By Aspasia Celia Tsampas and Hebh Jamal
The following article appears in the December 2019 edition of The Campus
On Friday, October 18, 2019, the Student Services Corporation (SSC), a committee that works with the Division of Student Affairs, filed a motion to rescind and freeze the budget of the Student Life & Leadership Development department at The City College of New York due to widespread dissatisfaction with the department.
The Student Services Corporation oversees the allocation of the Student Activity Fee, which all students pay each semester to be distributed to Student Government, athletics, the Health & Wellness Center, etc. The committee, comprised of majority student members of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), faculty, and staff, passed a motion led by Assetou Kone, USG Vice President of Campus Affairs, to rescind the Student Life budget in an attempt to demand immediate improvement in the department.
In a message addressed to the student body of City College, USG President Frantzy Luzincourt stated, “A recurring point of frustration among club leaders and students alike is the mind-boggling inefficiency of the Student Life & Leadership Development department. Regularly, we hear of events being canceled at the last minute, reservation requests being denied in spite of room availability, and, above all, the infamous ‘24 business days’ policy for event reservations.” It is because of this multitude of reasons, and a lack of cooperation with the department, that the committee moved to suspend the budget in demand of enacting a higher standard of operation from Student Life.
In an interview with The Campus, USG Vice President of Public Affairs, Seba Uchida Chavez, affirmed that this action was not taken lightly, stating, “We’re all students here. We’re not workers here. Our interests align with the students’ interests.” For both Luzincourt and Uchida Chavez, ensuring student money is allocated correctly is the biggest motivation for this move.
Prior to this decision, both Luzincourt and Uchida Chavez cited many attempts to reform and work with Student Life without these drastic measures. Luzincourt states, “Our strategy was to speak to Evelyn [Assistant Director at Student Life], talk things out, get some things to change, and a week or two later things would go back to normal.” However, according to Luzincourt, Student Life was unprepared to discuss budget allocation with the committee and was difficult to reach.
Currently, Student Life’s budget consists of $250,000 of student money paid through the Student Activity Fee, which every student pays through their tuition. Of this money, 76% is being used towards the salaries of Student Life employees. For Luzincourt, this fact alone is incentive to act to solve the problem, “If I’m only hearing negative things from this office, my first reaction is figuring out ways to solve it.”
Nonetheless, should the SSC’s drastic vote to rescind the entirety of Student Life’s budget go through, life on campus will change greatly as a result. First and foremost, understanding exactly what Student Life does is essential to being aware of what exactly will go missing if the department were to be suspended. At large, Student Life oversees all student-run clubs on campus, facilitates various events throughout the year (including the popular Lavender Fever Week), and organizes leadership programs and diversity programming. Additionally, they organize Commencement, Graduate Salute, and orientation. Not to mention, there would be fourteen salaried employees of the department who would be terminated should the vote pass.
For these reasons, the future of Student Life lies in static as the committee waits for CUNY Legal to approve or deny their request to rescind the budget. Without process and justification, the SSC board faces a possibility to be sued due to wrongful termination of the employees of Student Life.
Regardless, as the college awaits the decision, this vote opens up the opportunity to speak truthfully about the approval of Student Life, or lack thereof, especially since in the past, the department had the luxury of evading USG constraints due to the one-year timeline the student governing body operates on.
Many various club leaders seem to share unanimous concerns: it is stressful organizing club activities. Sabrina Bazelais, president of the Black Student Union, told The Campus that she put in a request for an event one month prior, on September 18th, and only got approved on October 21st; “The process of getting approval for [events] is strenuous,” she said, “You have to jump through hurdles just to get basic information.” One rule for Student Life requires that all event requests and facility requests that take place from 6 pm must be submitted exactly 24 business days before the proposed event date.
Student Life has strict rules on marketing for events on campus without their confirmation. This policy includes posting flyers around campus without Student Life’s physical stamp of approval. “If we want to promote an event but we don’t get approval until three days before the event happens, club leaders have a limited opportunity to promote their event,” said Mariah Ramirez, president of the Dominican Student Association.
Assistant Director of Student Life, Evelyn Ortega said that she “understands the frustration” students feel towards the 24 day rule, yet explained that “public safety, facilities and Student Affairs all review the information”, which in her view is done to “make sure all logistical aspects are covered to have successful events on campus.”
It is not the first time Student Life is at the center of controversy. Last spring, CCNY’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) held an event with a speaker that Student Life canceled under the premise that it was “particularly controversial.” The event was reinstated, however, due to push back from SJP and Palestine Legal.
Although frustration was the general sentiment from club leaders, people had mixed views on whether USG should freeze Student Life’s budget. “If we are the ones funding Student Life and feel like they are ineffective at their job, then it should also be up to us if they are to continue to operate,” said TKE fraternity presidentOrlando Garcia Castro. NAACP president, Jaileessa Casimir, disagrees, “I do not believe freezing budgets and shutting down departments will get the job done,” she told The Campus. Instead, Casimir believes, “that there cannot be plans to shut something down without plans to rebuild something better.”
It is clear that Student Life has not lived up to students’ needs, but there is no clear alternative for if the budget freeze goes through. Uchida Chavez, however, believes there is not a quandary at hand, “I think it’s pretty clear,” he said, “We’re saying something, and they can either comply and agree to work with us, or reform student life, or not have graduation, ultimately that’s their decision.”
Ortega, however, believes Student Life is doing the best they can and looks forward to improving the department to better fit the needs of students, saying, “I will always support opportunities for our department to engage in multiple avenues that support the student body.” With the absence of a director, Ortega fills a dual role and holds many responsibilities as the leader of the department. Her title involves overseeing all functions of the department, serving on various college committees, and additionally providing “A support and bridge to all student organizations, including USG, to have meaningful engagement experiences with all facets of the college.”
While Ortega feels the department has done a lot to fulfill the purpose of Student Life, she understands there is always room for improvement, “We welcome any constructive feedback to improve services for the 150+ clubs and have focus groups in place to assess our continued and constant efforts to be a resource for all students.” In fact, on Thursday, November 14th, multiple student club leaders on campus received emails from Student Life about these focus groups, in an effort to foster the two-way type of communication that the department of Student Life was originally intended to uphold. Moving forward, the goal of Student Life remains to continue that open dialogue with students. Ortega states, “Continued open dialogue and participation from students will be the best way to create and reflect the change the students need.”
Lastly, in response to USG’s drastic moves under the SSC, Ortega holds no hard feelings, “As the representatives of the student body, I am confident USG will always work within the best interests of the students they serve and will continue to provide the support they need during this process.”
While at the publication of this article the fate of the SSC’s vote to rescind the budget of Student Life is still in limbo by CUNY Legal, the decision to move forward with the vote itself is indication enough of the conversation needed between students and their administration counterpart, the Student Life & Leadership Development department.