SGA under fire from political organizations

By AMANDA AUBLE | February 6, 2014

The Hopkins College Democrats and the Hopkins College Republicans are protesting a recent decision by the Student Government Association (SGA) to reclassify three political groups as Advocacy and Awareness organizations, a label that renders the clubs ineligible for annual funding grants.

The Hopkins Feminists were also reclassified.

“In the past we’ve had $4,000 as our funding, and this year, we found out in the fall that we’d just have $250 like all political organizations. It was crazy. It was like a 97 percent cut,” Co-President of the Hopkins College Democrats Carrie Resnick said.

She said that the cutbacks not only came as a shock but also left her group with inadequate funds to carry out their operations.

“They didn’t tell us last year at all, so we couldn’t prepare for fundraising or anything,” Resnick said. “It was very, very sudden. Like suddenly we just did not have the money we expected to have.”

Members of the SGA said that the problem was that the three political organizations were classified incorrectly, and denied that the reclassification was a way to free up funds for other clubs.

“It wasn’t necessarily a cut. It wasn’t as much of a financial issue as a group naming issue,” SGA Executive President Alex Schupper said.

The Office of Student Life defines “Advocacy and Awareness” organizations as any group that aims to support an idea or cause, influence public policy or impact resource allocation decisions. These groups are denied annual Student Activities Commission (SAC) grants by SGA statute, but are eligible to apply for monthly grants.

According to Schupper, both the Hopkins College Republicans and the Hopkins College Democrats were actually classified as advocacy and awareness groups up until 2006, when they were reclassified as “Special Interest and Hobby” groups.

That category of clubs is defined primarily as groups that advance an interest in a specific area of knowledge and/or leisure. These organizations may sometimes advocate an issue but are supposed to distinctly refrain from promoting a social, moral or public policy agenda.

Unlike advocacy and awareness groups, funding for special interest and hobby groups does include SAC annual grants.

“In 2006, they switched over. We’re not really sure why, and our director, [Director of Student Activities Robert] Turning, isn’t sure why because he wasn’t here then either. But from 2006 to a week ago, they were not Advocacy and Awareness [groups],” Schupper said.

Recently, the SGA voted on a measure to reclassify the three groups as Advocacy and Awareness organizations, which a majority of the members felt better fit the groups’ purposes.

“We thought that based on their definitions and their political actions and causes such as the other groups in Advocacy and Awareness such as the Feminists, Voice For Choice, Voice For Life, etcetera, that they belonged in Advocacy and Awareness,” Schupper said.

Notably, the issue of inconsistent classification was prompted by a bill introduced in the SGA relating to the controversy surrounding the pro-life group Voice For Life in April of last year.

“A lot of this stems back to the Voice For Life thing,” Vice President of the JHU College Republicans Andrew Guernsey said. Guernsey is also the president of Voice for Life. “There were some students on student government who did not want to see any University funding go to Voice For Life.”

The bill that was introduced advocated cutting off all funds from groups categorized as Advocacy and Awareness, but it failed to pass.

“We were arguing that the University is a better place for free discourse when groups have some funds to advocate their positions, both sides,” Guernsey said. “That’s part of what makes the University great — free discourse.”

Despite the bill’s failure, this issue fueled the SGA’s decision to clarify political group categorization.

“I think [the change] probably has to do with other political controversies on campus, and I don’t think it’s fair that we would be punished for someone else’s controversies or funding problems,” Resnick said.

Although the new distinctions led to financial change, many SGA members contend that the funding modifications will not cause any significant damage to the groups.

“It’s not as much of a budget cut because they’re still able to allocate monthly grants and to apply for monthly grants. So they’re entitled to, in theory, as much money as they were if they applied for an annual budget. The only difference is now they are applying on a monthly basis,” Schupper said.

SGA members also say that the periodic application process also promotes firmer checks on budgetary equality.

“By leaving it to a monthly grant discussion, we can make sure that we can match them up so that they are fair,” Executive Treasurer Dylan Gorman said.

Still, on campus organizations have begun to feel the strain of tighter funding requirements.

“It has affected us a bit in so far as we have less,” Guersney said. “Having an annual budget gave us more flexibility to know how much money we have to use. In a sense [the change] makes things a little more complicated in terms of planning events. I think it’s less ideal to have a monthly budget.”

Beyond scheduling and fundraising for events, group leaders assert that the political atmosphere on campus risks being dimmed.

“I’m very upset about it,” Resnick said. “I think it’s pretty offensive to the club and to the school because political activism on campus is not super strong, and any way that [political groups’ budgets] would be cut anymore is just not great for the community.”

As a result, the Hopkins College Democrats are mounting a campaign to publicize the issue.

“We might try and do something around SOHOP sort of saying ‘if you’re coming here for Political Science or International Studies, which is obviously a big department, it might be difficult to make some of the extracurricular things because next year they told us our funding is going to be zero,’” Resnick said.

Guernsey called attention to the resultant stifling of groups’ abilities to carry out their intended purposes.

“It’s important that we be able to advocate for our beliefs without having to spend time we could be using advocating for our beliefs fundraising,” he said.

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