By Arts & Entertainment Editor Sawyer Pollitt and Opinion & Editorial Editor James Mellen
On November 25, UMass Dartmouth’s Student Government Association (SGA) held its weekly public senate meeting in Library room 205. However, this meeting was anything but normal. After the meeting was called to order by SGA President Kate Egan (History/Physics, 2021), a group of student protesters entered the chamber and over the next three hours would question SGA, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Shannon Finning and Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance, David Gingerella.
These student protesters are known as C.O.U.R.E. (Concerns Over University Resource Equity), they filled the back row of the room with signs reading “Where is our money?”, “No explanation we just want the documents”, “What are you hiding”, and “Prioritize the students”. C.O.U.R.E. is a relatively new group here at UMass Dartmouth, and over the course of the night, their intentions and goals were made clear in their first public declaration of intent.
Taken directly from their manifesto sent to many campus offices, “(C.O.(U).R.E) is an initiative for students by students. C.O.(U).R.E.’s purpose is to advocate and take action. Undergraduate students of color, leaders of multicultural orgs and members of multicultural orgs have been making requests for far too long without answers and the transparency they deserve. Over the years resources have only been decreasing while the requests have increased.”
As the open forum portion of the night began it quickly became clear where the grievances of the group were focused. Finances and financial records were the topic of the first portion of the evening.
Prior to this protest, C.O.U.R.E. had requested the past five years of financial documentation from the school within 48 hours. This was to include department budgets, the budgets of student orgs, and all other ways in which money was being spent by UMass Dartmouth. This demand was not met until the group staged their first protest one week prior to this one.
However, as shared by Gingerella, “What we supplied – our financials are extremely transparent, they’re posted on the UMass president’s website – audited financial statements … we’d be glad to supply more details but we’re unsure of what you want—would you want a few thousand papers of documents?” Gingerella then went on to say, “I’m unsure – if you’re not an accountant or CPA you couldn’t make much sense out of them.”
This statement was met with shock and amazement by not only the protesters but by nearly everyone in the room. One anonymous protester fired back with “We as students have the resources to understand the material that you give us.” Following this trend, Gingerella became noticeably annoyed with the C.O.U.R.E. protesters and their questions pertaining to campus finances. Though seeing as one can assume that his purpose for being there that night was to answer these questions, this irritation seemed disastrously out of place and negatively affected the mood of the room, increasing the tension.
C.O.U.R.E. also took issue with the new Campus Activities Board (CAB) established this year under the S.A.I.L. office. CAB has been responsible for several S.A.I.L. sponsored events such as the movie nights in the auditorium, bingo nights, and other late-night, student focused activities.
However, through the back and forth between anonymous C.O.U.R.E protesters and Finning, it was clear that their issues ran deep. The main concern raised was the fact that CAB was given a budget of $78,000 to carry out their duties on campus. A budget that, according to C.O.U.R.E., should be going to student run organizations.
It was clarified by Finning that the budget given to CAB did not come from the student fee account that funds other student organizations like Ski and Snowboarding Club, Chess Club, and others, but rather from the S.A.I.L. budget itself. This prompted further questions as to why this money was not allocated from S.A.I.L. to struggling student groups who are already holding successful, highly attended events.
An anonymous C.O.U.R.E protester raised the point that CAB is utilizing university budgets that could be going to already established organizations “I’ll be the first to tell you that CAB is an L.” said the protester, “Here’s the reason why: you’ve given CAB $78,140, for something that is student led. What other reason do I say Cab is an L, is because you give CAB money, but other student orgs are dying out.”
This same protester went on to say “The road to hell is paved with good intentions… CAB gets money to do things that we can do. I’d go to a concert put on by HASA [Haitian Student Association] and ASA [Asian Student Association] before I go to a concert put on by CAB. Give us the money let us run, I tell you CAB, that’s an L.”
Finning, in a dramatic misstep stated “Some students felt that the organizations on campus weren’t meeting their needs” she was then met with audible gasps from those in attendance. However, as communication continued and began to open up, some agreements were made. When asked by protestors what efforts Finning and administration is willing to make, she responded “We need to revisit how the SAF [Student Activity Fee] is evaluated. I have asked the chancellor to be more involved.”
This protest allowed students who felt disenfranchised, unheard, and unappreciated to voice their frustrations to a university administration that, in the eyes of C.O.U.R.E and their sympathizers, are letting students down. While there were certainly concrete issues that these protesters were raising, there were a number of underlying problems that poured through the impassioned statements made by many in attendance.
One anonymous protester said to Finning and Gingerella, “After hearing everyone the main thing is that “the system is not working”! We keep hearing: “We hear you. We hear you”, the system itself needs to change!”. Ironically, throughout the night, before and after this was said, these same protesters were told tone-deaf variations of “We hear you” from all administrators in attendance, indicating that while the administrators may have been listening, they, in fact, did not hear what the protesters were saying.
However, more than being a merely cathartic experience, this protest helped to foster communication, as tense as that communication may have been, between C.O.U.R.E and the administration. Although most of the questioning was directed towards Finning and Gingerella, SGA did play a part in helping detail the process by which student organizations are funded and offered some solutions of their own.
“SGA agrees with your statement on the CAB budget” said SGA president Kate Egan to C.O.U.R.E protesters. SGA assured those in attendance that as of right now, SGA is unhappy with the way the CAB budget was allocated. They intend on proposing a ballot question that will change the way these kinds of budgets are given out, and who is involved in the process.
As the evening drew to a close, the C.O.U.R.E.” protesters filed out of the room as orderly as they came in. Leaving Finning, Gingerella, and Student Government with the simple task of waiting. As of November 25, the next plan of action is for SGA to await correspondence from C.O.U.R.E. before anything else is decided or any plans move forward.