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SA Senate Meeting Preceded by Public Forum Concerning Recent TPUSA Protest

By Christian Hince & Henry Fisher | April 17, 2023

Student Association Senate during the April 12 meeting.

Photo Credit: Henry Fisher / The ASP

On April 12, the University at Albany’s Student Association (SA) had a public forum at 7:00 p.m. for students to voice their thoughts concerning the April 4 protest at Turning Point USA’s (TPUSA) event which featured Ian Haworth. This was immediately followed by an SA Senate meeting, in which the public comment period was used to express the same concerns.

Many were members of the Queer Joy organization at UAlbany, which is a newly founded “coalition of queer UA students who have come together to uplift the trans & queer community on campus as our administration continues to stay silent,” according to the Queer Joy Instagram.

Representatives of TPUSA did not speak at the public forum, though it is unknown if any were present.

Among the public forum attendees who spoke was Maceo Foster, a vocal leader at the protest and one two students who were arrested. He criticized a university statement of response which emphasized the protection of free speech especially “when it involves speech that members of our community find offensive or objectionable,” criticizing the conduct of protestors at the event.

“Let me be clear, a campus where the legitimate existence of trans and queer students is somehow up for debate, or where spreading hatred and bigotry is protected, is not a safe campus for trans and queer students,” Foster said.

Foster urged SA to pass the “Freedom To Speak Up Against Transphobia” resolution, one of several demands presented on behalf of Queer Joy on Tuesday night. Other demands included re-allocation of University Police Department (UPD) funds towards a campus social worker response unit as well as an anti-transphobia training program for certified student organizations and an amended code of conduct which prohibits transgender discrimination.

“There needs to be somebody who is actively watching that and making sure that all the words that we all fund are safe spaces for all the students at this university,” Prince Diop-Dia, a fellow Queer Joy representative, said.

Other demands noted the lack of resources for queer students on campus, such as hormone therapy, and gender-affirming counselors.

“There is no reason trans students should be misgendered when they go to Student Health Services, which is a frequent issue,” Jordan Danner, the associate director of Gender and Sexuality Services, said. “This is not something that should be happening at a college university where people go for comfort and safety.”

Foster also voiced concerns for student safety, mentioning how Haworth posted numerous videos of the protest, allowing numerous protestors to be identified.

“Outside of Albany, we've already had students who have received death and rape threats from people across the country,” he said.

Foster also described the characterization of protestors by Haworth and outlets such as Fox News as dangerous, saying that it “opens up our campus community to an act of mass violence should one of these people decide that they want to take their own form of twisted justice into their hands.”

Some conservative commentary after the 4th focused on one of the event organizers’ damaged Bible, which also was a brief point of discussion Tuesday. A student named Kelsey said she found the Bible in a box of snacks which was being passed around, picking it up and seeing several crumpled pages.

“Personally, it didn’t make any sense why the Bible was in the box to begin with and most people were likely unaware of its presence,” Kelsey said, having returned the book to the box which continued to be passed around.

One student named Astor described Haworth’s invitation to campus as a threat to UAlbany serving as a queer safe space, citing patterns of hatred towards them outside of the school.

“I've had numerous experiences this year, where I've been hate-crimed, I've been called colored, I've had my pronouns made fun of, I've been spit on by people walking [down the street],” they said.

Astor also asked for more funding of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), saying “queerness and intersectionality, there’s this huge intersectionality.”

SA perspective on the issue of resources came from Erica Strand, the association’s Director of Health & Sustainability. Strand talked about making menstrual products widely available across campus, mentioning the presence of dispensers in the Campus Center (CC) and residence hall bathrooms as well as current efforts to expand this throughout the lecture center area.

“That way everybody feels comfortable and has access to whatever products they need, regardless of what restroom they choose to use,” Strand said.

Strand mentioned how gender-neutral bathrooms have been expanded to residence halls and the Campus Center, but described campus-wide results as “years down the road” due to the greater process of construction. She additionally described CAPS as underfunded, mentioning office plans to make emergency contraceptives and hormone therapy available, given the money.

“If we continue to push [UAlbany leadership], and we bring the facts and the numbers, there's $1.3 million, it's there [for CAPS],” Strand said.

She spoke in encouragement of the protestors, urging them to use her as a resource and to continue initiating discourse.

“It's [the student body’s] job to bother [UAlbany leadership],” Strand said. “It is their job to listen, they are paid by your money to listen to you.”

Dutch Quad senator Selwa Khan also spoke in support, saying that SA was working with Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Christakis on “making spaces for protests more accessible, making spaces for protests, more well known, so that they [UAlbany leadership] can never, ever look at us again, and say that we were doing something wrong, illegal, something that is worth arresting.”

Khan additionally criticized university allocation of money, saying “we don't have funding for black and brown spaces, we don't have funding for queer spaces. But we do have clubs with immense funding for political acts, and political speakers.”

Regarding the public forum, Senate Chair Naishaly Vélez Galán said, “I’m glad students felt comfortable enough to come and bring their concerns to me… I will do my duties as chair to make sure they are heard by the Student Association and Senate. We will make sure to send their claims to the university.”

