Last night’s Barnard Student Government Association Rep Council meeting was officially about the budget for the upcoming school year. While the gathered reps were treated to a vary detailed slideshow of budget requests, allocations, and projections, most of the action came earlier in the hour, when SGA Executive Board spoke about responses to the recently passed referendum.
First, though, kicking off their messages of support for student activist groups, President Angela Beam read a statement of support for 24/7 Columbia, which is currently staging a sit-in in Lerner Hall to advocate for accessible round-the-clock student healthcare. “We stand with them,” said Beam, and encouraged everyone to sign the group’s petition.
Members of Exec Board then took turns reading parts of a statement in response to President Beilock’s recent email to the student body about the referendum results. In the email, Beilock explained that acting on the referendum would “risk chilling campus discourse” and would be “inconsistent” with the college’s mission. She also noted that there is “clearly not a consensus across the Barnard community on whether or how to address the issue.” Because of these reasons, she does not plan on moving forward with the results of the referendum, though students and student groups are of course free to continue the discussion.
SGA leaders were not pleased with this announcement, saying that they were “shocked” about its content which, according to them, “flies in the face of process and dismisses students before they can formally voice their concern.” It is worth noting here that Barnard’s administration is not at all required to follow any sort of process regarding student refrenda, though it probably would have been nicer to wait for a formal letter from the SGA first. SGA Exec also said that “this email breaks precedent from previous divestment processes,” which, while accurate, misses the fact that no other past referendum concerned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and invoked the high level of contention that this one did. Exec members also pointed out factual numerical errors in Beilock’s email. This note was responded to with snickers from CUAD members gathered to hear the proceedings, as well as some SGA members. SGA Exec expressed disappointment with Beilock’s handling of the issue, and told the student body that “regardless of where one stands on the issue at the heart of the referendum, all should be disturbed.” You can read the full text of their statement below.
Attending CUAD members and supporters were invited to share their responses during the open floor period of the meeting.”On behalf of CUAD,” said one student, “I would like to express out appreciation for SGA’s support of the democratic process.” Another student, who asked not to be recorded (which is not an option during external SGA meetings), stated her disappointment with Beilock’s response. She referred to the semesterly tradition of Midnight Breakfast, in which members of the adminstration serve breakfast foods to students on the eve of finals. “Your students don’t believe that giving them pancakes is listening to them. I don’t want pancakes. I want my administration to listen to me.”
Following the external meeting, Rep Council discussed the referendum results and plans for action. According to SGA, here’s what happened there:
During internal, there was a motion for Rep to write a letter of support to the administration in light of the results of the referendum, which was passed with a simple majority. In addition, there was also a motion to have a dissenting statement, which was also passed with a simple majority. The dissent will be included as an addendum in the letter, and will be included in the actual letter following the statement and the signatures of those not in dissent. As there is one, collective letter of support, there will also be one, collective dissenting message. The dissent will be a direct response to the decision to send a letter.
The wording of the letter will be voted on during the internal portion of the meeting on April 30th. If the wording passes, the letter will be sent that evening to the administration.
So this saga is not over yet. The discussion of next year’s budget, though, was quick and pretty painless. VP Finance Evelyn McCorkle presented the proposal and explained where all this money comes from.
SGA receives about 70% of Barnard students’ Student Activities Fees each year, which is predicted to sum to $385,000 next year. This money is divided internally–to SGA committees, McAc, and other Barnard clubs–and externally–through F@CU, to Bacchanal, to support campus-wide Heritage Months, and other inter-council funds like the JCCC.
Evie then went through each allocation individually, noting the requests that were made and whether those requests were met. Notably, some SGA committees (especially Inclusion and Equity and Academic Affairs) asked for significantly more money than they were allocated.
SGA Exec Board Statement on President Beilock’s email regarding the referendum:
This weekend, we were told about an email, addressed to Rep Council but sent to the Barnard community, that would purely address the administrative process for divestment moving forward. We were shocked to read this morning that a decision was already made to not take action in response to the referendum, which we felt flies in the face of process and dismisses students before they can formally voice concerns.
This email breaks precedent from previous divestment processes, which we find particularly concerning. Should we vote to send a letter to the administration, we expected an open dialogue between SGA, students, and the administration, before a decision was made, as has been done in the past. Instead, as SGA was and is in the process of deciding how and whether to bring this issue to the administration, the President and the Board of Trustees have had their own dialogue and have chosen to dismiss the possibility of moving forward.
Furthermore, in the email President Beilock states that “Thousands of alumnae have… voiced their opposition” to the referendum, a statement based on an existing petition. At our meeting this morning we asked President Beilock whether she had accounted for the fact that the petition in question counted both alumnae, and non-alumnae “allies” as signatories. She had not, and when we asked that she rephrase her point in a way that reflected actual alumnae participation, and the diversity of alumnae sentiment, she refused. The petition, when checked earlier this evening, had 3,435 signatories, but 1,043 of those signatories, 30%, were “allies” meaning 60% of the signatories (a smaller percentage than the 64.3% of participating students who voted yes for the referendum) were alumnae. Therefore, we felt that the President’s email misrepresented the diverse opinions of the Barnard alumnae.
Additionally, the framing of student support in the president’s email was misleading. What the President refers to as “under 30% of the student body” are 741 students in support, a significant majority of voters. For context, the SGA referendum for the divestment from fossil fuel companies, an SGA referendum that was not dismissed, had only 565 students that voted in support.
We met for 30 minutes this morning with President Beilock and voiced our concerns, primarily about how the email might affect our own internal voting process this evening. We were summarily dismissed. President Beilock said there was no discussion to be had about her email, her mind was made up about it’s content, and how and when it would be sent. Despite this we will continue with our process as has been outlined most recently in our Spectator op-ed this morning and we will continue to fulfill our duty to advocate for students to the administration. However, I will say that after three years of working with SGA and meeting with Barnard presidents and senior staff, I am concerned about the new precedents that are being set by the President, in how she interacts with student government, and how she responds to the student body.
Since this morning SGA Exec has been considering how best to respond to President Beilock’s email. Regardless of where one stands on the issue at the heart of the referendum, we feel strongly that all should be disturbed by the fact that the president knowingly undermined student voices and SGA’s process.
We held a referendum to gauge student sentiment, so that we could properly respond to CUAD’s request for a statement of support. Now that we have that information, it is our responsibility, as elected representatives of the student body, to respond accordingly. What we decide to do tonight sets precedent for how the administration engages with SGA in the future. As we said in our op-ed, we strongly believe that SGA has been, and will continue to be, a tool for amplifying student voices and facilitating positive change at Barnard. The integrity of tonight’s vote is a critical step in ensuring SGA can continue to effectively do our job.
Again, regardless of the email that was sent out this morning, we will move forward with our procedure. Tonight, we will vote on whether or not to write a letter to the administration, based on the results of the referendum. If the vote passes, SGA Exec will draft the letter over the course of the next week, and we will vote on the wording of the letter at our final meeting next Monday, April 30th. If the vote on the wording passes, we will send the letter to the administration that night.”