Updated for this week’s Student Senate meeting:
Student Senate met for its weekly meeting Thursday evening, where it passed four motions, partially meeting the deadline provided by the UNITY Roundtable at last week’s meeting.
These four motions, mutually agreed upon by both UNITY and Senate earlier this week, take steps to answer the demands and to begin the process of making UNITY a governing body.
The first motion passed will permit UNITY to become an official student organization recognized by Senate, thus beginning the first steps in becoming a governing body, one of the demands that UNITY presented last week.
The second motion that was passed was titled “Reaffirmation of UNITY’s Mission,” which acts as a written form of support from Senate to UNITY. The motion reads that Senate “strongly reaffirms the mission and commitment of UNITY Roundtable and supports their efforts to become a governing body.” Future Student Body President Thalia Anguiano commented on the motion following its passing.
“(This is) to show that we support everything that is going on and to show that Senate is supporting equity and inclusion instead of just throwing around those words,” Anguiano said.
The third motion, which was necessary to adequately fund student organizations for future years, was recommending that the student activity fee be raised. Senators recognized that this was not a popular motion to pass, but a crucial one in order to allocate sufficient funding. This motion was not directly related to UNITY’s demands, but will help Senate address the group’s concerns in future years.
The forth motion was allowing a member of UNITY to join the SFAC committee as an ex-officio liaison. This liaison will be a non-voting member, like all ex-officio positions on Senate. UNITY felt funding was unfairly cut this year, so UNITY hopes that the addition of this liaison, overseeing the funding allocation process, will help prevent unfair allocations for the future. Despite the inability to vote on SFAC motions, the liaison’s voice will be considered heavily in both SFAC and around the Senate table.
Next week, Senate will continue to address UNITY’s demands. Treasurer Trevor Matusik will be bringing a draft of next year’s annual budget, which will, as UNITY hopes, address their remaining concerns, especially financial ones.
“This is by no means the end of the conversation,” Kane said, reiterating that Senate is still working to address the remaining concerns from UNITY via the Senate working group and in conjunction with representatives from UNITY.
Five minutes after Vice President of Student Life Zach Blevins called last Thursday’s Student Senate meeting to order, representatives of the UNITY Roundtable and over 30 students supporting their demands entered the meeting space to present Senate with demands that they believe will provide “equitable and fair funding” to the multicultural organizations on campus.
“We are here because we do not like the way that Student Senate has handled the allocations of the annual budgets,” Vice President of Coalition of Black Students (CBS) Anthony Pawnell said.
This presentation followed Senate releasing budget cuts for the upcoming year in agreement with the funds Senate had to work with — over $122,000 less than last year.
The shortage of funds results from a combination of low enrollment and a stagnant activities fee, in the context of new funding requests from over 10 more organizations compared to years past.
Although all organizations received cuts, UNITY Roundtable felt that their funding was unfairly cut.
“Since we are not satisfied with the way you handled them, we have come to this meeting today to present you with our demands,” Pawnell said Thursday.
Senate has since acknowledged the depth of the demands and issues brought forth.
“We saw this as it needed to be brought up and it was brought up in an amazing way by UNITY,” Diversity Interest Senator Thalia Anguiano said. “We saw this as a need to finally have a change in the structure to make sure that equity is met amongst the student body and trying to address some of the issues that have surrounded that.”
Right now, the structure is that UNITY Roundtable is an umbrella initiative that encompasses 13 active student organizations on campus, including CBS. They are a collaboration of student leaders from multicultural and diversity organizations on campus that aim to improve inclusion.
“If you don’t support us, you can stop using words like diversity and inclusion,” Pawnell said at the meeting.
Drake University has set the goal to have 22 percent of the student body be domestic students of color by the year 2025. UNITY says cutting this funding would be detrimental to that goal.
“You can’t cut our budgets in half (and) take away events that we are trying to hold to promote and invite students like us to come here on campus,” said Carmen Vargas, treasurer of La Fuerza Latina during the Senate meeting. “How do you expect to improve that if you are doing things like this?”
La Fuerza Latina is another group included in UNITY.
