Student Council passed legislation condemning the University’s role in the "Unite the Right" rally in Aug. 11 and 12, 2017 and created a Capital Campaign Ad-Hoc Committee during its general body meeting Tuesday. The representative body also tabled legislation to amend its fall budget.
Student Council announces successful insurance grant negotiations
Abel Liu, president of Student Council and fourth-year College student, announced Student Council’s ongoing lobbying efforts for health insurance grants for low-income students have been successful. Per a statement issued by Student Council’s executive board Thursday evening, the University will be launching a four-year pilot program for the Aetna Student Health Plan. The program will provide grants to an estimated 270 to 320 uninsured, undergraduate students from low-income households at an initial estimated cost of up to $1 million each year beginning in fall 2022.
“This approved policy has extraordinary implications,” the executive board said. “Low-income undergraduate students will no longer be forced to circumvent the University’s insurance requirement as a tragic financial necessity. For the first time, all undergraduate students at the University will actually have the security and dignity of being insured.”
Student Council advocated for the grants in collaboration with Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society at the University. Efforts included a formal resolution calling for a portion of the University’s proposed tuition increase to subsidize insurance grants and direct meetings with University President Jim Ryan and Provost Liz Magill.
“It’s definitely a huge win,” said Liu. “All low-income students will now have insurance and no low-income students will graduate with $13,000 in insurance [loans].”
The program aims to curb financial challenges posed by the University’s requirement that all students not enrolled in health insurance pay for the University's Aetna Student Plan, which cost $3,148 this year.
“Student Council is proud to announce the conclusion of these negotiations but will continue to lobby for the implementation of a permanent, expanded insurance grant program,” the executive board said.
Representative body condemns lack of support for survivors of Aug. 11 and 12, 2017
During legislative session, the representative body unanimously passed FR 21-24, a resolution that condemned the University’s lack of support for survivors of Aug. 11 and 12, when several hundred white supremacists marched to the Rotunda with torches. The following day, the “Unite the Right” rally left 32-year old Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer dead and 19 others injured. A civil lawsuit brought by nine plaintiffs recently ordered organizers of the rally to pay over $25 million in damages.
FR21-24 was sponsored by Liu, Rep. Gabriela Hernandez, chair of the representative body and third-year College student, Rep. Tichara Robertson, second-year College student and chair of external affairs, Tyler Busch, second-year College student and chair of community concerns, second-year College student Rep. Christian Ephriam, third-year Batten student Rep. Lara Arif and Hongjia Yang, second-year College student and undergraduate representative for international students.
The resolution calls for University administration to address its complacency in the events through a written formal apology to impacted parties and to give $1 million directly to the plaintiffs of the civil trial and survivors more generally. Finally, the resolution also calls on Student Council to donate $700 in total to support the plaintiffs and other survivors and urges the student body to donate money as well.
The legislation cites emails from Sullivan and the UPD that indicate administration was aware of the plan for the march as early as Aug. 8. Hernandez said this demonstrates administration was aware of the events multiple days before their occurrence, despite claims by then-University president Teresa Sullivan. Sullivan had said that the University did not know in advance that protestors would be marching on Grounds.
Hernandez also said there were inconsistencies in the University’s promotion of free speech with respect to these events and with expressions of free speech by marginalized students. Specifically, Hernandez referred to the new restrictions instituted on Lawn room residents this year following the controversial calls for removal of residents’ signage last year.
“It’s frustrating to see how the University administration defends these protests by citing the University’s commitment to free speech,” Hernandez said. “The University grants this freedom to people so that they can yell anti-Semetic and racial chant slurs [at] people, but when marginalized students attempt to speak on the wrongdoings the University has committed and call them out, they’re silenced.”
Hernandez acknowledged the statement University President Jim Ryan released Nov. 24 in support of the alumni who came forward as plaintiffs in the trial, but also called on Ryan to recognize that two of the defendants who planned the rallies — Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler — were also University alumni.
In regards to the monetary compensation demanded by the resolution, Hernandez cited plaintiff and survivor testimonies during the trial that highlighted the continued financial, mental and emotional hardship faced by survivors as well as recent large financial commitments made by the University to other programs.
