Tuesday, Nov. 1, the College of William and Mary’s 330th session of Student Assembly heavily debated and ultimately passed the Mock Mehndi Act, unanimously passed the Going to the Grads Revival Act and introduced two bills. SA also heard a report from Sen. Sean Nguyen ’25 on the state of Steer Clear where he announced that the program will not continue into the Spring 2023 semester.
External President of the South Asian Student Association (SASA) Adam Razaq ’23 spoke in favor of the Mock Mehndi Act.
“Since being a Pakistani is being a minority within a minority, many new and old Pakistanis have been hesitant to attend SASA events and Mock Mehndi is something that will make sure that they feel welcomed within SASA and make their culture feel appreciated by the student body at large,” Razaq said.
“I urge Senate to vote in favor of the Mock Mehndi Act because of the significance and the quality of the event,” he added.
Approximately a dozen members of SASA in addition to Razaq also attended the meeting to show their support for the bill.
Representatives from the Asian American Student Organization (AASI), the Chinese Student Organization (CSO) and the Filipino American Student Association (FASA) voiced their organization’s support along with personal declarations of support in the comments of SA’s Facebook livestream of the meeting.
Special Business: Steer Clear
Nguyen announced that the Finance Committee leadership team had decided not to continue funding for the Steer Clear program for the Spring 2023 semester. Nguyen cited operational challenges including recruiting drivers, leadership difficulties, a lack of student use and an outreach mechanism geared towards Greek organizations as reasons for the cut.
“It began with an executive board of five individuals, and by the end of the year only two remained,” Nguyen said.
“There was a lot of operational tasks like filling up the gas tasks, securing drivers for the weekend in a timely manner and submitting rider data at the end of shifts that weren’t always carried through, and so there were concerns with the executive board…it wasn’t always clearly shown that they were putting the effort on the organizational side to ensure that Steer Clear could be this autonomous body,” he added.
Data from the Spring 2022 semester indicate that ridership levels varied by weekend from just four to up to 81.
Nguyen also cited a lack of mission alignment among the executive board as part of the decision. The board requested an increase in driver wages when faced with a lack of interested drivers.
“Wage cannot be the driving force,” a slide on Nguyen’s presentation said, “it should be mission-driven and be due to a commitment to the safety of the student body.”
In response to a question about viable alternatives, Nguyen said that the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) service fraternity may be able to fulfill some of the role Steer Clear played although no immediate replacement has been made.
Steer Clear will continue operations until Dec. 9.
Special Business: Data Task Force
John Willis ’23 and Sasan Faraj ’23, Co-Chairs of the Department of Student Life’s new Data Task Force, presented a report on what they hope to achieve in the position. They focused on centralizing SA’s data gathering effort so that SA can effectively collect students’ perspectives on a bill or initiative.
“The purpose for creating the Task Force is to integrate more data-driven analysis into the way that SA is run,” Willis said.
“There are some surveys that are sent out throughout the year regarding dining and other services on campus and in the past there hasn’t really been a body within SA that gets to work with that data and see what students are saying…on top of this, we also want to be a tool to y’all so that, for instance, if you want to see what student opinions are about a certain topic for an initiative or a bill or what have you, you can create a survey to actually measure the student body about that,” Willis added.
Willis and Faraj also stated that students may apply to be an Undersecretary of Data Information until Nov. 10. Both undersecretary positions are currently unfilled.
Sen. Matt Swenson ’26 introduced the Funding Fire Pits Act, sponsored by himself and Class President Zoe Wang ’26. The bill allocates $398 from SA reserves for two fire pits to be used during the annual freshman s’mores mixer.
The Going to the Grads Revival Act sponsored by Sen. Morgan Brittain passed unanimously. The act requires SA to hold a Senate meeting at each of the graduate schools represented in the body, including the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Arts & Sciences, School of Business, School of Education and the College of William and Mary Law School.
