SA passes Financial Regulatory Act following 60+ speakers during public comment

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EMMA FORD AND KIMBERLY LORES / THE FLAT HAT

Tuesday, April 2, the final meeting of the College of William and Mary’s 326th Student Assembly started with over 60 students from both campus media organizations and multicultural groups voicing their concerns about the Financial Regulatory Act, sponsored by Class of 2019 President Sikander Zakriya ’19 and Sen. Jessica Seidenberg ’19.

The bill, which proposed the reduction of Media Council funds from $75,000 to either a $55,000 ceiling or floor, was tabled at last week’s meeting after senators failed to reach an agreement. Senators also expressed concern that the bill’s sponsors did not contact members of the Media Council before the April 2 meeting.

Another controversial aspect of the bill was a proposed stipulation that would prohibit SA from voting on bills the same day that they were introduced, unless moving the bill to old business was voted on by a 2/3 majority of the Senate.

Thursday, March 28, Media Council Chair Sarah Smith ’19 met with Zakriya and Seidenberg to reach a compromise of a $55,000 ceiling cap on the Media Council’s reserves. However, based on conversations held at committee sessions Sunday, March 31, some members of the College’s publications grew concerned over whether senators would propose an amendment to reduce the cap to $40,000 instead.

Members of multicultural groups came to the April 2 meeting to voice support for the budget cuts under the condition that the additional $20,000 went to underfunded multicultural groups on campus. Multicultural groups expressed that they disagreed with the amount of funding allocated to the publications comprising Media Council, and multicultural group members felt that their organizations were underrepresented in SA funding.

The groups expressed that multicultural organizations should be valued as much as media publications in SA’s funding allocation process. They also shared frustrations with their events lacking publicity and attendance, and drew SA’s attention to the experiences of marginalized groups on campus, particularly students of color.

President of the Filipino American Student Association and SA Review Board member Charlie Balaan ’19 felt that Media Council received special treatment over other organizations at the College.

“I fail to see what about the Media Council member organizations place them in a class above most other student organizations,” Balaan said. “This group of organizations is afforded its own special avenue of applying for funding, through SA, via the contract negotiation process. My understanding is that it receives a substantial portion of SA’s annual budget. In addition, they receive special dispensation to retain reserve accounts. This suggests that member organizations of media council are in a class of their own, while organizations such as my own occupy a special class. We have to apply annually for funding.”

Some multicultural organizations like UndocuTribe felt that the College’s publications have failed to represent diverse voices at the College, and that they often fail to cover issues faced by different marginalized groups.

“I want to acknowledge that someone said they wanted to speak about truth, and that the only way to speak about truth was through this Media Council, when there are organizations that are constantly trying to uplift these voices and communities that we want the truth to be known,” Olivia Leon Vitervo ’19, director of UndocuTribe, said. “So I think that truth that they want to know is maybe a certain type of truth to the wider white community here. Second, I want to address that this cap is not on your budget, you already have that. This is a cap on your reserve that you’re able to tap into, and it was going around that SA was going to promise these funds to multicultural organizations, but they need to extend that to undervalued and underrepresented groups like UndocuTribe that represent immigrants and undocumented communities in Williamsburg. I also want to voice that a lot of these publications care about bringing voices and diversifying, and you’re using that as a claim against us, but you are not at our events, you’re not there fundraising with us, you’re not there getting UndocuAlly trained, you’re not there when we’re going to talk to representatives or going to talk to administration about the things that affect us, so when you’re using our voices, our bodies, on your covers, you do nothing for us.”

Members of the media expressed the diverse ways through which media had allowed them to express themselves. Features writer for ROCKET Magazine and the Social Media Director of WCWM Alijah Webb ’20 recalled her first article she wrote for ROCKET magazine.

“To speak a little to my experience with ROCKET and WCWM, my very first piece that I wrote was about being a black student on campus and finding my voice and finding spaces where I was able to feel comfortable, and I found both of those spaces in ROCKET and in WCWM,” Webb said. “I think that with our event, Astral and WCWM Fest, it’s caused me a lot of personal growth, and it’s been really beneficial to my and a lot of people’s experiences in college.”

Others voiced concerns over SA removing any funds from the Media Council out of a belief that SA needs to reform its own financial practices before attempting to enforce financial changes at other organizations on campus.

Music Director of WCWM Sam Iden ’19 argued that the passage of the Financial Regulatory Act would be inherently hypocritical, and felt that SA should prioritize fixing its own funding habits.

