SA Senate calls for more student relief in wake of COVID-19 at first virtual meeting

The Student Association Senate passed a resolution Monday calling on officials to provide greater financial relief for students impacted by the transition to online classes.

In the senate’s first virtual meeting since students were told to leave campus, senators asked the University to provide funding for students financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Senators said the resolution follows a petition launched late last month that urges the University to refund half of students’ tuition. 

“There are a lot of students who pay their own way through tuition whether you’re an undergraduate or a graduate student,” said SA Sen. Thomas Falcigno, G-at-Large and the sponsor of the resolution. “There are a lot of students that have been furloughed or dismissed from their line of work because of the pandemic and are experiencing financial hardship at this time.”

Officials transitioned all classes to online teaching last month for the remainder of the spring semester and announced last week that all summer courses will move to an online format to mitigate the threat of novel coronavirus.

But Falcigno added that the SA must also be mindful of repercussions, like a possible lack of financial support for professors, should students request too much money back from the University.

“I think it is important to recognize the University also does need to sustain programming and sustain the ability to run classes in future semesters,” he said.

University President Thomas LeBlanc said at a Faculty Senate meeting Friday that GW will potentially lose about $25 million from expenses related to COVID-19. 

The senate unanimously passed a bill to allow co-sponsorship funds – money granted to student organizations for mid-semester events – to be reallocated as emergency money. In a separate resolution, senators also called for the redistributed co-sponsorship funds to be used to support students’ airfare for international travel home. 

The SA Senate also passed a bill that requires the finance committee to not provide funding for student organizations that would be used to purchase single-use plastic silverware. SA Sen. Ashli Farfan, MISPH-G and a sponsor of the bill, said SA funds should be allocated to purchase reusable plates and utensils so student groups can rent the supplies from the SA.

“In my eye, this is the first step to a plastic-free campus because I know there are already a few campuses across the nation that are already plastic free,” Farfan said.

But multiple senators said the possibility of dirty tableware being returned after use could jeopardize students’ health, especially those with life-threatening allergies. The bill passed 19-9-3 after SA Sen. AJ Link, Law-G, proposed an amendment that the SA will fund compostable tableware.

“So really all this bill is saying is that we will not buy plastics, but if an organization does find compostables, we will fund that,” Link said.

The senate passed a bill almost unanimously to require the senate to approve all SA surveys before they are released to the student body. Nicole Cennamo, the SA’s chief of staff who endorsed the legislation, said the bill will ensure students are not overwhelmed with too many surveys. 

“This act is to help ensure each survey we are putting out is intentional and has the consent of the senate behind it and in a resolution, people are able to justify the reasoning for the survey,” she said.

Cennamo added a survey released last year gauging the affordability of classroom clickers received more than 800 responses, but a survey sent to students about textbook affordability released this year received “only” 330 responses.

The senate also passed a bill requiring that members of the governance and nominations committee evaluate every SA project three years after it is approved. SA Sen. Alice Chang, ESIA-U, said the bill will ensure the SA can evaluate what projects are “working and what is not.”

“We should be able to adapt to our resources and channel our energy into funding according to adopted needs and circumstances,” Chang said.

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