The Mock Mehndi Act
After an hour and a half of debate, SA passed the Mock Mehndi Act which allocates $613 from its reserves to help fund the Mock Mehndi event which SASA is hosting Friday, Nov. 11. Mehndi is a pre-wedding social event that exists in certain South Asian cultures, including Pakistani culture.
Chair of the Senate Eugene Lee ’23, Brittain, Nguyen, and Swenson, all members of the Finance committee, voted ‘No,’ while Class President Mia Tilman ’24 and Sen. Jiexi Lin ‘26 abstained. Hwang and Sen. Daniel Bess ’24 were the only Finance committee members who voted in favor of the bill.
The bill was sponsored by Class President Maheen Saeed ’23, Sen. Hashir Aqeel ’25, Sen. Matthew Hwang ’25 and Class President Yannie Chang ’25.
According to the bill, SASA accidentally misreported the attendance numbers for last year’s Mock Mehndi event, causing the Organization Budget Allocation Committee (OBAC) to provide insufficient funds for the event this year. OBAC is an organization within SA that consists of members of the Finance Department and members of the Senate Finance committee. It provides funding for Recognized Student Organizations (RSO) by allocating funds collected from the Student Activities Fee.
The 90 minutes of debate centered on concerns over the precedent that the bill would create, a lack of an appeal process, and the bill’s controversial third clause.
In a written response to the bill, SA Chief of Staff Owen Williams ’23, Lee, SA Finance Secretary Sophie Halkett ’23 and Nguyen called the bill “the antithesis of OBAC’s deliberation,” arguing that the bill would create a precedent of RSOs circumventing the budget allocation process by approaching SA for additional funding.
Chang, however, said the bill would set a good precedent, as RSOs should be able to approach the Senate if an organization were to be in a similar misfiling situation. She said she would be in favor of passing bills for future similar instances.
In another written response, Sen. Brendan Clark J.D. ’24 wrote that precedent is not infallible, and that the Senate is not always bound by precedents as it is a deliberative body and not a judicial one.
“When precedent really binds you is when facts are similar,” Clark said during the debate, “and from my understanding of the factual background here, I’m not sure you’re ever going to again see facts that are this unique and this distinct that create the problem at issue here.”
Chang said SA bears some responsibility for the situation, citing “fundamental systematic gaps” within the Senate and SA which caused misfilings to be inevitable.
“I really would encourage Senate to take a deep look at what parts of this instance are also where Student Assembly has responsibility for,” she said.
A proposed amendment from Lee to remove the third resolved clause, which allows for other RSOs to continue approaching SA for additional funding through the end of this academic year, failed.
“I can comfortably say that the majority of OBAC is not comfortable with it,” Lee said, referring to the clause.
Tilman, arguing in favor of the clause, said OBAC should provide some flexibility for RSOs to request additional funding to rectify any issues stemming from misfilings this academic year.
Wang said SA should have more trust in RSOs when approached for additional funding. Lee responded that SA cannot solely rely on trust, as mistakes in reporting attendance numbers can occur whether malicious intent exists or not.
“It is very extremely disheartening in that sense that now all of a sudden we’re here with no way of talking and being trustful to ourselves,” Hwang said.
The amendment to remove the clause ultimately failed with three ‘Yes’ votes from Lee, Berckmueller and Swenson, while Lin and Sen. Stephanie Hilaire M.B.A. abstained. Every other member voted in favor of keeping the clause.
After the vote, Chang shared concerns about the civility of discussion opposing the bill in the days preceding the meeting.
“There could have been a much healthier dynamic regarding this bill, and how it was perceived, and the narrative surrounding it,” Chang said. “I don’t think that there was mal intent…but I find it hypocritical that those were things that were brought up about our potential disrespect for other people. There’s been a lot of backlash that does not necessarily match the decorum that I would like to think that Student Assembly should uphold,” she added.
Also at this week’s meeting:
- Aqeel shared a plan discussed by the Policy & Student Rights Committee to purchase Grammarly Premium for all students on campus.