The Collegian
Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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RCSGA disaffiliates in support of Black Student Coalition

<p>Whitehurst is the central administrative building for RCSGA and home to student housing.</p>

Whitehurst is the central administrative building for RCSGA and home to student housing.

Editor’s Note: The Collegian applied for SOBAC funding; this relationship does not determine The Collegian’s coverage in any capacity. This is a developing story.

The Richmond College Student Government Association voted to disaffiliate in support of the University of Richmond Black Student Coalition’s Statement on Black Student Welfare,  AJ Polcari, senior and former president of RCSGA, said.  

The vote comes almost two years after RCSGA and the Westhampton Government Association released a joint resolution calling for UR to change the names of then-Freeman and Ryland halls, citing Douglas Southall Freeman and Robert Ryland’s links to white supremacy. 

Polcari called an emergency meeting on March 21 to cast the vote to suspend operations of RCSGA indefinitely, he said. He decided to call the meeting after the Board of Trustees released a statement on March 17 saying it would not rename Mitchell-Freeman and Ryland halls, which prompted the UR Black Student Coalition to move its deadline for disaffiliation to March 25 from its former date in April. 

“I was disappointed because, in my opinion, the [board’s] letter was very dry,” Polcari said. “It didn't have much emotion to it. It didn't have a lot of compassion to it either, to be quite honest, or any type of understanding of what the Black Student Coalition was pushing, and for what, now, the majority of this school is pushing for, including faculty.”

Katiana Isaac — a first-year student, member of the Black Student Coalition and WCGA class of 2024 senator — answered questions about disaffiliation at the RCSGA meeting. 

“I didn't want it to come to disaffiliation,” Isaac said in the RCSGA meeting. “But because we're contributing to unpaid labor, and I'm putting in my time for an institution; if that institution is going against the values...which is fostering an inclusive community where all students feel welcomed, as a Black woman I do not feel welcomed. And those do not align with the values that the university has mentioned time and time again, and wanting to create an environment that’s inclusive, that’s welcoming. 

“And I can say that walking past the signs to Mitchell-Freeman — that wouldn't be something that would ever make me feel included or welcomed.”

The 105th RCSGA body’s vote to disaffiliate extends past its tenure, which would have been until March 23. Last night’s vote extends disaffiliation until the 106th body votes by a two-thirds majority to reinstate operations, Polcari said. 

“We're able as the 105th body to kind of put some teeth in it where it's like, ‘Okay, we're not only just disbanding for a week or week and a half,’” Polcari said. “We set a pretty high threshold for the body to return.”

Anthony Lawrence, the current president of RCSGA, will decide when the meeting to cast the vote will occur, Lawrence said. The next step for RCSGA will be to evaluate campus culture and how to learn how to tend to students’ needs under disaffiliation, Lawrence said. 

While disaffiliated, RCSGA will not hold meetings, pass resolutions, or hold events, but it will still be an outlet for students to share their concerns, Lawrence said. 

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The vote to disaffiliate required the approval of a two-thirds majority among the voting members of RCSGA.

Junior and speaker Nikhil Mehta cast the deciding vote in a move that was unconventional but constitutional, according to the RCSGA Constitution. Although the speaker does not traditionally vote in body meetings, because Mehta was selected as senator for the class of 2022, he is allowed to vote.

“Two years ago we were telling [the Board of Trustees], ‘Hey, students on campus want this to happen,’” Mehta said. “Long story short, it feels like they broke their promise to listen to the students and work with us on these issues.”

To Mehta, president Ronald Crutcher’s email to the UR community on March 17 announcing the board’s decision to not rename Mitchell-Freeman and Ryland halls disregarded students’ opinions, he said.

“We felt like they were just ignoring the students and telling us to go back to class,” Mehta said.

Before passing the vote to disaffiliate, some members of RCSGA raised their concerns about it, specifically funding for organizations, the ability to tend to other student concerns and the board’s perception of the vote.

Student organizations depend on the Student Organization Budget Appropriations Committee to receive funding, a committee that conducts an annual review of the use of funds given to UR-recognized organizations and gives approval for the following school year’s funds, according to its website. Junior Kevin Spear, who is a member of the committee, said he was concerned about cutting off funding for organizations that serve marginalized groups of students. 

After voting to disaffiliate, RCSGA voted to preemptively approve the SOBAC recommendations to allocate funding. 

“It was absolutely in our purview to do that because of the adjournment,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence trusts Spear to fairly allocate funds to student organizations, he said.

Senior Kevin Villagomez said the vote to disaffiliate would neglect the duty the senators have to their constituents. 

“This body exists as an agency and sort of a catalyst for change,” he said in the meeting. “So to just say that we're going to stop doing it, puts a pause on the conversation.”

Spear also questioned the ability to have a conversation with the board if RSCGA voted to disaffiliate.

“If we're going at this with the perspective that the Board of Trustees doesn't care what we think, then, I think they’ll look at us like children,” Spear said in the meeting. “I think this would be interpreted by them as perhaps another childish decision where things don't go our way so we just decide, ‘Oh, yep, that's it, We're done. We quit,’ rather than having a continued discussion.

“I think if we were one of the last operating bodies on campus to continue to have those discussions, like that would be impactful as well. I don't think it's a wrong decision to stay on.”

After the joint student government resolution was passed in 2019, Polcari was promised that when the reports from the University of Richmond Inclusive History Project were released there would be a few months of student discussions, and the board would take those discussions into consideration in the decision-making process, which didn’t happen, he said.

“The Board of Trustees has been acting childish since the day they started this process,” Polcari said in the meeting. “They've been acting like a bunch of entitled, rich, wealthy people who think they control this entire university, which in reality, they do...but part of the school is that you listen to students, and when we're told something, and they don't honor that; we can't play by those same rules.”

Once the motions to disaffiliate and preemptively approve SOBAC recommendations were passed, Polcari resigned from his position as RCSGA president and swore in Lawrence. 

“Even when we don't agree, I'm going to still tell you I love you,” Lawrence said to the attendees of the meeting after being sworn in. “Even when we don't have the same opinions, I'm going to still tell you you're my brother, you're my sister. Because that's just how I want to lead.”

Moving forward, Polcari plans to help the Black Student Coalition in any way possible, he said. He also encourages seniors to not donate money to UR during Giving Day or for the senior gift until the decision to keep the names of Mitchell-Freeman and Ryland halls is reversed. 

The Collegian will cover WCGA's response to the Black Student Coalition's request for students to disaffiliate in the coming days.

Contact news editor Jackie Llanos at jackie.llanos@richmond.edu.

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