The University’s Presidential Senate heard and voted on two presentations: one from Divest U.Va. proposing that the University should withdraw financially from investing in fossil fuels and one from the Queer Student Union proposing an auditing commission to gather student opinions on gender-neutral housing.
The Presidential Senate consists of student leaders from 189 different organizations on Grounds. At each meeting they vote on whether to award their Presidential Seal to the causes which are presented. The QSU proposal received the seal, with 93 percent of attending members voting in favor, while Divest U.Va. did not, with only 38.1 percent voting in favor.
Third-year College student Maria DeHart and second-year College student Tom Sobolik presented on behalf of Divest U.Va.
Sobolik began the presentation by explaining the group’s mission, stating its goal is to convince the Board of Visitors to stop investing endowment money in companies that burn fossil fuels. He also emphasized the urgency of the issue.
“I’m sure a lot of you are already familiar with the climate change issue but we’re beginning to see it pop up in alarming ways,” Sobolik said. He cited several recent events including a recent New York Times article on flooding coastlines.
DeHart agreed and said the University should not be complicit in actions that harm the planet.
“It’s an important statement that the University must make,” she said of the divestment proposal. DeHart and Sobolik described difficulties in getting the BOV’s attention on the issue, and said they hoped to gain credibility with the Presidential Senate’s support.
Arts and Sciences graduate student Ben Vaughan said during the question and answer section that while he agreed with Divest U.Va.’s mission, he worried it could be counterproductive because fossil fuel companies fund research into alternative fuel sources at the University.
Vaughan said his own research into fuel cells, as well as other research efforts in clean energy, could lose funding if the University divested from fossil fuel companies.
“I think in order for us to make an informed decision on this, we need to hear from both sides,” Vaughan said.
Divest U.Va.’s proposal did not receive the senate’s approval, with 38.1 percent abstaining from the vote and 38.1 percent voting in favor — not reaching the 50 percent majority required for the Presidential Seal.
Next, third-year College students Jack Chellman and Shannon Khurana, along with second-year College student Natalie Snitzer, presented on behalf of the QSU.
Chellman explained that gender-neutral housing would begin to be implemented in all upperclassman on-Grounds housing next academic year. The QSU’s mission is to gather student opinions and get input from the University community on how best to implement gender-neutral housing.
“We believe that open housing is a fantastic idea, but that it really needs student involvement,” Chellman said.
Snitzer said a small pilot program has already begun in one building, with promising results.
“There is a pilot going on right now in Copeley with three apartments, and there have been no issues raised,” she said.
Khurana agreed the Copeley pilot has seen positive results, and said she was optimistic about the possibility of expanding gender-neutral housing beyond upperclassmen housing in future years — even possibly to the Gooch-Dillard dorms due to their suite-style structure.
“We definitely feel in QSU that we are going in the right direction,” Khurana said.
The proposal for a commission on gender-neutral housing received the Presidential Seal from the Senate, with 93 percent of members voting in favor and 7 percent against.