SA members refine fall priorities in light of online classes, ongoing pandemic

Media Credit: File Photo by Arielle Bader | Assistant Photo Editor

Student Association leaders say they're pushing administrators on issues like a graduate student tuition cut and Pass/No Pass classes for the fall semester in response to the unprecedented pandemic.

In early March, Student Association candidates were running campaigns on platform promises to implement a campus accessibility director and update the Student Code of Conduct.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic landed in the District.

The candidates, elected during the initial weeks of online learning last semester, said they needed to alter their goals for the academic year in light of the health crisis. Elected SA leaders said moving forward this fall, they will push officials to ease students’ transition to online classes, urging for a Pass/No Pass grading scale and increased transparency in officials’ decision-making.

“There’s also really no roadmap for what we’re doing at the moment,” SA Executive Vice Brandon Hill said. “All the past executive vice presidents, all the presidents, have had someone to rely on and someone to ask for.”

Hill said the SA is often “pretty quiet” during the summer while members focus on transitioning into their roles, but the unprecedented pandemic and civil unrest across the country prompted the full senate to meet twice and hold five senate workshops and all SA committees to meet twice via Zoom.

SA leaders held virtual office hours and promised to hold discussions about police brutality and racial injustice following demonstrations worldwide. They also pressed administrators to issue a GW Police Department climate survey.

Hill added that the pandemic has brought to light “some inequalities” in student aid, prompting officials to waive late fees and clarify financial aid packages this fall.

Administrators, Hill and SA President Howard Brookins held two virtual town halls last week after dozens of students said their recalculated financial aid packages stated they would pay more to attend GW online than if they were on campus.

Brookins said SA leaders spoke with University President Thomas LeBlanc earlier this month about reducing tuition for graduate students and recent staff layoffs as a result of the pandemic, which Brookins said LeBlanc was “very resistant to” discussing. The SA created two email campaigns earlier this month directed at Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights to reduce student tuition for graduate students and resist faculty layoffs in light of the pandemic.

“The level of lack of care for these individuals who were once part of the GW community and worked diligently to ensure that GW was a great place were just left out to dry,” he said. “And we continue to fight these layoffs and make sure that staff have some type of support system.”

SA Sen. Charles Aborisade, U-at-Large and the chair of the finance committee, said he spent the summer communicating with student organizations about their financial operations for the upcoming year.

The finance committee – the body that oversees funding requests for all student organizations, distributing roughly $1.7 million through fall and spring allocations – mandated earlier this month that all student organizations resubmit their requests for funding after officials announced the fall semester will be held virtually late last month.

He said the finance committee is “restricted” on the amount of funds it can give to student organizations for this year’s allocations so he advises groups to “thoughtfully” create funding plans before submitting them to the SA so the committee can more easily allocate funds.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize, but finance is one of the most important committees, especially when it comes to student life and how organizations are going to be operating,” Aborisade said.

George Glass, the SA’s vice president for financial affairs, said the finance committee communicated with officials like Natalie Hershberger, the assistant director of experiential learning and leadership, to create an updated plan for the committee to reallocate money after officials announced that students won’t return this fall. He said officials informed the finance committee to cut student organization allocations by 10 percent of the overall budget.

He said one of the largest costs the finance committee reviews are requests for food and venue expenses, but after the fall semester moved online, organizations switched their events from in-person setups to hosting virtual speakers for their members.

The committee reviewed more than 215 funding requests earlier this month for virtual events that student organizations have planned, compared to last spring’s roughly 350 requests, Glass said.

“We’re just trying to make sure that we’re coordinated as possible for when we are getting these requests,” Glass said. “I think we’re more prepared now.”

Lauren Sforza contributed reporting.

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