Letter to the Editor: Student Senate allotted CUC shell space democratically

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After reading this week’s editorial opinion in The Tartan regarding shell space, a few inaccuracies in the piece have motivated me to write a letter. I should disclose that I am a senator in the Undergraduate Student Senate, so I’m well-informed on the issue, but also biased in regards to its representation to the student body.

I would first like to address the misconception that this space was purchasable by any undergraduate student organization. It is, frankly, too expensive for anyone to buy but Senate — noting this, we made this decision on behalf of all undergraduate representation in the student government. If Senate did not purchase this space, there is no guarantee that it would go to any undergraduate organization, and certainly, no other organization could afford it. It would likely go up for auction to other commercial interests on campus.

Even if, hypothetically, an organization could afford the shell, there's no guarantee the space would be accessible to all the undergraduates on campus. Democratization of space access is an important issue, and Senate’s purchase is the best guarantee of a space for all undergraduates, regardless of departmental affiliation or organizational membership.

Another note is that we don’t receive JFC funding. From the overall Student Activities Fee, we get a small slice ($140,000) of a budget, of which over half goes directly to students and student organizations. We’ve had the money sitting in reserves to make a big expenditure like this for a while. Without our purchase of the shell space, we couldn’t have allocated in a better way to help the student body. However, if you think there are better options to spend that money on, tell us. We are always looking for opportunities to subsidize students who are excited to do new things.

In regards to democracy of decision-making, Senate has continuously endeavored to make the shell space as democratically informed as possible. We’ve spent tens of hours tabling for student opinions, soliciting them by offering food to anyone who would respond. Our polling began during Senate Week 2014 (the second week of October). With its high traffic, the Cohen University Center (CUC) was the natural choice for location. We incentivized students to respond by handing out free gifts.

Our big question: what is the space that’s needed most on this campus? The responses made it abundantly clear that students both wanted and needed a collaborative space for studying or socializing. This was the most feasible option that we solicited directly from students, so we decided to move forward with it.

Theoretically, at this point we could have directly formed our shell space committee. However, rather than restrict the processes to our own vision, we reopened the forum for students, asking for students’ ideal feel of a collaborative space, and what resources it would have. We tabled again (this time’s incentive was cakes from Prantl’s) and collected responses that gave us a robust vision guided by what students wanted and needed with our portion of the shell space.

After feeling sufficiently informed by the student body, we decided to move forward with our newly formed shell space committee. It’s been operational since early January, which shows that we spent nearly a semester collecting information from the undergraduates who we represent.

I find it hard to argue that this process was not democratic. There comes a point where one can no longer defer directly to students, for the sake of productivity. An organization’s members inform the vision for any organization on campus, but smaller working groups execute various facets of that vision. In our organization, our membership happens to be a bit bigger. It is unfeasible to have a working team of 5,500. Simply put, there would be many, many referendums.

We do our best to remain transparent and accessible. If you have any opinions on the shell space, please direct them to us. Student Government doesn’t exist to self-serve; we unabashedly seek the opinions of those we represent.

I hope that I’ve provided ample response and clarity to the issue.

Vaasavi Unnava
Sophomore economics major