SA meets in summer session, passes resolutions related to COVID-19, racial discrimination

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Senators met Tuesday, July 7 over Zoom to discuss several topics facing the College of William and Mary, including ongoing dialogue about racial discrimination and policies at the university, as well as preparations for the fall 2020 semester. EMMA FORD AND KIM LORES / THE FLAT HAT

Tuesday, July 7, the College of William and Mary’s Student Assembly met in a summer session to vote on resolutions regarding supplementary policies related to COVID-19’s continued effects on campus and discussed methods to establish a more inclusive environment for Black students and other people of color.

Senate Chair Meghana Boojala ’22 announced the summer meeting Thursday, July 2, stating in her notice that SA would vote on acts relating to ongoing dialogue surrounding racial discrimination and police brutality in the United States, as well as the novel virus’s ramifications for the fall 2020 semester.

Before debating legislation, senators discussed SA’s Juneteenth Town Hall, where students discussed their experiences with racism and discrimination on campus alongside College President Katherine Rowe and sought to influence the university’s policies on racial justice. Boojala, SA Vice President Kyle Vasquez ’21 and SA Chief of Staff Loni Wright ‘21 all expressed disappointment with SA members’ lack of attendance and informed the body that their absence was noted by members of the community.

“I do think that we should feel bad, and I think that’s a time to feel bad,” Wright said. “We put out these plans, and we’re saying that we’re supportive of the community, and when they come to voice our opinions to us, we’re not there. What’s the point in talking about your feelings about what SA is doing if SA is not there?  And that just goes back to the stigma of SA doesn’t listen to their constituents, they don’t care about minorities in the community, and then we write these beautiful resolutions, which, props to all these senators.  But if your face isn’t there, if you’re not there when the people are watching, like Meghana said, if you’re not there when they’re watching, it seems like you don’t care.”

Senators unanimously pass several bills related to racial discrimination on campus

SA then unanimously passed the Diversity and Inclusion Action Step Resolution, which addresses matters relating to minorities at the College. The resolution covers a wide spectrum of issues at the College, including student relations with the William & Mary Police Department, the hiring and retention of diverse faculty and recognition of the College’s historical treatment of people of color.

Specific action items include establishing an advisory group on police-student relations at the College, encouraging arrest records transparency from WMPD, establishing an annual event to remember the College’s roles in Indigenous education, and creating two study committees to report on building names across campus and flesh out their historical connections they may have to the Confederacy.

Another bill passed unanimously by the Senate, The Willis-Harris Resolution to Condemn Brutality, Discrimination, and Racism states that SA “Vehemently condemns, police brutality, racism, white supremacy, and discrimination in all of its forms within the William & Mary community, the United States of America, and the world” and reaffirms the sentiments in The Apology for William and Mary’s Role in Slavery Act and The Higher Standard Resolution passed by previous SA sessions.

Additionally, the resolution asks for both SA and the College to recognize their roles in perpetuating racism and discrimination, particularly the College’s historical role in abetting slavery and Jim Crow legislation. Along with the Resolution addressing both the College’s and SA’s history, the resolution also encourages campus organizations and students to actively work towards producing a more inclusive campus and promote action-based diversity efforts.

“Let it be known that here at the College of William & Mary, the Alma Mater of the Nation, we condemn this behavior and will never stand for it. This resolution stands as a testament that peaceful demonstration, education and empathy are the true measures of creating not only better students, but better Americans.”

“The Willis-Harris Resolution stands as a reminder that hateful, vile and evil actions will always be condemned,” Sen. Peter Hayden M.B.A. ’21 said. “Let it be known that here at the College of William & Mary, the Alma Mater of the Nation, we condemn this behavior and will never stand for it. This resolution stands as a testament that peaceful demonstration, education and empathy are the true measures of creating not only better students, but better Americans.”

Senators announced the creation of race relations committees, such as the Student Rights Committee, the Academic Diversity Project and the Reparations Committee. These committees will include community members who are not SA representatives, in order to gain a wider array of student perspectives on the issues. Additionally, each committee leader will be paired with the leader of a Black student organization on campus in order to foster dialogue between the two bodies.

Senators then also unanimously passed the Ad-Hoc Reparations Committee Restructuring Act, which stipulates that the chair position needs to be filled by an Undersecretary of Multicultural Affairs, as selected by the Secretary of Diversity Initiatives. The chair can select a co-chair, who must be from outside of SA, and may also formally invite anyone from the community to be a voting member. SA’s voting membership will consist of the Senate Chair or their proxy, the President or their proxy, the Officer of Graduate Diversity, the Secretary of Diversity Initiatives and four to seven senators who are selected by the committee chair.

SA also unanimously passed the Racial Justice & Social Reform Speaker Series Act, which formally endorses the multi-week speaker programming on race and social issues. Topics include voting rights, defunding and reforming the police, mental health and LGBTQ+ issues, and speakers include people both inside and outside the College community. The act makes attendance at the session mandatory for senators, who must provide a valid excuse if they are not present for the six events.

Senators discuss College’s plans for fall 2020 semester amid COVID-19 pandemic

Also at the meeting, Sen. Will Wasson J.D. ’21 introduced the Path Forward Resolution, which outlines SA’s preferences for living and working on campus during the fall semester. The resolution endorses many of the College administration’s current policies, including mask requirements, the ability for students to “opt out” of in-person classes, and the expansion of Health Center services. It calls for several other policies to be enacted, such as implementing hazard pay for the College’s sanitation workers and asking students to take a “Path Forward Pledge,” in which they promise to follow all necessary safety guidelines.

In the resolution, SA also formally endorsed an attendance limit of 25 people at all social gatherings. If student organizations do not follow proper COVID-19 safety guidelines, they could face consequences in terms of their funding from SA in next year’s budget process.

In the discussion of the novel virus’s impacts on campus, several senators and members of the public brought up concerns about the recent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement decision to require any international students studying in the U.S. to return to their home countries if they are only enrolled in online classes. Vasquez promised the body that he, Joseph and Wright were aware of the decision and that in the coming days they would be thinking of ways to best help the College’s population of international students.

Additionally, due to delays from COVID-19, the Joseph-Vasquez administration still had empty cabinet positions that needed to be filled before the fall session, which led senators to approve the nominations of six open cabinet positions at the meeting. Nominated students included Graham Pfeiffer ’21 and Wright as representatives to the Board of Visitors, second-year M.B.A. student Madeena Sddiqui as officer of graduate diversity, law student Alexander Thomas as officer of graduate engagement, Thomas Messier ’23 as secretary of outreach, and Darrin Lilly ’23 as secretary of finance.

At the end of the meeting, Sen. Madison Hubbard ’23 announced her resignation from her position as Class of 2023 Senator. Hubbard has chosen to take a leave of absence for the upcoming academic year due to personal reasons and family needs.

Also at this week’s meeting:

  • SA Secretary of Diversity Initiatives Celeste Chalkley ’21 announced that conversations with dining services were in the works to provide more religious accommodations to students.
  • Vasquez urged senators to speak with the administration about concerns from Jewish students about the College considering holding Saturday classes during the fall semester.