Student Council president reflects on achievements of administration, speaks on future goals

Fourth-year College student Alex Cintron talks about his term in office

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Alex Cintron, Student Council president and a fourth-year College student, said while he feels that Student Council has been able to achieve many of its goals under his administration, there is still work left to be done before a new administration assumes power in April. 

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Alex Cintron, Student Council president and a fourth-year College student, discussed the progress of a number of initiatives that Student Council has been working on during the past several months — including minority student group activism, implementing free menstrual hygiene products at the University and the recently-established student police advisory board. 

“I remember coming into my office last semester, forming my cabinet and looking at the items we had on our platform and saying, ‘Wow this is a lot of stuff,’” Cintron said. 

Cintron reflected on the fact that his campaign platform included several big-ticket items — many of which he feels have been achieved or are currently being undertaken — including increasing law enforcement transparency and accountability on Grounds, as well as fostering better, more productive relationships with minority student groups and University administration. 

Minority student group activism 

As the first Latinx Student Council president at the University, Cintron said he has been able to have conversations and build relationships with U.Va. administrators and minority student leaders in a way that may have been more difficult under previous administrations.

“I think in many ways I feel as if I’m empowered to not follow all the rules,” Cintron said. “I feel as if I don’t … have to talk to administrators in the way that they’ve always been talked to — I can be up-front. I can be real.” 

Cintron said Student Council has prioritized outreach to minority communities at the University since his administration began last April by frequently holding meetings with leaders of minority student organizations to discuss ways to improve the minority student experience at the University. 

More specifically, Cintron cited the liberalization of Student Council’s policy regarding the Student Activities Fee last August as a means for increasing funding and support for multicultural organizations. The SAF funding policy now allows student groups to use Student Council funding to purchase food for event when it contributes to their mission or mission statement. 

SAF funds are drawn from the Student Activities Fee, a $50 semesterly fee that each student pays to support Student Council’s funding of Contracted Independent Organizations. The Student Council annual 2018-2019 budget allocates $3,000 of SAF funds and $3,000 of non-SAF funds to Executive and Administrative Operations for discretionary purposes. About $52,000 of the total $72,000 budget consists of SAF funding — almost $19,000 of which funds student organizational support, including the Student Activities Center. 

Cintron also cited Student Council’s backing of the Asian Leadership Council’s report on academic reform — released in October and titled “We Are Not Invisible” — and the “Our University to Shape” proposal, which was released by the Latinx community, also in October. The “Our University to Shape” proposal calls on the administration to admit more Hispanic and Latinx students, provide Hispanic and Latinx students with necessary support and offer translated financial aid documents, among other things. 

“I think there’s been a very coalitional aspect between myself and other minority student leaders, which has been effective and good in terms of the policy,” Cintron said. “I really want to think of my presidency as focusing on minority communities — what can we do to think about theses marginalized communities? What can we think about minority students, and how can we best make sure that they succeed at this University?”

Student Council co-sponsored the proposal, along with 18 other Hispanic and Latinx and Hispanic/Latinx-serving organizations, including the Latinx Student Alliance, the Latinx Leadership Institute and Latinx sorority Sigma Lambda Upsilon. Cintron added that Student Council members have had multiple conversations with representatives of the organizations and University administration with regards to implementing the proposal. 

Cintron added that, while many members of Student Council under previous administrations have had good intentions, they have failed to effectively challenge the institutional and systemic barriers minority students face at the University. 

“I've taken stock of being the first Latinx Student Council president,” Cintron said. “I'm trying to take this opportunity to think about what ways can we best capitalize on this moment with the ‘Our University to Shape’ proposal.” 

Free menstrual hygiene

Student Council’s Safety and Wellness Committee, chaired by second-year College student Katie Kirk, partnered with Madison House and the Inter-Sorority Council this past semester to supply Newcomb Hall and library bathrooms with around 2,000 free menstrual hygiene products in an effort to demonstrate the need to University administration for such free products around Grounds. Student Council contributed about $1,500 of non-SAF funds for a series of trials held throughout the past semester in which products were placed in restrooms for several days and their usage was recorded until the trial ended or all of the products were used. 

Cintron said Student Council has been coordinating with University administration to implement free menstrual hygiene products in restrooms across Grounds by the start of the 2019 fall semester. 

Kirk previously told The Cavalier Daily in September that Student Council planned to approach the University’s Board of Visitors after the trials were completed to request funding for the permanent placement of free menstrual hygiene products in restrooms around Grounds. 

However, Kirk said in October that Student Council was cooperating with Facilities Management to produce a budget for the initiative and work out the logistics of implementing it. 

Cheryl Gomez, the director of the Energy and Utilities Department, said in October that Facilities Management would ultimately be in charge of executing this initiative for the University, but added that funding for it would have to come from outside of Facilities Management. 

University Spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said in an email that the University has calculated “an estimate of the installation and cost” for the implementation of the initiative and added that administration “is continuing to evaluate the potential for the project and how it might be funded.” De Bruyn did not provide any specific numbers regarding the estimate or confirm the fall 2019 implementation timeline for the initiative. 

However, Cintron said he was optimistic about the possibility of the University ultimately allocating funding for the initiative.

“We thought it was going to take a few years to even get to the point where it was going to happen,” Cintron said.

Student Police Advisory Board

The Student Police Advisory Board was created by Student Council under the leadership of Cintron and Kirk — Kirk now serves as one of two co-chairs for the 19-member advisory board, along with third-year College student Priscilla Opoku-Yeboah. The Police Advisory Board has been tasked by Student Council with facilitating communication between the University community and the University Police Department and to advise the department on student concerns. 

The body held its first meeting Nov. 28, where the it initiated discussion about how the installation of the program can facilitate engagement between students and the UPD.

The meeting was structured as a conversation among the student board members, along with officials from the UPD and Gloria Graham, the University’s associate vice president of Safety and Security. Graham shared her vision for the advisory board to serve as a comprehensive representation of students’ safety interests.

The students on the advisory board were chosen from an applicant pool by Student Council’s 10-person Selections Committee. The committee was chaired by Kirk and included representatives from minority student groups such as the Minority Rights Coalition, the Black Student Alliance, the Latinx Student Alliance, the Queer Student Union and the Jewish Leadership Council.

Cintron said the main challenge of forming the Police Advisory Board was trying to include as many different student groups’ viewpoints as possible.

During a Student Council meeting in October, UPD Chief Tommye Sutton — who was present at the body’s first meeting — described his plan to improve the relationship between UPD and students. The plan includes increasing police transparency, engaging with the students on Grounds and including students in the hiring process for future UPD officers. 

UPD has faced criticism from students and community members within the past year for its lack of response to the white supremacist demonstrations of Aug. 11, 2017 near the Rotunda, as documented in an independent review by Tim Heaphy, a former U.S. Attorney and current University Counsel. UPD was also criticized by community members this past August for a large massing of police personnel near the Academical Village during a U.Va. Students United rally at Brooks Hall. 

Looking Forward

As the current Student Council looks to the remainder of its term for the spring semester, which transitions to a new administration in April following University wide elections earlier in the spring, Cintron said there are a number of initiatives which the body aims to further prioritize and focus on — including a living wage at the University, gender-neutral student housing, increasing minority representation at the University and lobbying the General Assembly during its upcoming legislative session.

While there are currently no concrete plans in place, Cintron said he wanted the Student Council to “use whatever political muscle it actually has to influence the conversation” with regards to implementing a living wage for employees at the University. Cintron added that he has already begun conversations with University administrators regarding the issue. 

At its last meeting of the fall 2018 semester, Student Council passed a resolution in support of the Living Wage Campaign at U.Va., which stated that Student Council will lobby the University to pay a living wage to all of its employees.

The campaign has existed at the University since 1998 and stands as the longest-running unsuccessful wage campaign at a collegiate institution, according to Ariana Delaurentis, a representative of the group. Successful living wage campaigns include those at Harvard University and Georgetown University — which achieved their goals in 2016 and 2005, respectively.

However, while Cintron said public statements in support of the campaign are important, he added that Student Council must go further in its efforts to make its goals a reality. 

“I really want to think about how can we effectively approach the issue,” Cintron said. “We need to make those public statements, but what we also need to do is find other avenues to materially do something. Just saying something isn't enough. It is the start, but you also need to start doing things.” 

Currently, the University pays workers a minimum wage of $12.38, while Aramark, the provider for University dining services, pays employees $10.65. Meanwhile, according to a MIT’s living wage calculator — which estimates the living wage needed to support individuals and families based on the cost of basic necessities — a living wage in Charlottesville stands at $12.02 for a single adult or $16.95 for a family of four in which both parents work. 

However, University President Jim Ryan has established a community working group with the aim of improving the relationship between the University and the local community. While the group is not specifically instructed to examine living wage, members of the group and Ryan have expressed interest in including the issue in a recommendation report, expected to be released in February.

Cintron also said an issue of longtime personal importance for him is the expansion of gender-neutral or open student housing at the University, in which students are able to reside in dorms with each other regardless of one’s gender identity. 

Housing and Residence Life has offered an open housing option for upperclass students since the 2015-2016 academic year in which individuals can request a roommate independent of one’s gender identity. However, the option is currently only offered at certain upperclassmen apartment complexes and graduate student housing units — including Bice, Copeley, Faulkner, Lambeth and Brandon Avenue residences. 

Cintron said he was hopeful that ongoing conversations and relationship building with University administration regarding a variety of issues during the past several months would aid in implementing many of Student Council’s upcoming initiatives. 

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