DREAMers denied CIO status, student groups react

StudCo currently working with group to form joint statement, Lodge says

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Lodge said Student Council is currently working together with DREAMers to release a joint statement, following a meeting between the two groups Sunday night.

Celina Hu | Cavalier Daily

A student organization called DREAMers, representing undocumented students at the University, failed to receive approval of CIO status following a vote by Student Council last Tuesday. In response, the group released a change.org petition Sunday listing several demands for Student Council.

"DREAMers on Grounds is a newly founded organization, at the University of Virginia, with a mission to create a more inclusive environment and an overall safe space for the undocumented community and its Allies at U.Va. through education and advocacy," according to the petition.

The group’s application for CIO status was voted on by the Student Council representatives, Student Council President Emily Lodge, a third-year Batten student, said. Of the 12 members who voted, six approved the application while the other six did not vote. No representatives voted to deny the organization CIO status.

“Some Representatives had some questions about the organization and six abstained from voting while six approved,” Lodge said in an email statement. “Since it did not have the majority we could not officially approve them.”

However, allies and members of the group feel the denial of CIO status to the group invalidates the represented students on Grounds, first-year College student Rawda Fawaz, an ally of the group, said Wednesday, prior to the circulation of the group’s petition.

“The sentiments that I and many others currently hold in light of this decision is that our Student Council representatives let personal and political biases get in the way of their decision to grant the group CIO status based on the standard criteria,” Fawaz said.

Representative Body Chair Brett Curtis, a second-year College student, said the group failed to receive approval because representatives had some questions as to the organization’s mission and operation on Grounds.

“This was due to a number of questions … which some representatives did not believe were sufficiently answered in their application, thus they chose to abstain,” Curtis said.

The CIO approval process involves submitting an online application detailing the applying group's mission statement, financial plans, membership and non-discrimination clause, Vice President of Organizations MacKenzie Hodgson, a third-year Engineering student, said. Following submission, the VPO and CIO Consultants review the application and communicate with the group about potential issues with CIO rules.

“[Then] the new CIO's exec comes in for a meeting to discuss the mission of the group,” Hodgson said.

According to the petition released by DREAMers, the group contacted Lodge after not hearing from her initially. Lodge initially oversaw the group’s application while she was VPO, prior to her election to president. The group was not subsequently contacted after expressing its unavailability for the meeting time Lodge proposed, according to its petition.

Before the representative body votes on the bill, the VPO drafts a CIO bill listing all of the potential new CIOs with recommendations for either approving or reject the new groups and reasons why groups may not be in compliance.

“I discuss[ed] applications with Student Activities to see if there is any reason why they should not be approved,” Lodge said. “We did not find any so I recommended that they be approved on the CIO Bill.”

Curtis said as chair, he will reach out to DREAMers on Grounds and ask them to speak at the next meeting of the body.

“I will be reintroducing the bill and calling for a vote again at that time,” he said.

Fawaz’s concerns were shared by other DREAMers allies, including members of the Minority Rights Coalition, the Latino Student Alliance and the Black Student Alliance. These groups, among others, shared the DREAMers’ petition on social media.

“This abstention was not only a failure of these elected representatives to do their duty and cast a vote, but it was also a cowardly way to reject the DREAMers on Grounds request without being on record as having voting in opposition to DREAMers on Grounds,” the BSA said in a public email statement Sunday.

The DREAMers’ petition “demands that [Student Council] be held accountable for the mistakes that were made during this process.”

The petition cited a Facebook post made by second-year Law student Erich Reimer, a Student Council representative. Reimer has since removed the post, but according to the petition it read, “U.Va. Student Council news: bill approving a student group to support illegal immigrants at U.Va. has been defeated! #conservative.”

Given this post, the petition demands an ad-hoc administration committee to conduct an external review of Student Council and all representatives and better transparency via full, public transcripts of every meeting — rather than meeting minutes.

“[Student Council] further marginalize(s) an already oppressed group of students by failing to properly represent and grant us opportunities,” the petition reads.

The petition also demands public apologies from Student Council and Reimer, as well as Reimer’s immediate removal as Student Council representative.

“Erich Reimer openly disrespectfully displayed his joy through Facebook when DREAMers was denied CIO status an hour after voting — even before we were officially notified,” the petition reads.

On Friday, Reimer emailed second-year College student Paola Sanchez Valdez, a member of DREAMers, and formally apologized, according to an online statement from Student Council. He said his comment was inappropriate and implied his vote was solely based on his political views.

“Student Council should not be affected by partisan biases rather than what is good and right for the students at the University as a whole,” Reimer said. “In the future, my work for the Law School community and the greater University community will reflect this.”

According to the DREAMers’ petition, his apology did not reassure the organization. Reimer said he had no further comment on the matter.

On Sunday, Student Council posted a public statement on its website, which promised to update its website and work toward more transparency in the future.

“We contacted DREAMers leadership last week to follow up on the vote, explaining that it’s not abnormal for CIOs to be delayed approval to allow for questions to be asked about the proposed constitution or membership of the applicant,” the statement reads. “There were failures in communication leading up to the vote on March 22, but we have done our best to remedy those in the past week.”

The statement also referenced Reimer’s statement, calling it “insensitive and polarizing.”

“We do not believe that one view, hastily written in partisan fueled enthusiasm, is reflective of our organization or of the general student body,” the statement reads. “Let this not divide us but rather unite us towards a common goal: a more inclusive, more diverse, and more welcoming University.”

The DREAMers said they were “nothing less than disappointed in this response,” according to a post on its Facebook page.

On March 28, members of Student Council and DREAMers met and released a joint statement, following a meeting Sunday.

“This past week has admittedly been filled with a great deal of emotion, confusion and frustration from Student Council, DREAMers and their Allies, and other members of the University regarding the DREAMer’s [sic] bill that came before council last Tuesday evening and failed to pass,” the joint statement reads.

The joint statement said the two groups “have reached a point of greater stability and understanding on both ends.”

Student Council apologized for for lack of communication for the DREAMers and noted that they were slow to respond as they were following CIO approval protocol.

“CIO Bills sometimes require a re­vote to allow the CIO application representative to answer questions for the [Student Council] Representative body, which was not information clearly conveyed,” the joint statement reads. “Members of DREAMers who had submitted the CIO status were not kept consistently informed of the progress of the bill, nor were they given adequate time to find a member of their organization to attend the Student Council meeting and address any concerns.”

The joint statement said Student Council’s bill approval process “isn’t well-understood by most individuals or groups outside of the organization” and that Student Council failed to communicate with the DREAMers.

“[Student Council] recognizes its need to both apologize for sparking the frustrations of this past week as well as to amend several procedural elements of the judicial process,” the joint statement reads.

Moving forward, the joint statement said both groups are “now collaborating to outline a plan for positive developments in the CIO application process to improve both this bill hearing and those in the future.”

Suggestions for improving the CIO bill process listed in the statement include encouraging representatives of CIO applications to attend the meeting when his or her CIO is being voted on, allowing people to submit their own summaries of CIO bills and notifying groups about final CIO approval decisions more quickly.

The joint statement also noted that in order to speed up the CIO approval process, Student Council recently updated its bylaws so CIOs can be voted on each week instead of every two weeks.

“From conflict, to communication, and now to collaboration … Student Council and the DREAMers look forward to working with one another in the years to come,” the joint statement concludes.

Student Council and DREAMers on Grounds will meet in the Newcomb South Meeting Room at 6:30 p.m. March 29 to re-vote on granting the group CIO status.

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