Senate: Meal plan changes, new study spaces Project progress presented, visas discussed

THE STUDENT SENATE GATHERED for a long meeting to discuss a variety of issues, expanding on last semester’s progress on committee recommendations and petitions. review

On December 23, Grand Marshal Paul Ilori ’17 opened the Student Senate meeting with committee reports. Those reports included a recap of last semester’s efforts by the Student Life Committee chaired by Justin Etzine ‘18 and planned meeting times for Student Senate committees this semester.

Facilities and Services Committee chair Austin Miller ’17 later led a discussion of a student petition aiming to prevent Sodexo from renewing its contract for the coming academic year. Interfraternity Council representative Marvin Cosare ’18 continued the meeting by delivering a constituent report in which he announced his intent to pursue a guide to fraternity rushing for parents of students interested in Greek Life.

Following Cosare’s report, the Senate continued with voting procedures for appointments to the Union Executive Board as well as the Student Senate, beginning with Caitlin Kennedy ’20 who was elected 24-0-0 to the Union Executive Board as a Member at Large following a recommendation from the President of the Union. Following Kennedy, Majken Rasmussen ’20 was elected 24-0-0 to the same position.

The Rensselaer Union 47th Student Senate then continued to approve the Grand Marshal’s appointment of David Raab ‘19 21-0-3 to the position of Rules and Elections Committee Chair.

Following appointments, Jennifer Freedberg presented the recommendations of the Hospitality Services Advisory Committee to the Student Senate. Suggestions for the 2017-2018 school year include allowing the Create Your Own meal plan for sophomores, maintaining the 23 meal plan to allow maximum flexibility for students, and the creation of a commuter meal plan. The introduction of a new meal exchange program was also included in this year’s annual meal plan recommendations—but not implemented — which would allow students with additional meals at the end of the week to have an additional $5 in Flex to spend. The 15 meal plan will also be replaced with a 14 meal plan, but it is unclear at this time whether the minimum meal amount for incoming freshman students will be lowered from 15. Freedberg also asserted that the committee, though its recommendations continue to change annually, “has a continuing goal of increasing flexibility in meal plans and thus improving student satisfaction with dining services.”

Following Freedberg’s presentation, the Senate moved to approve the committee’s recommendations, which passed 23-0-1. Ilori ’17 also continued to remark that the approval of the recommendations only acts as an endorsement of the decision that would later be made by the Rensselaer Board of Trustees, who can choose to either accept or reject the meal plan recommendations. In response to this, the Hospitality Services Advisory Committee will begin to compile suggestions this semester with the hope of having the Senate’s approval of the recommendations before they are submitted to the Rensselaer Board of Trustees.

The Study Spaces sub-committee, a subdivision of the Student Life Committee, led Etzine, then proposed that the Senate adopt a resolution to bring informal learning areas to the ’87 gym, replacing currently unused office space with study spaces that could potentially be used by students. The proposal was the result of a collaboration between the Student Life Committee and the Rensselaer Union Business Operations Committee and passed 23-0-1.

Ilori concluded the Senate meeting with a discussion regarding a letter written by the undergraduate president of Clark University, looking to hold President Donald Trump accountable for upholding and continuing DACA, H1-B visas, and visas for international students. In response, Etzine said “There are so many proposals and dreams that our student constituents share with us on a day to day basis—I would much rather spend my time pursuing those with a much more likelihood of those happening than pursuing that [signing the letter] since the student body has made a lot less of an effort of making a difference of this “it will upset people, rustle feathers, and have no benefits to the situation. Stanford and Princeton are much more press-receiving schools than we are.”

In response, Miller stated, “I am not necessarily saying we should definitely sign it, but our students are affected by more than our school and it’s our job to voice our opinion on things that may affect our students even if they don’t affect us. We are a part of a city, we are a part of a state, we are a part of a world and we need to have stands on things other than just what’s happening on our campus.”

Ad Hoc Committee Chair C.J. Markum ’17 also offered his opinion, stating, “I don’t want to bring national politics to anything Student Senate related. Most [students] just aren’t gonna care, this is literally a waste of our time.” Graduate senator Anthony Ashley contributed, stating “it would be a shame to sign our name onto it.”

Following further discussion, the letter was not endorsed by the Student Senate due to concerns regarding the wording of the letter, as well as the relative impact of signing it.