Law school senators pass bill on absence policy, approve charter for student newspaper

The Student Bar Association passed a resolution Tuesday commending the body’s leadership for its role in assisting students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senators approved several pieces of legislation at the senate’s final meeting of the academic year as leadership and senators for next academic year were sworn in. SBA Sen. Nima Youchidje said at the meeting that SBA President Damilola Arowlaju and other leaders have demonstrated effective leadership amid the pandemic by reaching out to community members affected by the virus and gathering their concerns to build suggestions for a path moving forward.

Youchidje said SBA leaders have kept administrators informed about issues affecting the student body and developed a “resource portal” for students to easily access information and stay updated on the evolving situation.

“We just wanted to applaud the president, his cabinet, the executive vice president, her team, President-elect Jackie Fisher and all others for their unprecedented leadership, working hard for the student body,” Youchidje said.

The senate unanimously approved a bill to reallocate any funding unused by June 29 in the C Fund, which contains money allocated to student organizations through the annual budgeting process, toward financial support to first-generation and low-income students and students with disabilities facing “unforeseen circumstances.”

Senators also unanimously passed a resolution to urge law school officials to make permanent changes to policies regarding absences and classroom recording that administrators crafted as part of their initial response to the pandemic.

The changes include recording all non-clinic courses by default, allowing professors to make recordings available to all students, permitting professors to excuse absences without supporting documents and encouraging students who feel sick to not attend class, according to the bill.

SBA Sen. Austin Szabo, who presented the joint resolution, said senators had requested these changes before the pandemic began to improve classroom accessibility. GW Law regulations require graduate students to attend in-person classes to obtain a letter grade, and excuses for non-attendance include proof of serious illness or injury to the current dean.

“The school relaxed its rules because of COVID-19 and inadvertently did exactly what we’ve been asking them to do all this time,” he said. “So all this resolution does is say, ‘Let’s just keep it this way, now that you’ve shown that you can make this change.’”

Szabo presented another resolution, which the senate unanimously passed, to prescribe “best practices” for law professors teaching rape law to reduce the chance of recalling trauma in survivors and other students. The resolution lists 10 suggestions, like reminding students to be “considerate” when sharing opinions on the subject and discussing the legal definition of consent, and calls for faculty to discuss and implement the suggestions by spring 2021.

Szabo said Darion Johnston, a 1L and rape survivor, proposed the resolution. Johnston said she was “devastated” when one of her professors did not “meaningfully” discuss consent in her class and felt her concerns about how rape law was being taught were “completely dismissed.”

“I really struggled to focus in class because I thought that GW was teaching the next generation of attorneys to shame and blame victims,” she said.

Johnston said the resolution’s recommendations have been discussed in the legal field for more than 25 years and are mostly simple fixes.

“Most can be accomplished within five minutes before class, priming students for difficult discussion and making some minor changes to a syllabus,” she said. “To the extent the resolution asks faculty to reconsider their teaching content, it does so in a manner consistent with what we would expect at any law class.”

The senate unanimously passed a bill to create a new branch of the SBA called Student Enrichment Services. The newly created vice president of student enrichment services will be responsible for providing programming and services for minority, disadvantaged and underrepresented students, according to the bill.

SBA Vice President of Student Affairs Dustin Wyrnick said he oversaw a pilot version of the program version this past year after Arowlaju, the SBA president, requested its creation.

“This bill is the official enshrining of the SES as a permanent institution within the SBA, and I find it to be necessary and a positive step that needs to happen to fill many of the blind spots that the SBA currently has,” Wyrick said.

The senate also approved the charter for the creation of a law school student newspaper called Nota Bene.

SBA Supreme Court Associate Judge Evan Pentz read a decision of the court that SBA Bylaw 411(B) placed an unconstitutional limit on the president’s veto power and thus declared the Chief Compliance Officer Act null and void. The senate originally passed the bill at the last scheduled meeting of the 2018-19 academic year, according to the decision.

The bylaw required the president to issue a veto on an act by the senate before the end of the meeting in which it was passed, a stricter standard than that enshrined in the SBA Constitution’s provision, which allows the president to veto any act within seven days of its passage, according to the Constitution.

The senate also unanimously passed a resolution expressing appreciation to the members of the SBA for the 2019-20 academic year at the conclusion of their terms, before new members were sworn in.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.