UNITY says that in order to accomplish this goal, Senate needs to meet their four demands, which were distributed in a folder to each member of Student Senate, as well as widely around social media using #UNITYDrake.
Following the presentation of these demands, representatives from UNITY Roundtable further discussed why they felt making demands was necessary.
“What we have right now is not equity or equality, what we have right now is discrimination,” said Paxton Gillespie, incoming president of One Voice, Thursday.
Senators see this as an opportunity to again acknowledge the discourse these issues have presented.
“There is really no time to put this conversation off. It might be easier to prioritize more big picture issues, but this is not simply a buzzword,” senator Kevin Kane said. “This is something that is affecting students on a daily basis.”
UNITY gave Senate until April 7, the day of this Thursday’s senate meeting, to deliberate and respond to their demands, otherwise they will “take action.”
With only one week to answer, senators were left wondering, “Why the harsh deadline?”
Senior Brytani Cavil, former CBS president, responded by saying that following their cuts in funding, the organizations had only one week to appeal. That process lined up with Drake’s spring break.
Because Senate gave UNITY a short deadline, they would do the same to Senate.
“I understand why it (the deadline) is in place, but we did have seven days to do what the university and Senate have been trying to do for years,” Kane said. “… Just to have that deadline and be tasked with such a huge task was tough, but I think it also focused us. We essentially said ‘Alright, we don’t have time to mess around, we don’t have time to figure out what is best in terms of PR, we just need to figure out what works and what we can do feasibly.’”
In order to address this deadline, Senate moved to create a ‘working group’ that comprised of Senators Anguiano, Daniel Creese, Erin Griffin, Kane, Linley Sanders and current treasurer Trevor Matusik.
From there, this working group met to come up with a tangible way that Senate can address the demands.
“Sitting in the conference for five-plus hours is kind of tiresome so I think the most difficult part on top of the timeline is so many possibilities and ideas being thrown out,” Anguiano said. “Trying to figure out which one is the most sustainable, which one is the most long-term, which one is going to move everything in the direction that it should be going in.”
The group found it necessary to included Anguiano and Kane, as there were just elected as future Student Body President and future Vice President of Student Life Kane, respectively.
“Kevin and I just got elected not even a week ago, but going into this we knew that, should we have gotten elected, and we did, we wanted to change the culture of this Senate,” Anguiano said. “We have only been elected for less than a week, but it also came at a time where we can start working on some of the cultural, institutionally structural Senate changes within the Senate that we wanted to see.”
This Sunday, representatives of UNITY and the members of Senate’s working group met to address these demands.
Senate presented proposals to attempt to collaborate as much as possible with the group in working towards accomplishing the demands within the time frame provided.
“It was one of the most healthy exchange of ideas that I have ever been a part of,” Kane said. “It was really cool to hold ourselves us in a room, set a block of hours and just talk about what works and come up with in my mind a really comprehensive and thorough and sustainable plan that addresses the challenges and shortcomings that we have currently. I was really encouraged.”
Following deliberation from both groups, Senate and UNITY mutually agreed to meet yesterday evening where they discussed more intricacies with the proposals and gave UNITY the opportunity to officially respond.
“UNITY members have been in communication with the Student Senate committee since Thursday’s meeting,” said Jordan Mix, former Rainbow Union president. “Senate has presented UNITY with a counter proposal and we are working together to finalize the motions that senate has proposed.”
Senate has already addressed the fourth demand on the list by making the current proposed budget available on the Senate office door.
The results of these meetings and the future of Senate’s proposals are not yet known at the time of publication, but The TD will be updating the story on TimesDelphic.com and live on Twitter @TimesDelphic, as it develops.
A final decision could be made as soon as this Thursday night’s Senate meeting, which will be held in Cowles Library, room 201 at 9 p.m.
If UNITY accepts Senate’s proposal, Senators still do not want the collaboration between UNITY and Senate to end here.
“This is by no means the end of the conversation; this is the beginning,” Kane said. “People talk all the time addressing these big abstract problems. In doing this, I saw just how we can concretely address those and that is not something I have seen before.”
To learn about the specific budget cuts for UNITY and the rest of the student organizations and to learn how annual funding for Senate works, go to timesdelphic.com/senatebudget2016.