The public forum concluded at 8:00 p.m., with the SA Senate session beginning immediately afterward. During the session’s campus climate section, several senators took the opportunity to share their thoughts on the recent events, and what UAlbany and SA can do better for queer students on campus.

“I want to take the time to thank everyone for attending this meeting today,” Senator Jeremy Zheng said. “...It means a lot to me as someone who has been bullied since elementary school for liking someone that was the same gender as me. I did not receive any resources, support, or love from my classmates and teachers…. Today, I’m just overwhelmed with joy to see the support we have today for LGBTQ individuals on campus. All this shouldn’t have happened, and I am disappointed with this university’s response and their failure to affirm their support for the LGBTQ community on this campus. We deserve better on this campus.”

Senator Selwa Khan spoke on the university advocacy center and the response UAlbany had to the calls for its return.

“I just wanted to bring to the attention of everybody that we are still lacking an advocacy center because there are confidentiality issues that were placed by federal and state legislation… what used to exist as an advocacy center is no longer legal,” Khan said. “The new advocacy space is within the Office of Health and Promotion and under Student Activities… they are subject to mandated reporting, so they have to report you if you come in and speak about your experience.”

Senator Khan noted the singular CAPS sexual violence trauma specialist, and the lack of staffing behind Title IX and sexual assault advocacy.

“I filed a complaint at the beginning of the year and I’m still not done now,” Senator Khan said, speaking on her own experience.

“The one word that comes to mind to me is solidarity,” Senator Dylan Klein said. “Solidarity with all of you, solidarity with the people that protested last week, and solidarity for every single person as a part of the LGBT community that is on this planet…. I think it’s dangerous, the rhetoric that these people are bringing to our campus, that they are posting on social media about us as a community.”

Senator Klein also spoke to what he believed to be a weak response from the university.

“I’ve also seen on social media an event last Thursday [April 6] as well an event that was hosted by TPUSA at another campus, and their Vice President of Student Affairs sent an email out to their campus community supporting the trans community,” Klein said. “Why couldn’t Michael Christakis [Vice President for Student Affairs] do that? As a matter of fact, why is Michael Christakis not here right now? Why is [President] Havidán Rodríguez not here right now? Why was it that when this was going on, Havidán Rodríguez was too busy accepting an award for the very same thing that this campus likes to uphold – diversity.”

In response to the events on April 4, the Senate unanimously passed the Freedom to Speak Up Against Transphobia bill, sponsored by Senator Ose Eromosele and Senator Faith Archer. The bill expresses the Student Associations support for the charges to be dropped on the two students arrested at the protest, as well as for the university, UPD, and the Albany County District Attorney to not take any disciplinary or academic action against the students.

The Senate debated on the Senate Agenda Reorganization Act II, sponsored by Senator Klein and Senator James Cooper. Though the bill was open to amendments, it ultimately failed to pass.

The bill concerned the Senate’s agenda, making adjustments to the order that each SA Senate meeting would go through. The changes, in its original incarnation, included moving the executive branch’s reports earlier – which had been done throughout the semester – as well as formalizing the rules of closing remarks, allowing senators two minutes to speak. It also allowed the Assistant Comptroller to give a report, though it did not mandate it.

Controversy arose from the reordering of the Senate committee reports. The bill would order them in perceived importance to student groups, so that students attending the session would be addressed first. There was also some debate over the addition of executive committee reports to the agenda.

“The argument that we’re reordering the committees in order of which ones might be most important to constituents is… it doesn’t logically follow from the argument of moving the executive reports,” Senator Erin McGrath said. “...We want to move executive reports ahead of committee reports because we don’t want executive directors to be here more than they have to. However, if we’re reordering the order of the committees based on what constituents might want to hear, then why wouldn’t we put that back above executive reports? Why are we prioritizing directors, who we pay, over the constituents who we serve?”

Senator Amelia Crawford spoke on the Senate’s consistent movement of executive reports, saying, “I think that we’ve been doing it this year, letting those moves happen, and they’ve passed by unanimous consent simply because this body has taken a stance that we want to get through things and we’re not going to put up fights for no reason. When a move is made to move a report over, that’s just gonna get passed no matter what, I don’t think that proves to be a consensus.”

Though an amendment was attempted, it did not pass.

“There’s a lot more in this bill though,” Senator Klein said, emphasizing potential amendments, “that if this bill fails, some of the cogs within the Student Association would be severely rusty in the processes we have currently.”

Other legislation included numerous appointments to various SA positions. Jason Lisciandro was appointed to the Office of the Comptroller, currently acting as the Deputy Comptroller. Alna Joseph was appointed as the Deputy Comptroller. Tolu Anjorin was appointed to the SA Supreme Court.

During the meeting, the Posh Daily received $356.98 from the New and Unfunded Appropriations line. As of April 16, appropriations requests have closed, with April 21 being the last day to submit a purchase request.

On April 14, the SA election concluded. More information on the presidential candidates can be found in the ASP's coverage of the SA Presidential Forum, whereas the election results can be found in the ASP’s coverage of the announcement. Two meetings remain for the Spring 2023 semester, the first (April 19) concerning budget, and the latter (April 26) concerning the election of the Senate Chair.


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