Image Courtesy of The Catholic University of America
By Chanel Cole
Unlike its predecessor, the third senate meeting of Spring 2023 saw resolutions hit the floor on February 20th.
Up first during public comment was Gabriel Toto, a junior theology and history double major. He conveyed his support for Resolution 025, stating that the university ought to not endorse the Chinese Communist Party by buying products made with forced labor. Likewise, Justin Lamoureux and Correy Crawford, junior politics majors, both advocated for the divestment resolution with similar reasoning. Reagan Budasi, a freshman social work major, championed Resolution 026.
Next, a senior politics major expressed his disagreement with Resolution 028, the interfaith chapel resolution, on the grounds that such a chapel would tarnish the University’s image as a Catholic institution. A similar sentiment was verbalized by a sophomore who stated that an interfaith chapel does not further the school’s mission, arguing that Catholic University should stay true to its identity. The final public comment of the night was by another student that opposed Resolution 028, stating that the passage of such legislation by SGA has profound ramifications for the Catholic Church and that if one wished to pray to a non-Catholic religious figure, they should do so in private. Before this student could continue any further, VP Fahey interrupted him because he had exceeded the one-minute speaking limit.
After public comment, VP Fahey introduced the guest speaker of the night, Dr. Judi Biggs Garbuio, VP of Student Affairs since January 2020. She began her presentation by informing the senate about the Services that the Office of the Dean of Students supplies.
Following that, Dr. Judi gave updates on several construction projects that are in the works on campus. The “Pyrz Center – The Nest” project seeks to transform the Pryzbyla Center into a one-stop location for most student services on campus. The plan is to relocate the University bookstore into the Pyrz and a post office where the Eatery used to be, which once contained a student lounge area as well as several student organizations, such as OCA and ECs. The Diamond Project is another ongoing assignment that seeks to renovate the softball and baseball fields, supplying them with light fixtures and installing new AstroTurf. Furthermore, the project for a new residence hall was paused so that its funding could be refocused on the construction of the Nursing Building, estimated to be complete by the Spring of 2024, according to Dr. Judi. The new residence building would be an L-shaped, first-year residence hall with double bedrooms and communal baths, located near Opus Hall. Other proposed projects such as a Recreational Center and a mural under the Taylor Street Bridge were also proposed.
Following the presentation, each Committee Chair gave updates about further legislation in the works or how their older resolutions were implemented. Upon hearing these updates, VP Fahey stated that she was excited about future meetings.
Fahey then transitioned into introducing the first resolution on the docket, Resolution 025, a resolution for ethics in campus construction (RECC). Sponsored by Senator Kruger and cosponsored by Senator Kish, the resolution sought to demonstrate the Student Government Association’s continued support of the University condemning unethical practices. In October 2021, a similar resolution, 7-009, was brought to the floor to ensure that the University properly spent its financial holdings. According to Kruger, the university should condemn the purchasing of products for construction that were made by forced labor. The University is currently working on a solar panel project to make the campus more environmentally friendly and sustainable; Senator Kruger argued that ensuring the vendors of these solar panels are ethical is fundamental in this process. He stated that the Chinese Communist Party has condemned its minority Muslim population, the Uyghurs, into forced labor to produce solar panels there. The resolution demands that the university take special consideration into the partners that it decides to conduct business with. Senator Kish also spoke to the merits of the resolution, explaining that the resolution touched on a bipartisan issue and that reasoning for the passage of this was evident.
After the two relayed their speeches, Resolution 025 was sent to the floor for debate. Senator Curioso raised some questions about what steps would be taken if a vendor the university handled business with was unethical. Kruger and Kish both insisted that the University has the resources to look for ethical vendors and the cost of this search would be marginal compared to the lasting benefits. Senator Tamayo wanted to know if the University already had contracts with solar panel vendors, which Kruger did not have an answer for. Furthermore, Senator Besendorfer vocalized her backing of the resolution. Senator Foley asked who SGA would work with to implement this resolution. Kruger clarified the purpose of the resolution, reminding the senate that it was really an extension of a past resolution and that its purpose was more for the SGA executive than University Administration.
