March 3, the College of William and Mary’s 327th Student Assembly approved its 2020-2021 budget, providing annual funding packages for dozens of the College’s clubs and organizations. Following the budget’s passage, senators unanimously passed the Pride in ID Appearance Act, which establishes new funding mechanisms for some students to change their Tribe Card ID photo, particularly for students whose gender identity does not align with that presented on their College identification. Additionally, senators also passed The Cypher Award Act, which changes the name of the prestigious Ewell Award, and discussed financial concerns with SA’s annual spring ball.
Sen. Kyle Vasquez ’21, Secretary of College Policy and Student Rights Amanda Yannet ’20 and Undersecretary for Title IX Katie Grotewiel ’22 delivered a presentation on the current status of the Pride in ID Appearance Act. The presentation included statements of support for the bill from transgender students and alumni.
The bill encompasses a trial roll out that aims to fund a total of 35 students, costing $23 for each student to change their ID photo. Vasquez said that he hopes the bill will show Tribe Card Services and other administrative groups on campus that this is a service students want, which would provide incentive for these administrative services to control funding for this subsidy moving forward.
Additionally, Vasquez spoke about some changes to the bill, including that SA representatives were no longer responsible for arbitrating whether students should be receive a subsidy from the fund. Instead, Counseling Center Director Carina Sudarsky-Gleiser, who also runs the College’s flexible housing program and a transgender support group on campus, will read the ID request applications to determine if the student request for the ID change subsidy aligns with the Honor Code.
Sen. Will Wasson J.D. ’21 expressed concerns over appointing an administrator like Sudarsky-Geliser to oversee funding allocations. Instead, Wasson felt that the funding should be open to any student who requests it, since explicitly labeling which concerns receive funding may require students who feel uncomfortable disclosing why they want the ID change would have to provide sensitive information.
“I’m very worried about giving an administrator power to set up a system and then that system being used in a way that would only add more insecurity for transgender people and people who are just uncomfortable with their bodies,” Wasson said.
Yannet responded by saying that the question on the form will not require a detailed response and instead will rely on the College’s emphasis to follow and respect the Honor Code when filling out the form by trusting the student who requests the funding that their reasonings align with the standards of the Honor Code.
Sen. Derek Kernus ’14 M.B.A. ’20 also added that HIPAA regulations would prevent senators from receiving certain sensitive information.
“Also making a direct response to what you’re saying, Will,” Kernus said. “I get your concern but there is also going to be a challenge to Student Assembly getting that information because if they’re claiming gender dysphoria or anything like that, that’s in the DSM-five considered a mental health condition and that’s covered by HIPAA and they’re not going to be able to tell us any of that stuff.”
However, Grotewiel vocalized concerns with Kernus’s reference of gender dysphoria, feeling it misrepresented what it meant to be transgender.
“I just wanted to respond to Derek’s thing about gender dysphoria in the DSM-five,” Grotewiel said. “It is not required for you to be trans for you to have gender dysphoria as stated very clearly by the American Psychiatric Association. So the statement that all trans folk have gender dysphoria is frankly untrue and that’s just not right … Stating that transness is about gender dysphoria is untrue and it’s also transphobic. I think that’s something we should be cognizant about when talking about this because assigning something of a particular diagnosis to a person who does not identify with that is way out of line and not something you can do yourself.”
Kernus then apologized for implying that all transgender individuals have gender dysphoria, since he said that was not the intent of his statement.
After the discussion, the senators unanimously passed the bill.
The senators also unanimously passed the Cypher Award Act, which sought to change the name of the Ewell Award to the Cypher Award. Each year, the Ewell Award is presented to graduating students who represent the College’s values and dedication to the liberal arts through their studies and extracurricular engagements. The award is currently named after the College’s 16th president, Benjamin Stoddert Ewell, who presided over the College during the Civil War. Senate Chair Anthony Joseph ‘21 introduced the bill due to Ewell’s involvement with the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Before its passage, Sen. Henry Philpott ’22 expressed his concerns that the bill did not explicitly express parts of Ewell’s history involved in his contributions to the campus. Philpott read aloud a list of Ewell’s accomplishments to the College. He said that he supported the bill and the award’s name change, but felt that it is important in sharing both sides of history when writing a bill of this nature.
