The Student Government Association (SGA) met on Tuesday for its weekly meeting after he University’s decision to suspend in-person classes until at least April 12 due to coronavirus.
The outbreak, which officially became a pandemic on Wednesday, will set back many of SGA’s previously scheduled events and other meetings.
SGA revisited its Sex Week bill, which proposed a themed week of events related to sexual health awareness and consent culture. Initially scheduled for early April, the event was cancelled as it overlapped with the period of time in which the University has chosen to suspend in-person classes.
Senior Class Senator Chase McAdams voiced his reservations about funding Sex Week given that there is no certainty about when students will be returning to Homewood.
“I’m personally not comfortable allocating over a thousand dollars for an event that has been cancelled via University policy,” he said. “Until we have set dates on which we can move forward, we should be allocating money to something that may happen.”
After initially agreeing with McAdams, Senior Class Senator Kahmil Shajihan decided that allocating the proposed funds immediately would be a better choice.
“Given the uncertainty around what we might have left [of the funds], it does make sense, given the work put into this, to allocate the money now and make sure that if we do have time at the end of the year that we can actually do this,” he said.
Executive President Dean Chien ultimately agreed that the event should be funded despite the uncertainty and costs, citing the event’s potential popularity.
“This would be pretty popular among the student body. This is something that would get us a lot of attention. Not every event that we could put on could have this impact,” Chien said.
With the majority agreeing that it was better to allocate funds immediately, the bill passed unanimously.
At the meeting, Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI) director Calvin Smith, Jr., who is SGA’s advisor, spoke to the group about the University’s announcement that school will resume online after spring break. This announcement, which was released on Tuesday night, came as a response to public health concerns regarding coronavirus.
Smith assured students that they would be able to return to campus if they had to after spring break.
“You don’t have to leave University housing. We recognize that there are international students. There are students that just can’t up and go home and there are people who are not leaving Baltimore for spring break,” he said.
Smith emphasized that students who do plan to return to campus prior to April 12 must register online so the school knows they are here.
Additionally, he addressed student concerns about how the University plans to compensate its workers, including its student workers.
“We just had a whole conversation today when we were told about this around how we have to make sure that if we do have student workers that we have remote work. A lot of our systems you can log in from anywhere, so they can still do the things they need to do with regard to their job,” Smith said. “[The administration is] thinking about how they’re going to address these situations on a case-by-case basis.”
The meeting moved onto a discussion with two members of the Committee on Student Elections (CSE), who answered questions on what will happen in regards to the election process for executive positions and class council, given the uncertainty how the rest of the academic year will be organized. Class council elections were halted until further notice.
CSE Chair Bahira Ahmed admitted that the suspension of the University’s in-person activities presented a significant set back to the elections.
“If you were campaigning online, we’re not really sure about the fairness of that since you’re not able to campaign in person and it’s based off of your social media following and things like that. We may have to switch into the fall,” she said.
Ahmed lamented the limited selection of candidates for certain positions.
“After seeing the [number] of people that come to info sessions, we really had high hopes that we can get a filled election because we got the same number of people in info sessions that we had in the past, and 55 percent of them were non-SGA members,” she said. “But when it came down to actually submitting petitions and things like that, people just didn’t submit them.”
SGA members speculated that student participation could be low because of the petitioning process.
This process requires students to collect 100 signatures within four days. Members of SGA theorized that students might be intimidated by the number of signatures they need to collect.
Freshman Class Senator Anthony Singleton said he believed that petitioning should not be removed from the elections process, adding that he sees petitioning as a way of increasing voter turnout and raising awareness.
“[Petitions are] a big way that people know that elections are going on,” he said.
Executive Secretary Pritika Parmar agreed with Singleton, adding that petitioning helps ensure that candidates are actually reaching out to their potential constituents.
“We are representative of the student body and if we’re not talking to at least a hundred people to run for senate or president and at least 300 for exec, that’s ridiculous,” she said. “That’s such a small portion of the student body as a whole. That’s less than 10 percent of your class. If you aren’t talking to them, I don’t think you should be on SGA.”
Parmar suggested that the relatively low number of candidates in student government races was the result of a lack of awareness about the process, arguing that students didn’t have enough knowledge about how to run.
Before discussing plans for coronavirus, SGA also discussed the implementation of an online mental health self-help resource called SilverCloud.
Matthew Torres, the executive director at the Counseling Center, spoke to SGA members about the purpose of the SilverCloud service. SilverCloud will provide mental health support and coaching for those who have mild-to-moderate symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health related problems.
Torres explained that one of SilverCloud’s major benefits was its round-the-clock accessibility.
“There were some students [who were] asking for the counselling center to be available 24/7. We’re not really able to do that, so we had to figure out a resource that could approximate that,” he said.
He stressed that the primary target audience for SilverCloud was students who may want to avoid in-person counseling or are hesitant to come to the Counseling Center.
“This is to get the students who aren’t going to come in to be able to utilize a resource,” Torres said.
SGA also passed a bill to hold a special forum between student groups and the SLI Office. This move was in response to the previous week’s SGA meeting, where student groups protested against recent policy changes for club funding.