Amid election season, SA introduces four new bills, passes Graduate Onboarding Act

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EMMA FORD AND KIM LORES / THE FLAT HAT

Tuesday, March 31, the 327th session of the College of William and Mary’s Student Assembly continued their meetings via Zoom livestream. At the meeting, Senators introduced four new bills and passed The Graduate Onboarding Act, which sought to streamline the process of graduate students being inaugurated into SA.

SA President Kelsey Vita ‘20 first provided an executive update regarding her conversations with administration in response to multiple student concerns, including demands for a universal pass system and rebates for room and board.

Vita explained that despite elevating student concerns towards the College’s interim opt-in pass/fail grading system, it seemed unlikely that a universal pass system would be implemented. However, Vita explained that the administration would be open to changing that standpoint if new situations came to light.

“We elevated the different concerns of students about opt-in pass/fail versus universal pass,” Vita said. “We thought that conversation was productive, and the energy we got from the meeting with the Provost was that the administration considered a lot of things in making that decision, and at this time, they are not planning to change it. But they are open-minded to changing policies as the landscape changes. What we got from that meeting is though there is an openness to change, they don’t foresee themselves doing that at this time.”

“We elevated the different concerns of students about opt-in pass/fail versus universal pass. We thought that conversation was productive, and the energy we got from the meeting with the Provost was that the administration considered a lot of things in making that decision, and at this time, they are not planning to change it.”

Additionally, Vita said that student input on these concerns would help continue conversations about these issues, and noted that she and her administration would be happy to help facilitate those discussions.

Public commentators also expressed concerns over the rebates being provided by the College from room and board, particularly concerns over students not receiving rebates for debt collection and students with financial aid grants not receiving the rebate.

Vita responded by saying that she would get in contact with the appropriate administrative officials on questions concerning debt collection, and clarified that students on federal aid grants would still receive a rebate.

Senators then passed The Graduate Onboarding Act following slight tweaks to the language of the bill. The bill originally stated that graduate senators should be inaugurated immediately following their appointment by their respective schools.  Sen. Holly Gruntner ’17 Ph.D. ’22 expressed concerns that this wording would force Arts and Sciences students into beginning their terms in SA in the spring, when they are elected, instead of in the fall when they traditionally begin their terms.

Sen. Will Wasson J.D. ’21, the bill’s sponsor, made a friendly amendment to the bill so that graduate senators could opt out of this requirement and could begin serving when their institutions deemed it most appropriate.

Additionally, Sen. Eugene Lee ’23 introduced The Solidarity with Asian Americans Resolution, which speaks out against racist attacks on Asian Americans in response to COVID-19 and seeks to raise awareness on Asian American experiences at the College. The bill will go on the floor for a vote at SA’s next meeting April 7.

At the end of the meeting, Sen. Abby Varricchio ’23 raised concerns about the tone of the current SA campaign season, specifically about the ways in which people are discussing past voting records. Varricchio suggested that other members of SA had been spreading misinformation about the way she had voted on the Emergency Contraception Act and the Divest from Fossil Fuels Resolution.

“Not only did this hurt because it was a lie being spread about what I’ve done, but I expected so much more,” Varricchio said. “When I step into this role as a senator my personal political opinions fade away, and I solely focus on what’s best for my constituency and for William and Mary as a whole. And I’ve treated everyone with nothing but respect, and I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but before you speak, not only should you check your facts, but you should think about how you’re impacting the culture of this body and the decorum of this body.”

Sen. Maheen Saeed ’23 concurred with Varricchio’s sentiments and commented on an increasingly negative campaign season, especially for elections in the class of 2023.

“I think this campaign season has brought a lot of negativity for the class of 2023 in particular,” Saeed said. “And I just want to voice here in Senate that, like Abby was saying, we have no negative intentions, and I think a lot of people are pinning a lot of negativity on current senators and creating an atmosphere of negativity in general within campaigning and within William and Mary, when we’re going through a large crisis.”

Also at this week’s meeting:

  • Sen. Meghana Boojala ’22 introduced both The Registered Student Organization Compensation Bill and The Spring Concert Postponement bill. The latter sought to provide refunds for student organizations who planned to reschedule their spring events to the fall. The former allocates SA’s spring concert funds to be used in the fall if AMP holds the spring concert then.
  • Senate Chair Anthony Joseph ‘21 introduced the Streets Smarts Act, which outlines ways to improve safety and lighting to Richmond Road.