester. The proposal passed unanimously, agreeing to fund the program up to $5,500.

Here’s a fun new segment:
Last week, SGA introduced two microphones to their meeting, to counter the constant stream of “what”s and “please speak up”s. As a result, this week’s meeting had a lot of microphone related discussion. I’m not sure that all of our representatives have had te experience of amplified sound before. Some key moments:

  • Senior Rep to the Board of Trustees Jess Reich taking her turn at the microphone and recoiling, saying “oh wow, that’s really loud.”
  • President Angela Beam responding to winces when she held the mic too close to her face and overpowered us with her presidential voice: “I know its too loud, but, like, you have to hold it.”
  • About ten minutes into his presentation, Schenk looked down at the microphone in his hand, remarking “I just realized that I haven’t been talking into this at all.”

Other announcements:

  • The ShareMeals app is finally live for Barnard students. This app, which got its start at NYU, allows students who need them to request meal swipes and for other students to offer up their extras. Because of Barnard meal plan requirements, many students do have extras (looking at you, excessive first-year Platinum Plan). This seems like a great initiative, especially as the University looks into ways to combat food insecurity on campus. Except of course, because this is Barnard, there is at least one nonsenical caveat to the program: students may only use their “guest swipes” to let their peers into the dining halls to eat. The number of guest swipes varies by meal plan, but no student gets more than six a semester. So that’s not super helpful. Aramark, if students have paid for my meal swipes (often because they’ve had no choice), can’t you just let them do what they want with them? Especially if what they want to do is kindly swipe in peers who need it?
  • The Desserts After Dark survey is live. Don’t be fooled by the cute name–this survey helps SGA collect useful information from the student body. I recommend using it to complain about the swipe policy.
  • The euphemism “across the street” to refer to Columbia University was used six times in this meeting, and “across Broadway” was used once. Why do we do this weird thing? It creates a weird hierarchy of relevance and I don’t like it.
  • A crucial reminder from Rep for Health Services, Val Jaharis for those who are sick and are going to class anyway because that’s how we do things here: “Be careful of the people around you. Don’t cough on them or sneeze on them.” Probably the most important, and certainly the most useful, information we heard all night. Stay healthy, Columbia.

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