The University of Georgia’s Student Government Association’s Nov. 12 meeting addressed recent anti-abortion demonstrations on campus, religious discrimination in residence halls and increasing accessibility to halal and kosher-prepared meal options in the dining halls.
Many students voiced concerns about recent demonstrations by The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s demonstrations featuring graphic imagery at Tate Plaza. The anti-abortion group has obtained a permit to protest from Nov. 11 through Nov. 13.
Students voiced their opinions during the open forum portion of the meeting, when students can express their concerns to representatives.
Sophomore political science major Arianna Mbunwe disapproved of the way SGA reacted to the demonstration.
“I hoped to make SGA and UGA administration feel at least a little bit of shame for what they had done but also bring to light my concerns moving forward and have something positive come out of something so terrible,” Mbunwe said.
Mbunwe decided to speak “in response — or lack thereof — from SGA and UGA administration to actually give any type of consolation to those who might have been triggered to the graphic images,” she said.
On Nov. 11, SGA released a statement in support of freedom of speech as protected under the First Amendment. It also acknowledged members of the community that may have been hurt by the demonstrations and listed contact information for the Office of Student Care and Outreach.
“SGA’s ability, your ability and our ability to really respond to this and to make a change is also not confined to that statement,” Byers said.
Byers explained that after last week’s tabling for student input on the proposed values statement that identifies what it means to be a member of the UGA community, “we saw common themes of respect for one another and a welcoming, inclusive environment,” she said.
“The events of the past few days have not been ‘The Georgia Way,’” Byers said, referencing the proposed values statement.
Freshman senators Jeremiah de Sesto, Michael McDevitt and Calvin Rausch presented Resolution 32-07, legislation that was passed by the senate to encourage the “creation of a public disclosure platform outlining events occuring on the freedom of expressions forums for the 2019-2020 school year,” as stated in the legislation.
McDevitt proposed that said “platform” could be a bi-weekly email sent to faculty, staff and students. It would include the date, time, place and nature of the tabling of all organizations registered for a space.
Additionally, the senators conducted a survey to go with their resolution. Rausch explained that while only 200 students had participated in the survey and it was “not indicative of every student,” the majority of respondents were interested in receiving prior knowledge about tabling plans.
“I think the overall campus freedom of expression policy can be found online, and nothing in this goes against that freedom of expression policy,” Senate President Max Sumner said.
Another resolution regarding the demonstrations was also passed. Resolution 32-06 references the student body’s “deep distress and condemnation” of the protests. The legislation aims to establish alternative routes around the “Tate Student Center and Bolton Dining Commons crosswalk to allow students to avoid the graphic displays.”
Senator Jessica Pasquarello serves as a member of the Committee on Equity, Diversion and Inclusion. Pasquarello spoke in strong opposition to the demonstration, saying it was “demonizing the individuals who are part of our student body.”
“We had so many people come to open forum here tonight and there was not a single person speaking in defense of what that group is doing and the images that they have,” Pasquarello said. About 5-6 students spoke during open forum, with about 30 non-SGA students attending — open forum often draws no students outside of SGA.
Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Senator Max Harris gave his opinion about the necessity of staying neutral in such situations.
“We are a political body, but we don't have political parties,” he said. “We are not Democrats or Republicans in this chamber. We are UGA senators.”
While Mbunwe believes this was “a good first step forward,” she doesn’t think all of SGA is behind her.
“I think our voices and concerns were heard by the general body, however, I don’t believe our voices were heard by the Executive Board of SGA,” Mbunwe said. “[Byers] did nothing to help us except wonder out loud how she could help us, which means nothing to me.”
Other items on the docket
Proclamation 32-09 regarding religious discrimination in residence halls was another piece of legislation presented. Senator Allison Fine spoke to the room about recent incidents in Russell and Creswell Halls involving swastikas drawn on students’ personal property. According to Fine, some of the students were Jewish women who felt threatened by the symbols.
The proclamation “seeks to identify instances of religious discrimination towards
students in residence halls and establish a plan to create educational resources to help raise awareness and prevention efforts for the future.”
Fine said she hopes that this goal will extend to other dorms on campus beside those dedicated to freshmen. Resident assistants were notified of the incident and University Housing is currently dealing with the issue and discussing next steps, according to Fine. Senators passed the proclamation.
Senators voted on Proclamation 32-06 to improve and expand accessibility of halal and kosher meal options in partnership with UGA’s Dining and Auxiliary Services. The proclamation was written to ensure that signage is posted in dining halls to educate students about how to access halal and kosher foods. It also asks SGA to promote the options by sharing dining services posts on social media. The proclamation was approved unanimously.
Also on the docket was the nomination of Kayleigh Greene to the elections committee. Greene is a junior student in the College of Pharmacy. Greene was confirmed with a unanimous vote and will replace Sumner during the election season.
Treasurer Nav Singh spoke about the idea for a new philanthropic initiative called “Round Up”, in which students would have the option to round up their purchases by ten cents at stores and restaurants on campus. Singh said Florida State University is the only university to have this initiative year-round — some other campuses push the initiative for a brief period — and raised $30,000 in its first year. The extra revenue would go toward the UGA Food Pantry or the Let the Big Dawgs Eat Meal Plan Scholarship.
Legislation passed at the meeting has not been reviewed by the Supreme Court or signed by Byers. Byers plans to sign all legislation, according to public relations advisor Austin Gibbons.