“I support the $55,000 ceiling,” Iden said. “Well, I accept it, but I don’t support it. Frankly, it’s immoral for an organization like SA to egregiously cut onto the ability of media council to enable the voices that you’ve seen before me, you’re gonna see after me, without critically engaging with their own finances — it’s appalling. Things like the Spring Concert, things like individual student speakers.  When I talked to senators today about this, I asked, if you’re gonna take these funds from the reserves in media council, where are they gonna go? The answers I got were that it’ll go to multicultural initiatives. These are your multicultural initiatives. These are the people that you want to support, yet you’re sitting here, you’re gonna listen to all of them, and you’re still gonna cut their funding.  I think that’s just robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it’s quite immoral. You should check your own funding before you punish the Media Council.”

If tapped into, the Media Council’s reserves are intended to fund any emergencies faced by publications on campus, most recently the flooding of WCWM this year. Funding can also go towards events hosted by publications — including symposiums, the ASTRAL Fashion Show hosted by ROCKET Magazine and WCWM Fest — outside of their typical publishing schedules.

Many members of the publications expressed that their equipment was beginning to decline in efficiency and indicated a need for technological replacements which may require additional funding from the Media Council’s reserves. Members of the media also pointed out that Media Council has been using more and more reserves each year.

Hannah Lowe ’21, a features writer at ROCKET, expressed disappointment that misinformation about the bill resulted in the perception that Media Council and multicultural groups were in opposition.

“I have learned a lot from listening to the conversations from other groups that are not in Media Council, and I’m going to take that back to ROCKET,” Lowe said. “But what I would also like to say is that I would like to express some disappointment in the fact that the funding for multicultural organizations has only come up in opposition to Media Council, and I’m disappointed by the fact that we’re putting these different parts of the school in opposition to each other. I would hope that you would consider that.  Consider these two things as separate issues and supporting both.”

While members of the media initially wanted the bill to be capped at a threshold equal to or greater than $55,000, and by the end of the public comment, many students in media organizations had also grown to support additional funding going towards multicultural organizations. Individuals representing multicultural organizations also supported a cap at $55,000 but were dismayed by the large amount of money devoted to Media Council compared to relatively small spending on multicultural groups.

Discussion was then opened to senators. Class of 2020 President and SA President-elect Kelsey Vita 20 reminded the Senate that allocating the $20,000 generated from cuts to the Media Council’s reserves cannot be directly allocated to multicultural groups on campus; instead, the $20,000 will be transferred to SA Reserves. She also expressed concern over the proposed bill’s rushed passage, when senators needed have time to meet with multicultural groups and media organizations and to revise SA financing accordingly. She argued that the Senate had time to figure all of this out as the bill capping media council funds will not take effect until the 328th session of Senate or the 2020-2021 academic year.

Zakriya explained that cuts to the Media Council’s reserves could be redirected to SA’s Executive Appropriations Committee, which allocates funding to different groups on campus based on organizations’ requests for funding. However, this funding mechanism does not ensure that the extra $20,000 will go entirely to multicultural groups on campus.

Sen. Anthony Joseph ’21 reminded the Senate that there were angry people on both sides of the aisle who now had the perception of promises. Media Council organizations demanded that their funding would not be lowered past $55,000, and multicultural groups expected to see an additional $20,000 alleviate their organizations’ needs.

“People are pissed outside, people are really mad,” Joseph said. “Not just Media Council and the people that we heard from tonight, but UndocuTribe, members from multicultural organizations. People are pissed, and I understand them. I understand them so much. We need to find a way to put our money where our mouth is.”

The Financial Regulatory Act eventually passed by almost a unanimous margin, with every senator voting in favor of the resolution except for Sen. Kyle Vasquez ’21, who abstained.

Later in the evening, the Senate passed the Fair Elections Act, which calls for transparency and promptness from the Elections Commission on the topics of disclosing financial information and publicizing campaign violations and penalties.

The senators also passed the Elections Listserv Use Act, which prevents future class presidents from using their Listserv access to promote voter mobilization during elections. However, the Senate failed to pass the Elections Commission Assurance Act, which would have forced the SA President to fill every seat on the Elections Commission.

Outgoing Class of 2021 President David DeMarco ’21 raised concerns about whether these bills went far enough in reforming the campaign and election processes.

DeMarco, who was defeated by Vita in the recent race for SA President, raised questions about whether the sitting SA President should endorse candidates for office when that same individual also appoints members to the independent Elections Commission.

“As far as the Chair of the Elections Commission being unbiased, I think that whoever the Attorney General is needs to make checks on that,” DeMarco said. “It makes me uncomfortable when I hear that the Chair of Elections Commission shows up to my opponent’s election party with gifts.”

DeMarco also said he took issue with the lack of response from the Elections Commission to his complaints during the campaign, and the failure to confirm some members on the commission.

Also at this week’s meeting:

  • The inauguration for members of the 327th Student Assembly will take place Monday, April 8 at 4 p.m. in the Sir Christopher Wren Chapel.