USG proposes bylaw amendment to diversity fund

(Left to right) Undergraduate Student Government Senators Michaela Murphy, Meagan Lane, Shayan Kohanteb and Jillian Halperin weighed the proposed bylaw amendment at Tuesday’s USG meeting. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)

A handful of former and current Undergraduate Student Government leaders proposed a bylaw amendment to a diversity fund during a contentious, three-hour Senate meeting Tuesday night.

Sen. Michaela Murphy and former USG leader Mai Mizuno presented a bylaw amendment alongside senators Manda Bwerevu and Meagan Lane. The four aimed to improve transparency and accessibility to a fund dedicated to campus diversity initiatives.

The fund was created in 2015 after pressure from various USC cultural organizations, which clamored for more funding. The fund would offer a $100,000 budget split evenly between the USG and the Graduate Student Government, and its initial goal was “to provide a new avenue for their voices to be heard” and “to support student programs and events that enhance our university’s understanding of access, opportunity, diversity, and inclusion,” according to a 2015 memo from the Provost regarding the initiative.

While the fund was a short-term victory in the eyes of some students when it was instituted in 2015, Murphy emphasized that numerous diversity- and advocacy-based initiatives had been stalled due to lack of access to and availability of the fund.

Some of the proposed initiatives that failed included a career fair for undocumented students and diversity training for staff and the Department of Public Safety. These incidents reflect the problems of the fund’s current state, some senators said.

The bylaw amendment originally proposed three main changes. The amendment would work to renew the $50,000 fund each year, establish an oversight board, and create a transparent process to for students to access the fund.

The oversight board would feature a chief diversity office, a treasurer and a representative from each cultural assembly.

The senators in support of the amendment were concerned that students were unfamiliar with how the fund can be used and decided to propose changes to those concerns.

“There’s hesitation for the renewal of the fund, but that is a testament to a lack of awareness, as opposed to lack of demand,” Murphy said during the meeting.

Representatives from the Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment, the Black Student Assembly and the Environmental Student Assembly spoke in support of the amendment during an open forum.

“There’s not always ways for people that want to dedicate themselves to advocacy for diversity to fight for what they want,” said Nia Warren, the co-director of BSA. “There are a lot of opportunities to take on advocacy, so if USG really values diversity, we also need funding.”

During the presentation, Sen. Jillian Halperin expressed concerns about how the $50,000 fund might not be sufficient to address the needs of students

“Are we fixing a problem? Or are we setting it up in another way?” Halperin asked during the meeting.

The floor became contentious when Speaker Pro Tempore Matt Crane proposed a motion to form a special committee dedicated to exploring and tweaking the amendment before a vote passed.

This motion would create a committee that would include the Executive Board, the authors of the bylaw, directors and co-directors of organizations and senators were interested in contributing.

USG Vice President Blake Ackerman told the Daily Trojan that the committee’s purpose would be to ensure  an “organic space for discussion” among those involved with the amendment and USG’s executive leadership.

However, leaders in favor of the amendment said that they felt silenced during the Senate meeting rather than being given an opportunity to discuss on the floor.

“We were told to sit down,” Murphy said, expressing her concern with the way Crane and Ackerman handled the conversation during the meeting.

In the end, the motion to create a special committee to oversee the amendment discussions failed to pass on a 7-5 decision and a motion was unanimously passed to table further discussion regarding the amendment until Sept. 18.

“A lack of communication among USG showed that there was a clear disconnect,” Ackerman said. “Although the Senate is rigidly structured, this was an opportunity for there to be some open communication. My hope is that people who had feelings expressed them the way they wanted to, and I think that this is another step to hear all opinions openly.”

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