With that, a vote was initiated and the resolution unanimously passed.
The Senate turned its attention to the next item on the docket, Resolution 026, which sought to establish an undergraduate comprehensive exam review committee. Sponsor Senator Drauschak reasoned a need for this because of the obscurity of the exams and the stress that it causes already-stressed seniors. According to Drauschak, Catholic University is one of the few undergraduate universities that requires its students to pass their comprehensive exams to graduate. It is usually administered in the fall semester of senior year and if failed, must be retaken in the spring semester. The sponsor explained that the exam is one of the many things on a senior’s mind in their fall semester: they are applying for jobs, studying for graduate school entrance exams, and determining what they want to do post-graduation. Testing them on the content they learned in their freshmen year may not be the best evaluation of the knowledge they acquired, hence the need for a review committee, according to Senator Drauschak. The committee would consist of at least three student representatives, at least one from an ecclesial school and two from professional schools.
Upon conclusion of this explanation, an open debate was initiated. Senator Kruger thanked Drauschak for bringing this issue to the attention of the floor because he is also studying for his comprehensive exams and understands the struggle. Senator Curioso opposed the resolution because he stated that having student representation in this committee would take away power from university administrators. He also expressed his concern that the resolution could be perceived as SGA going on a power trip. Senator Drauschak responded to this first by pointing out that the graduate school’s committee already has student representation. Furthermore, he stated that CUA should be prioritizing graduate school acceptance and future employment. This was followed by a request from Senator Bommer proposing an amendment to the resolution in which he is added as a co-sponsor. The amendment passed through the senate by voice vote and VP Fahey reminded the senate that it was strongly encouraged to add cosponsors to the resolution prior to a given deadline.
Senator Kish rose to dole out praise for the resolution and inquiry about the selection process of the student representatives. Senator Drauschak stated that he was not sure of the details, but assured Kish that other students would not be a part of this process. Finally, Senator Tamayo praised the resolution and highlighted what he believed were its strengths.
A motion to vote was passed and the resolution was approved with 22 in favor and one against it.
The third resolution of the night, Resolution 027, was sponsored by Senator Noory and cosponsored by Senator McCarthy. Noory stated that the members of the National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS) voiced feelings of being overlooked by the rest of the campus community. To fix this, Resolution 027 proposed the curation of a mural inside Shahan Hall, the building dedicated to the program. The mural would be placed near the entrance of the building and hopes to elicit a sense of pride amongst NCSSS members. According to Noory, $500 was granted by an anonymous donor for the project and the student who painted another mural on the campus’ Salve Regina building will also paint this new mural and receive a stipend for his work. SGA’s Diversity and Inclusion Executive Initiation will be the ones to work on the design of the mural.
After a brief overview of the resolution was laid out, Senator Besendorfer commended Senator Noory on her first resolution. Senator Allison also stated that the resolution was a great idea, describing her surprised reaction when she found out that Shahan belonged to NCSSS as a tour guide. Similarly, Senator Gehrig also shared her surprise in finding out the same thing after taking classes in that building and asked for an estimated timeline of the project. The sponsor responded that the creation of the mural was set to start after spring break. Additionally, Senator Corey asked about the size of the mural and Senator Noory answered that the dimensions of the mural would be centered around the budget.
A vote was taken and the resolution passed unanimously.
The final resolution of the night, Resolution 028, sought to provide SGA’s backing for Campus Ministry’s (CM) initiative to create an interfaith chapel. Currently, there are five chapels on campus that offer services at a wide range of times, making finding the right time to attend a service simple. CM supplies a list of places of worship for non-Catholics, but the resolution sponsor Senator Henriquez stated that their locations are relatively far and/or inaccessible by metro. Because of this, religious non-Catholics on campus face some difficulty practicing their faith. CM is now working on the establishment of an interfaith chapel on campus to alleviate some of this difficulty.
