Student Senate hears report on working group assessing U.Va.’s response to Aug. 11 and 12

Student comment period, University Guides initiative, Student Activity Fee audit also announced


Law School Dean Risa Goluboff

Sam Spreen | Cavalier Daily

The Student Senate convened for its first meeting of the year Tuesday night in Newcomb Theater to hear from Law School Dean Risa Goluboff, who is chairing the Deans Working Group assessing the University’s response to the events of the events of Aug. 11 and 12.

The Senate also heard remarks from Wes Gobar, a fourth-year College student and Black Student Alliance president, on the status of the list of demands that BSA and several other student groups are advocating for in the wake of violent white nationalist events in Charlottesville. 

Fourth-year College student Bryanna Miller, the student member of the Board of Visitors, also spoke about the new Student Comment Period which has been added to Board meetings, and third-year College student Ty Zirkle, Student Council’s vice president for organizations, announced an audit of the Student Activity Fee. 

The Student Senate meets thrice a semester to bring together student groups from across Grounds and hear proposals from students or CIOs.

“The purpose of the Student Senate is to present proposals that need to gain the support of the student body to propel them to the administration or the Board of Visitors,” Zirkle said. 

Though most Senate meetings involve a vote to decide which of the proposals student groups will lend their support to, Tuesday night’s session did not. 

“This is meant to serve as a precursory Student Senate meeting,” Zirkle said. “In the future we will be voting on what initiatives to support.”

He also introduced a committee that he said will be conducting an audit of Student Activity Fee spending this semester. 

The Student Activity Fee for the 2017-18 academic year is $50 per student and is used to support various student organizations. 

“There’s a number of aspects to this audit committee,” he said. “We’ve collected data working with the business services office.”

He said the data shows CIOs’ spending since 2007, and the committee will be breaking it down by category — such as athletic organizations, cultural organizations and service organizations. The committee will also be conducting the first-ever CIO census. 

“We are looking for high student engagement since this affects all of us,” Zirkle said. 

After Zirkle’s introductory remarks, Goluboff gave an update on the progress the Deans Working Group has made in responding to the events of Aug. 11 and 12. The group consists of deans from each of the 11 schools, along with Miller and several other administrators. 

Goluboff explained the group’s mission, breaking it down into three categories — the first of which was improving safety and security. The group, she said, had also been tasked with assessing the climate of the University community and investigating the long-term implications of the events.

Within the category of safety and security, Goluboff said the group had already made several policy recommendations and seen action on some of them. 

In the interests of safety and security, the Board of Visitors has declared the Academical Village an official facility, which will allow the University to regulate the presence of firearms there. Additionally, the University’s open flames policy will now be more strictly enforced. 

She said the group also plans reassess University policies on nonviolent demonstrations, which Goluboff said could be more complicated. She said a permitting approval process could have helped the University prepare properly for Aug. 11 and 12, but stressed the importance of preserving free speech. 

“I just want to be clear, this is not an attempt in any way to shut down nonviolent demonstrations on Grounds, especially by members of the University community,” Goluboff said. 

The second part of the group’s mission, she said, was to consider the University’s culture and climate and ensure that it is a diverse, tolerant community where all students feel comfortable. 

To that end, she said the group is conducting a culture and climate survey of the entire University. Another aspect of this goal included removing the Confederate plaques from the Rotunda, and considering the historical landscape of Grounds more generally. 

The third piece of the mission, she explained, would be to consider the long-term implications of the events for the University. 

“We are a university, so when momentous events happen in the world anywhere we should study them and we should teach about them,” she said. “I think we need to lead on this.”

Clara Carlson, a fourth-year College student, asked Goluboff after her remarks why more students are not involved in the working group. Miller is currently the only student member of the group. 

Goluboff responded, saying she did not convene the group so she couldn’t speak to its design, but assured Carlson that she’d sought out plenty of student input, and that Miller is an effective voice for students. 

Another audience member pressed the issue, asking if Goluboff, though she hadn’t convened the group, had at least asked for more students to be added to it, including those who were present during the protests. 

Goluboff said she understood the importance of those students’ input, but worried that including all affected students would make the group too large to function efficiently. 

“I get the symbolism, I really do, and I understand wanting to be heard,” she said. “My main concern is we as a working group have to do something because Aug. 11 and 12 [require] us to act.”

Following Goluboff’s presentation, Miller took the stage to brief the audience on the newly introduced Student Comment Period, which was added to the Board of Visitors meeting for the first time when they convened last week

The comment period will consist of a 20-minute section at the end of Board meetings in which two students will present their proposals. Miller went on to explain the process for applying to present during the comment period. 

“The primary way is to present to the Student Senate,” she said. “You can present a proposal you want to see go before the Board.”

She said the program was designed to facilitate communication on both sides between students and Board members. 

“Not only will they meet more students, but also you’ll be able to present your ideas in a way that's completely your own,” Miller said.

She recommended large-scale proposals as the most likely to grab the Board’s attention.

“The board is very focused on high-level, policy proposals, not necessarily the day-to-day,” she said. 

Gobar spoke next, recounting his experience with the comment period — he presented on the BSA’s demands to the Board during last week’s meeting. 

“I found it to be an especially valuable tool,” he said. “During the presentation I went through the demands and explained a lot of them, and gave context.”

Finally, third-year Engineering student Mary Boyd Crosier spoke on behalf of the University Guides Service on a new program -— the “If These Grounds Could Talk” initiative. 

“What it is, is the idea of having tours combined with a dialogue,” she said. “The goal is to have them have a context about the history of race-based discrimination in the University and Charlottesville as a whole.”

She said the initiative would involve a 45-minute tour, followed by a discussion led by Resident Advisors. She hoped the program would reach at least 400 students, but hopefully many more. She listed several purposes the program had been designed to address. 

“The first goal is to address Thomas Jefferson as a paradox,” she said. “Jefferson as the founder of our school has a conflicting legacy.”

Also included in the program’s goals, she said, are telling the stories of enslaved laborers at the University and generating awareness and dialogue surrounding the history of race-based oppression at the school. She concluded her remarks by inviting the audience to participate in the program. 

“If you are interested in taking a tour and learning about this, we’re doing special request tours,” Crosier said. 

The Student Senate will reconvene for its second meeting of the semester Tuesday, Oct. 24. 

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