In its first meeting of the new semester, the Student Assembly Senate approved the We Day Act.
The We Day Act allocates $13,000 to bring speakers Emmanuel Jal and Taylor Conroy to campus Feb. 15.
The bill’s four supporters — Secretary of Diversity Initiatives Hannah Kohn ’15, Undersecretary and Co-Undersecretaries of Diversity Initiatives Lynn Nakamura ’15 and Meronne Teklu ’17, as well as President of Free the Children Chido Chola ’18 — came to present the event to the senate.
Jal was a child soldier in Sudan until he managed to escape. He subsequently found success as a hip-hop artist aiming to spread a message of peace. Conroy founded Change Heroes, a friend-funding platform that has supported dozens of projects such as building schools and libraries in developing countries. Despite their different backgrounds, both men found the same goal in life: to inspire and empower others.
This year, I Am W&M Week will be a drawn-out initiative than the usual weeklong event in April. We Day at W&M is an event the SA is co-sponsoring with Free the Children, a new organization at the College. The We Day event aims to unite students as part of the I Am W&M initiative and help them develop a global mindset. We Day’s theme is Ubuntu, a South African proverb embodying the idea that “I am what I am because of who we all are.”
“I Am W&M is really about us building community together and collaborating to create change, and I think [We Day] is a really great way to kick it off,” Kohn said. “It really engages this topic and gives students [a chance] to engage and get them really excited, which I think is something that’s really important and something that our campus can use to really move forward.”
Originally, Chairman of the Senate Daniel Ackerman ’16 set up a special session to discuss and potentially pass the We Day Act Sunday afternoon. According to Jal’s contract, the funds must be in his account 14 days before the event, meaning the bill has to be passed at the latest Feb. 1. Kohn also explained that by passing the bill earlier, the Senate would be affording more time to publicize the event to the student body.
“We’ve had this bill for a while, not ten days, but we’ve had it for multiple days and we were also given that sheet with very extensive outlined information,” Class of 2017 president Phoebe Galt said. “I think having read that, we can have a very informed discussion about this now. We also have everyone here right now …. And maybe that makes it a really long meeting, but I feel as though there’s nothing really standing in the way of us making a proper, informed decision tonight.”
After discussion, senators chose to move the bill to old business by unanimous consent so that they could vote on it during Tuesday’s meeting. Senators decided that the supporters had provided sufficient information and demonstrated extensive planning for the event, making them confident in voting on the bill the same night.
Nakamura explained that Jal and Conroy have both been accommodating in their schedules and contracts. After negotiations, Jal reduced his fee from $20,000 to $10,000.
Sen. Nadia Illunga ’15 voiced her support for the event, emphasizing that We Day is meant to bring students together.
“I think something really important about this event is that it will be a unifying force for the campus,” Ilunga said. “Talking with this group of ladies, as they’ve been preparing this, looking at the groups that are going to be involved, there’s a lot of groups that don’t typically collaborate [interested in attending].”
Sen. Yohance Whitaker ’16 explained that in the past semester, students have been looking inspiration, and We Day can offer just that.
“I think last semester a lot of students wanted to act … There was a lot of angst on campus, and people were looking to be called to action to be inspired,” Whitacker said. “I think that Emmanuel Jal is really coming here to … inspire students to action [and] remind them of their global responsibility. [He will] tie our students into the global community in a way that hasn’t been done before.”
Ackerman also pointed out that $10,000 allocated to the Make it Rain Act is unused. The Make it Rain Act, which was supposed to fund bringing Rainn Wilson to campus to discuss spirituality, could not be executed; therefore, the $10,000 from that bill may go toward the We Day Act.
Senators passed the We Day Act unanimously.
At Tuesday’s meeting, senators also received updates from the Media Council and Secretary of Finance Thomas Obermeier ’15.
In his presentation, Obermeier said the SA has used 79.1 percent of its reserve funds; the reserve budget that started off the academic year at $169,879.19 has been depleted to now stand at $35,587.19. Ninety two and a half percent of the conference fund budget has been allocated, leaving $1,804 in the account.
Chief of Staff Drew Wilke ’15 also gave updates on the purchases made under the Beauty of Branding Act. Thus far, the SA has purchased two banners and a SA logo tent. While the act is not yet executed fully, Wilke believes $4,000 or more from the Branding Act fund will return into the reserve account.