SA passes Naming & Referendum Act, discusses rising COVID cases

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EMMA FORD AND KIM LORES / THE FLAT HAT

Tuesday, Feb. 9, the College of William and Mary’s Student Assembly Senate passed the Naming & Renaming Referendum Act, introduced three new bills and discussed student concerns about COVID cases on campus.

SA Vice President Kyle Vasquez ’21 began the meeting by urging his fellow senators to listen to student concerns about the College’s rising COVID cases. Vasquez and SA Chief of Staff Loni Wright ’21 stated that they have raised these concerns to the administration, but that the administration is still planning to reopen campus activities as planned, with classes starting in-person and some indoor dining allowed beginning Feb. 10. 

Vasquez also encouraged the Senate to release a statement about how SA is dealing with student concerns surrounding the pandemic.

Later in the meeting, Sen. Peter Hayden M.B.A. ’21 introduced the Anti-Discrimination Pledge Act, which would create an Anti-Discrimination Pledge for all incoming students at the College, similar to the pledge to uphold the Honor Code. The pledge would be placed in all College classrooms and syllabi, and students who failed to abide by its tenets would be reported to the appropriate disciplinary office.  

Currently, the pledge reads as follows: 

“I, [state your name], on my honor pledge to never act in a discriminatory manner or encourage acts of discrimination. I will treat every person with respect and integrity, in order to preserve our community of belonging. I understand that any acts of discrimination undermine the William and Mary community of trust of which we are all stewards.” 

Wright expressed her approval for the bill and encouraged senators to vote in favor of it as a way of emphasizing diversity.

“We constantly say that we put diversity and non-discrimination at the forefront of our university, but we haven’t really shown that anywhere or proven it to be true, and this sets the tone as soon as we walk in, the same way we do with the Honor Code,” Wright said. 

The language in the bill has been approved by several administration officials, including the Dean of Students and the Office of Compliance and Equity. The Senate will vote on the bill next week. If it passes, the pledge will be instituted before the start of the 2021-22 academic year. It would also make the College the first university in the nation to have an anti-discrimination pledge. 

Later in the meeting, senators unanimously passed the Naming & Renaming Referendum Act, sponsored by Senate Chair Meghana Boojala ’22. Senate committees made significant additions to the act after it was introduced last week.

The act still authorizes a referendum of the student body regarding the naming and renaming of campus spaces. It will include questions about whether students believe that the College should institute a cap on the number of spaces named after individuals, including the Founding Fathers, and whether names of spaces and awards should honor individuals or their achievements. 

The referendum will now include two more questions. The first details the actions and words of the College’s 17th president, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, who oversaw the first admittance of white women at the College but also strongly supported Jim Crow laws and enslavement of African Americans. The question asks whether Lyon Gardiner Tyler “should have a space, landmark, or department dedicated to him on campus.” 

The second question includes a quote from an unnamed alumnus who is “prominently represented on campus,” and asks students whether they think the person who spoke that quote “contributes to a hostile environment for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color on campus”. 

The referendum will be sent out to the student body as early as next week. 

At the end of the meeting, Sen. Eugene Lee ’23 voiced concerns about the recent discourse surrounding new campus publication The Wren Journal on Facebook groups, including Swampy Memes for Twampy Teens. Lee expressed his worries that some students were being targeted and sent hateful comments for expressing unpopular viewpoints in their pieces for the Journal. Other SA members, such as Class of 2023 President Owen Williams ’23, noted that some students involved with the Journal had publicly posted about discriminatory views in the past, arguing that the Senate needed to consider the full context of the situation.

“I just encourage people to look at the comments themselves, and then we can have a fuller, productive dialogue on this,” Lee said.  

The senate ultimately agreed to monitor the situation over the coming week. 

Also at this week’s meeting:

  • Sen. Jane Geiger ’21 introduced the Coffee & Connection Sponsorship Act, which charges SA with supporting the upcoming “Wellness Your Way” initiative. The bill would cover the cost of providing free coffee and stickers to students on the upcoming Mar. 4 spring break day.
  • Sen. Patrick Salsburg ’21 introduced the Even More Compost Bins Around Campus Act, which would allocate $360 from SA Reserves for the purchasing of four new compost bins in high-traffic areas, including near freshman dorms.