“I just wanted to say that I personally am in support of changing the name of this award and I think it’s a great step forward in terms of the direction of this campus, but I do think that the bill should reflect more of Ewell’s accomplishments and what he did for the College,” Philpott said. “… I’m not obviously supporting his actions in the confederacy whatsoever, but without Ewell there’s a great chance that William and Mary might not be a university today. And I think that is important to recognize.”
Sen. Maheen Saeed ’23 did not believe that the bill needed to include the additional aspects of Ewell’s history since she stated that Ewell’s actions would not be accepted by today’s standards.
“This bill is something that really, really hit close to home with me being a person of color on this campus and I think a lot of you guys can relate to this.” Saeed said. “I’m sorry Henry, I don’t want to call you out, but what people who are not of color don’t understand is that a 100 years ago I would not have been accepted on this campus and neither would another person of color be accepted on this campus. You want to acknowledge the good things that he did for this campus when Ewell was alive today this is the work we would never do … I’m sorry, I just feel very strongly about this and I just think it’s not appropriate to include.”
Joseph reiterated Saeed’s point, wondering at what cost including the information Philpott suggested in the bill would have on covering less favorable aspects of Ewell’s legacy.
“My question is at what cost because you need to think about what the trajectory of William and Mary was after the Civil War that it became again one of the highest pinnacles of white academia in the South,” Joseph said. “And second, we already herald Ewell for his great achievements … And I think all of the United States of America has a problem with whitewashing history … And I don’t feel bad about not putting the good things in this bill because again, we don’t learn about those bad things at all. ”
In addition to voting on bills at Tuesday’s session, senators heard a presentation from SA Vice President Ellie Thomas ’20 on the upcoming Royal Ball, formerly known as the King and Queens Ball. Thomas explained that the Ball’s current funding places an unsustainable strain on SA’s Reserve Fund.
Thomas expressed that SA needs to pass a bill that allocates $9,000 towards the event. Historically, Thomas explained, SA has gone over budget for the event, including $20,381 over budget in 2018 and $16,948 over budget in 2019. Thomas stressed the importance of reexamining how SA funds this event in the future.
Towards the end of the meeting, Sen. Meghana Boojala ’22 expressed that senators should not assume the worst in another senator for having a minority opinion, but should rather be receptive to different points of view.
Joseph emphasized Boojala’s sentiments and added that senators needed to think seriously about the current actions in the Senate before it becomes a toxic environment.
“I think for the future of this body, we need to consider that we can have these very tense conversations because that is the world that we are dealing with, but we cannot allow the radicalism that is happening across this country to affect the objectivity here,” Joseph said. “Yes, sometimes people aren’t equipped with the vocabulary to talk about things. That is okay, they are trying. Half the things that I have done personally with people that I’ve talked to and had good conversations with were achieved by breaking things down and having conversation. And if there are genuine disagreements, if you feel that someone has wronged you, I don’t think we should make it a habit of outing them in this body. I think that should happen outside, in closed doors and you talk to them privately and hash out your disagreements. And that’s what I fundamentally think. I think with the way this body is going, I would recommend us to get out of this behavior because it’s toxic.”
Also at this week’s meeting:
- SA approved two Activities & Events Fund requests; it granted $6,000 to fund speaker Katie Koestner at HOPE and Someone You Know’s event Take Back the Night, and $3,000 to fund speaker Amal Kassir at the Muslim Student Association’s charity fundraiser Fast-a-Thon.
- Senators unanimously passed the The William & Mary Multicultural Night Market Act sponsored by Class of 2021 President Aria Austin ’21, which allocates $3,446.40 to fund a Night Market, featuring markets and stands from various multicultural student organizations on the Sunken Garden Apr. 19.
- SA unanimously passed the Drag Ball Funding Act, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Salsburg ’21 and Vasquez, which allocates $4,000 from SA Reserves to fund a drag show by Pretty Boi Drag in Commonwealth Auditorium Apr. 20.
- Senators also unanimously passed the Interfaith Harmony Week Act, which will fund advertisements and speaker fees for religious studies scholar Craig Considine.