Senator Henriquez shared that the inspiration for the resolution began at the Town Hall with President Kilpatrick last semester. More specifically, a student rose to propose the creation of an interfaith chapel and Kilpatrick informed this student that one would be built in Pangborn. This exchange inspired Senator Henriquez to bring this issue to the floor. Furthermore, he explained that in 2016, an SGA Senator proposed a resolution to create a meditation chapel, but it ended up dying in committee. Henriquez stated that his resolution was a revitalization of those previous efforts and in letting this issue resurface, it would demonstrate to Campus Ministry that the chapel is a priority for students.
Henriquez and his cosponsors, Senators Besendorfer, Musick, and Kruger all clarified that the resolution was not an endorsement of other religions nor an attack on the Catholic identity of the school. Rather, they explained, it was an important step toward fostering a more welcoming and inclusive faith-based community at CUA. The interfaith chapel would designate a space for non-Catholics to practice their faith. Senator Kruger encouraged the senate to not indulge in a scarcity mindset, but rather to recognize the benefits of having such a space on campus. Senator Musick pointed out that 20% of non-Catholics is a sizable fraction to underscore the importance of the matter at hand. She also asserted that the chapel was not a leap, but rather a small step towards Catholic University catching up with the progress made at other religious universities.
With that, debate on the resolution ensued and the first to rise was Senator Kish. He emphasized what he believed to be an important distinction between here and other Catholic higher education institutions: he stated emphatically that we are The Catholic University of America. While he stated that non-Catholics were not in any way lesser than Catholics, he asserted that the establishment of an interfaith chapel would diminish the Catholic identity of the university and set a dangerous precedent.
Senator Henriquez responded by reminding the senator that Campus Ministry is already taking steps to create the interfaith space and that the resolution is a statement of support by the senate. Cosponsor Senator Kruger added that the chapel would not endorse any religion and that it would simply provide a space for non-Catholics to practice their faith.
Senator Martin rose to express her concern about the establishment of such a chapel converting Catholics away from the Catholic Church. She also asked if there would be interfaith services offered in this space. The sponsor replied that the resolution was purposely vague so that the granular details could be left to advocacy to decide. Senator Musick responded to the conversion concern made by Martin, stating that it was unlikely for that to happen. She also asserted that the creation of the interfaith space may even have an opposite effect: seeing followers of other religions practicing their faith strengthens your own.
Time running low, the senate agreed to extend the time to debate the resolution by five minutes. Senator Drauschak verbalized his support for the resolution. Senator Foley of the School of Philosophy expressed his discontent with the resolution. Senator Bommer rose to show VP Fahey a note to which she simply replied “No”.
Another motion was passed to extend the debate five more minutes. Senator Bert rose to ask if there were any statistics of how many non-Catholics on campus follow no religion, to which Senator Besendorfer replied that they did not have the data the answer that question. This was followed by Senator Michels expressing his support for the resolution, stating that the interfaith space would not tarnish the University’s identity. He also asserted that since the University has “America” in its name, then it should be compliant with the American values of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Similarly, Senators Corey, Phillips, and Suarez all voiced their support for the resolution. Before the time clocked to zero, another motion was passed to vote on extending the debate by five minutes. The voice vote made it difficult to establish a clear decision, so a roll call vote had to be called in which thirteen senators agreed to the motion and ten dissented. VP Fahey announced that it would be the last extension of the night.
In this remaining time, Senator Kish rose again, stating that while he will not endorse the establishment of an interfaith chapel, an interfaith space would not be a bad idea. Senator Tamayo asserted that the resolution was too ambiguous and explained that there needed to be a clear distinction between worship and prayer. Senator Henriquez responded that the decision should be left to Campus Ministry to decide.
With 16 in favor and 7 against, the resolution passed.
VP Fahey concluded the meeting by thanking the Treasurer of SGA for visiting all senate committee meetings this week and thanked the senate for a productive meeting. During open floor, some senators announced progress on previous resolutions and ideas for new resolutions. Following this, the meeting adjourned.