SGA Senate Passes Legislation Implementing an Africana Studies Program

Image Courtesy of Catholic University

By Anna Harvey

The Catholic University of America Student Government Association hosted its second meeting of the 2020-21 academic year on Monday, October 19. SGA Vice President Gemma del Carmen presided over the proceedings and senators participated via Zoom,using the poll feature to vote on appointments, agendas, minutes, amendments, and resolutions. 

Session 6-02, held last Tuesday, covered one piece of legislation and addressed conduct within future Senate proceedings. 

The session began with public comments. Black Student Alliance (BSA) President Myciah Brown addressed the Senate to urge them to vote for the resolution to implement the Africana Studies program:

“It is important to me to have Africana Studies offered at The Catholic University of America to teach not only black students about who they are, who their ancestors were, and what the connections are between them, but to educate non-black students, as well as on what Africans and the African diaspora have taught, created, and passed on,” said Brown. Brian Hernandez  also addressed the Senate on behalf of BSA Vice President Kelly Woodson, who commended Senator Marsden and members of the SGA Senate who put forward legislation to implement an Africana Studies program. Brian Hernandez also personally voiced his support for Resolution 002. 

SGA President Gerald Sharpe addressed the Senate and reminded them to uphold a certain level of decorum in their comments. He also advertised to the public that SGA would host a Town Hall meeting with President Garvey for the Class of 2022 on Oct. 26, at 7 p.m., and a similar Town Hall meeting would be hosted the following week on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. for the Class of 2023. 

Director of the Menstrual Equity Task Force Chloe Van Syckel, Senior Director of Executive Initiatives Christopher Carey, Senator Regina Brennan, Director of the Research Committee Jonathan Norman, Nate Highley of the School of Arts and Sciences, and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Enola Hernandez likewise all lent their support for the Resolution to implement an Africana Studies program.

After public comments ended, Senators voted and adopted an agenda for the meeting and additionally approved minutes from the previous meeting. Senators then provided individual committee reports. Chair of the Committee on Academic Affairs Senator Zentz reported that the committee discussed resolution ideas and began to formulate a resolution on third party software with respect to test-taking. Chair of the Committee on University Services Senator Schlee reported that the senators discussed issues to be addressed later this academic year and were currently working on individual resolutions. Chair on the Committee on Student Resources Senator Harrison reported that the first committee meeting would take place the following week. Chair on the Committee on Campus Life Senator Bracey reported that she would likewise be soon organizing a committee meeting. Chair of Rules and Administration Senator Ally Kilgore reported that the committee would be meeting within the following week as well. 

The proceedings then moved forward to swearing in Connor Schmidt, Senator for the School of Philosophy. Vice President del Carmen then gave a brief address, focusing on issues of conduct at the first meeting. She urged in particular to extend meetings if the opportunity arises in order to address time-sensitive issues. “It is entirely inexcusable to have side conversations, distract the chamber with inappropriate facial expressions, and be overtly disrespectful during or after Senate meetings. It is offensive to not only myself, but also to your fellow Senators,” del Carmen said.

Proceedings then shifted to the reading of Senator Marsden’s legislation, Resolution 002, to implement an Africana Studies program. The resolution was co-sponsored by Senator Philip Ahearn, Senator Allison Sijgers, Senator Bracey, and Senator Grace Birth. 

Marsden, in her opening remarks, emphasized the importance of developing an identity in college which is influenced by academics and curricula. She identified only one history course offered next semester that pertained to Africa: HIST 321A, “The Church in Africa.” She also noted that the Politics department did not offer courses for the upcoming semester that pertained to Black history, besides mentions of the Civil Rights Movement. She further noted that the Sociology department offers SOC 290 “Race Relations in the New Millennium” and the Psychology department offers no such classes for the upcoming semester. 

Marsden explained the importance of the name “Africana Studies,” and stated that many Black people in the United States do not necessarily identify as African-American. She further stated that by initiating it as a program, it could have the potential to evolve into a minor or major. Marsden also recognized BSA President Brown and SGA Director Enola Hernandez for their expertise and assistance with helping to create the resolution for the academic program. 

“This program is just one step towards implementing mechanisms that enable Black students to be more comfortable here and decrease the educational restraint retaining to heritage, ancestry, and identity,” Marsden explained.

Senator Garrett Farrell asked which types of classes would be offered underneath the program, to which Marsden replied that current Catholic U classes which focus on race could provide the basis of this program. She also referenced a report the Research Committee created, which included similar courses from other universities. Farrell inquired if the course would be constructed as courses from multiple disciplines under one certificate program, to which Marsden replied yes, with the end goal of Africana Studies eventually becoming an independent department. 

Senator John Scott expressed a concern for finding financial resources during the financial crisis brought on by the pandemic for finding faculty and materials necessary to make the program a reality. He also inquired as to how much support the program would have among the student body in order for it to succeed. Marsden acknowledged the financial pressure on the institution, and she maintained that in spite of these difficulties, SGA ought to reflect the wants and needs of the students to the administration, particularly through this resolution. In addition, she said that BSA would be willing to assist in polling students to gauge interest levels in the program. 

The resolution passed unanimously with 25 yeas, 0 nays. 

Senator Will Lucardi then spoke on decorum and professionalism within future Senate proceedings. He addressed misconduct within the last Senate meeting, particularly within the debate portion of Senator Schlee’s bill. “As you discover, there will be legislation brought before the floor that sparks spirited and extensive debate, perhaps more this year than ever, given the circumstances in which we find ourselves. This debate is supposed to be fruitful and productive,” Lucardi said. He reminded Senators that while Senate meetings are virtual, facial expressions and side conversations may still be seen by both Senators and members of the public, and a certain level of decorum is necessary. He also warned his colleagues against voting in opposition to extending a meeting in order to meet their constituents’ needs. 

Senator Schlee spoke, expressing a desire for Senators to learn from the last Senate meeting and to move forward. She stated that she would not be presenting her bill at Session 6-02 due to its prior reception, but that she would prepare it for a future presentation and talk to senators who were in opposition in order to understand their viewpoints. In addition, Schlee stated that in a meeting with Dean Thomas Smith of Undergraduate Studies, he requested that Senators dispel rumors or direct students to administration officials in order to increase transparency and address the spread of misinformation. 

The proceedings then shifted to Vice Presidential updates. Vice President Gemma del Carmen addressed serving on a committee for University Research Day. She also stated that she and President Sharpe would meet with the Provost to address Resolution 001 for Prohibiting Printed Materials in Online Classes and Resolution 002 for Africana Studies later within the week.

The proceedings then moved to open floor. Bracey congratulated Marsden for the passage of her resolution and acknowledged the group of students who worked on the resolution. Sijers likewise congratulated Marsden on her resolution and thanked del Carmen, Lucardi, and Schlee for their addresses on future Senate conduct. She also emphasized that the Academic Affairs committee was looking into proctoring services for exams and the ways in which they affect students and for students to reach out with comments. Sijers also announced she would be looking into resolutions for Library Services and Study Abroad programs during COVID, and that students with suggestions should reach out to her. She also advertised a College Democrats office hours session on the Manhattan Project. Marsden lastly spoke by thanking all members for their support for her legislation, and stated that she would be interested in forming a resolution on making CUAllies a student organization. Kilgore also announced the launch of the senior taskforce for seniors both within and outside of SGA regarding Commencement and Senior Week.

The next Senate meeting will be held on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. over Zoom.

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