“One million is one percent of the $100 million budget needed for the newly-founded democracy initiative,” said Hernandez. “If [the University] truly wants to embody its professed values of democracy and equity, we need to support those who showed up against hate on Aug. 11 to 12.”
Following a $50 million gift from alumni Martha and Bruce Karsh, the University is investing a total of $100 million to study, teach and promote democracy through the establishment of the Karsh Institute of Democracy.
Liu also highlighted the implications of the University acknowledging its contextual and historical role in the rally, noting that the University was one of the first universities in the South to fly the Confederate flag during the Civil War.
“There’s a very deep history of the symbolism that came up at the rally,” said Liu. “So I think that beyond even the immediate action that led to some of this violence on the part of the University, we have to acknowledge and make material reparations and to start repairing the longer historical arc of this [University] as a catalyst for the rally.”
Student Council creates Capital Campaign Ad-Hoc Committee
The representative body also unanimously passed FB 21-22, which established a Capital Campaign Ad-Hoc Committee that will support the creation of a $5 million endowment for the Support and Access Services Branch. The Support and Access Services branch was approved in a constitutional referendum in March 2021 and provides direct resources and services to students through grants and funding for needs including food and basic resources, textbooks and mental health services.
“This branch supports students with material rights and resources that improve their quality of life in ways that the University should be taking on,” Liu said. “And as such, we should have substantial resources to support these services outside of just a surplus in student fees.”
The committee will be led by Liu, Ceci Cain, vice-president of administration and third-year Batten student, Jaden Evans, director of finance and third-year College student and Adrian Mamaril, third-year Commerce student and chief of Support and Access Services. The committee will raise the funds in collaboration with the University Office of Advancement and fundraising teams.
Since the beginning of this administration, Support and Access Services has provided over $275,000 in resources directly to students and an additional $100,000 in private support through its U.Va. Mutual Aid program, which raises funds to provide assistance directly to students in need at the University.
Representative body tables bill to amend fall budget
The representative body tabled a bill that would have amended its fall budget and will instead vote on at the general body meeting next Tuesday.
The bill proposes that Student Council allocate $14,260 towards three different initiatives – $2,500 in student activity fee funding towards CIO Consultants, $10,000 towards the Diversity Engagement Agency, and $1,760 towards its AirBus Service. The allocations will be funded using the Student Council’s Student Activity Fee pool, which contains revenue from Student Activity Fees and the Student Council’s COVID carryover from 2020-21.
“This budget amendment just makes a few changes to our fall 2021 budget, which was historic in its size and nature,” said Liu. “It utilized hundreds of thousands of dollars of student activity fees for very meaningful causes and we want to continue that by expanding on the few things that students care about the most.”
The Diversity Engagement Agency aims to support CIOs that support marginalized communities at the University. To date, the agency has distributed $11,000 in grant funding to CIOs which support marginalized students.
“We’re proposing increasing this by another $10,000 tonight and our goal is really to close the gap in allocations and appropriations to non-marginalized CIOs and CIOs for marginalized students,” said Liu. “Right now, the funding distribution outcomes are not equitable.”
The funding allocated towards CIO Consultants will support an initiative to make the Spring Activities Fair free for all participating CIOs. The 2022 spring activities fair is currently scheduled for Friday, Jan. 28 in Newcomb Hall and registration currently costs $20 per half-table.
The $1,760 allocation proposed for the Airbus Service will support the expansion of the bus fleet for transportation over winter break. Airbus is a Student Council initiative that provides low-cost transportation from the University to Dulles International Airport and Richmond International Airport. The service previously offered transportation for 400 students over Thanksgiving break.
In an executive update to the council, Mamaril said the service still has about 60 tickets available for transportation to Dulles for Dec. 12, but is currently sold out of tickets for Dec. 17. There are still tickets available for transportation to Richmond.
Student Council meetings take place every Tuesday in the Newcomb Hall South Meeting Room and students can attend in-person or virtually. Next week will be the last regular meeting of the semester.
This article has been updated to reflect more recent Support and Access Services funding totals.