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Senate discusses changes to Welcome Week

| Friday, April 23, 2021

The third meeting of the 2021-2022 student senate commenced in DeBartolo Hall on Thursday evening, where student body president junior Allan Njomo delivered a statement on the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and senators discussed Welcome Week changes.

Student body vice president junior Matthew Bisner relayed updates from the student advisory group for campus reopening. This week, chief of staff junior Alix Basden, Njomo and Bisner met with vice president for student affairs Erin Hoffman Harding and other faculty members to deliberate over commencement, senior week and COVID-19 concerns. During the meeting, faculty responded to several concerns about these regulations, such as masking during the passing periods, which is not required. Additionally, University President Fr. John Jenkins announced new relaxations of COVID-19 regulations on April 21. 

Njomo delivered a statement on the conclusion of the trial of Chauvin, who was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd on Tuesday. While Njomo said the verdict is a step towards accountability, he added that “no amount of punitive justice will bring back George Floyd or the countless victims of police violence.”

He called for a continuation of the fight for justice for Black and brown communities.

“We cannot rest until we have a system that uplifts communities instead of killing them,” Njomo said. “We can only hope that these past years’ events will bring us towards true justice.”

After Njomo’s statement, the senate debated the proper approach to Welcome Week changes. Two weeks ago, University leadership limited the number of Welcome Week ambassadors from 15 to five. Smaller dorms will receive even fewer ambassadors, with the total determined by the number of resident assistants. Senators discussed potential problems that could arise from this decision. One of the concerns mentioned was that first-years would experience a lack of guidance from older students and have a harder time moving into residence halls.

Katie Werner | The Observer
Student body president Allan Njomo addresses the student senate Thursday.

In response, first-year Walsh Hall senator Ava Downey explained that her hall will only have four ambassadors, but her rector found a way to offer students more assistance while moving in. She formed a “lift, loft, love” group of students from Walsh Hall who will move into the dorm early next semester. This unofficial group will help first-years move in and meet more upperclassmen.

However, other students asserted that the senate must also find a permanent institutional solution. Keough Hall senator Benjamin Erhardt said his new rector will likely be less willing to form an unofficial group similar to the one in Walsh Hall. He criticized the lack of transparency behind the decision to limit the number of ambassadors.

“I feel like this was a decision that was made very quietly, and then announced like it was already there,” Erhardt said.

Others also questioned the reasoning behind the decision. Junior and student union treasurer Meenu Selvan conjectured that faculty may have been concerned about hazing or a lack of ambassador training. However, she did not see a strong correlation between the policy and potential hazing. She said this activity typically occurs off campus with upperclassmen not involved in Welcome Week. The lack of ambassador training has also been addressed in recent years. First-year Siegfried Hall senator Zach Cortez remarked that this year ambassadors must attend multiple in-person and virtual asynchronous training sessions.

Another senator also mentioned the lack of programming and support for transfer students, who were “treated like freshmen” this past year. 

Notably, Breen-Phillps Hall senator Faith Woods said the lack of ambassadors will disadvantage and discourage first-years of color. She said when she arrived at Welcome Weekend, there was only one person of color aiding first-years.

“When you cut down Welcome Weekend numbers, there’s a lot less chance to see people of color,” Woods said.

She said white ambassadors are also less likely to direct students to resources for people of color on campus like the Multicultural Students Programs and Services.

To address these concerns, Erdhart suggested the senate could pass a resolution to call the Campus Life Council (CLC) to move forward with this issue. The CLC has the authority to meet with Hoffman Harding and specific directors of the Welcome Week program. Basden advocated for a smaller discussion with several members of the senate before welcoming Hoffman Harding to the larger senate body.

Looking ahead, Njomo will soon present his first State of the Student Union Address.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article misstated Faith Woods’ last name. The Observer regrets this error.

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