The Collegian
Friday, June 21, 2024

Student government finance representatives resign, citing student input overlooked on SOBAC guidelines

<p>Students walking in the Forum.</p>

Students walking in the Forum.

Both University of Richmond student government finance representatives resigned from their positions following the recent changes to the student organization funding guidelines.

Sophomore Kavisha Desai, former Westhampton College Government Association treasurer and finance chair, and junior Brady Lang, former Richmond College Student Government Association vice president of finance, stepped down from their positions on Jan. 31 and Feb. 13 respectively.

Lang and Desai resigned because they realized during the process of revising the SOBAC guidelines that they could no longer fulfill their duties as student representatives, they said.

On Jan. 18, RCSGA and WCGA passed updated guidelines from the Student Organization Budget and Appropriations Committee that changed the way registered student organizations would receive funding. 

The committee consisted of Lang and Desai, senior Joseph Coyle, RCSGA president, senior Penny Hu, WCGA president, and Vittoria Tripp and Aaron Mahmod, two representatives from the Center for Student Involvement. Senior Jean Azar-Tanguay served as the interim WCGA finance chair while Desai was on a mental health break, Desai said. 

First-year Michelle Darfour, a member of the WCGA financial affairs committee, stepped in to fill Desai’s role as the chair of financial affairs Feb. 1, Hu wrote in an email. RCSGA elected senior Chris Ortiz-Martinez as vice president of finance on Feb. 22, Coyle wrote in an email to The Collegian.

Lang and Desai felt that their perspectives as student representatives were overlooked by UR administrators and that CSI representatives took little student input throughout the SOBAC guidelines revision process, they said.  

Student representatives who serve on SOBAC committee meet at the beginning of the academic year to begin the SOBAC guideline revisions and are responsible for keeping the student body updated throughout the process, Andrew Gurka, director of student involvement, wrote in an email to The Collegian on behalf of CSI. Once the revisions are finalized, the student committee members present the updated guidelines and give the student governments the opportunity to debate and approve, reject or table them, Gurka wrote.

The process is meant to be student run and was followed for the recent SOBAC guideline revisions, Gurka wrote. 

“Staff from [CSI] only advises the SOBAC committee through the revision and implementation phases,” Gurka wrote. “The SOBAC committee, its decisions, and guidelines are a student-led process”

Desai was on a mental health leave of absence when the SOBAC guidelines passed and was not informed or asked to approve of the revisions. The guidelines were presented by Hu during a WCGA meeting and passed in less than 15 minutes when Desai was not present, Desai said.

“I came back and I was just told that ‘oh, yeah, we’re passing these guidelines,” Desai said. “But the body was only given like half a snapshot of what the [updated SOBAC guidelines] were.”

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While Lang and the other student government representatives on the SOBAC committee technically helped draft the new guidelines, CSI representatives took over the process, he said.

“It calls into question the independence of the student government,” Lang said. “This whole process leads me to a belief that, unless you have really strong student leaders, the administration or CSI or the dean's office is really going to step in and run things their way.”

Lang and Desai also asked CSI representatives for a list of the leaders of the student organizations affected by SOBAC early last fall to contact them throughout the revision process, he said. CSI representatives originally denied the request because of confidentiality concerns, then gave them a secondary email address to privately reach the student leaders later in the fall. Lang and Desai received that list of emails from CSI after the SOBAC guidelines were passed, Lang said.

“CSI and the administration is entrusted with that but the people in the Student Government who run the process are not,” Lang said. “So really, it implies that they don't really trust the student government.”

Student leaders whose organizations were affected by the SOBAC guidelines also raised concerns about their lack of input in the revision process.

“There was no attempt at getting input from any organization,” junior Alex Robertson, president of The Octaves, said. “The decisions were all pitched and finalized in a room of the same five people or less in a very short time frame of approximately two months and then were just dropped like a bomb and they walked away.”

Gurka referred The Collegian to Hu and Coyle for details about the timing of and communication with students about the most recent SOBAC guideline revision process. 

Coyle said that the process was rushed to fit into the SOBAC application timeline for the semester when asked about the timing of the approval process during an interview for The Collegian’s Feb. 10 article on the updated guidelines. The committee considered having a feedback period prior to the decision, but decided against it because of the timeline for the funding process, Lang said in an interview for the same article.

In response to criticisms he received about the SOBAC guidelines, Lang sent student leaders an email on Feb. 10 and began a GroupMe chat to discuss re-revising the guidelines. Lang did not notify anyone in the committee except Darfour, he said.

“I was trying to retroactively change the guidelines because I feel like we made a mistake,” Lang said. “Me and all the people involved in the SOBAC revision process made a mistake in that we didn't communicate enough with the organizations that were affected and really just all organizations and students.”

Lang said his relationship with CSI representatives became inefficient as a result of disagreements over his Feb. 10 email and correspondence with leaders of student organizations. Neither Gurka nor Coyle responded with a comment on Lang’s Feb. 10 email or subsequent communication with leaders of student organizations before time of publication.

While reflecting on her time serving in WCGA, Desai said she would miss the community and urged members of the student body to communicate with their representatives.

“I’ll definitely miss that part and just feeling like you have a purpose in something that you do. WCGA definitely gives you a lot of that,” Desai said. “Knowing your class chairs or just people in student government, and bringing concerns to them, makes them so much more effective.”

Lang also said he was proud of the RCSGA finance committee’s work and encouraged students to consider the effects their actions have on others.

“I'm proud of the work we did. We gave out close to $5,000 last year and I feel like we had a relatively smooth process through that,” Lang said. “When you're a student, just remember that you have an impact that goes beyond just who you are and the deeds and words that you say each day, because you still leave a legacy.” 

Contact city and state editor Katie Castellani at katie.castellani@richmond.edu and copy chief Jenna Lapp at jenna.lapp@richmond.edu

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