Much of yesterday’s Student Senate meeting focused on how to prevent large gatherings of students at the University of Rhode Island, in order to meet social distancing guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vice President for Student Affairs Kathy Collins visited the meeting to speak about the various students on-campus who have been caught gathering in large groups, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. She said that videos she saw on social media accounts such as @BarstoolRhody and @rhodychicks have gone viral and have raised concerns as to what URI will do about these gatherings.
The University has been able to identify some students seen in these videos, according to Collins. She said those identified have been written up and suspended.
Senators did not agree on what exactly should be done to discourage these large gatherings on campus. Senator John Bagley argued that if the University harshly enforced social distancing policies through curfews or arrests, it could result in an increase of students acting out against the University.
Senator Kyra Shindler said that there needs to be a medium ground reached between “soft enforcement” and hard enforcements like arrests.
“We don’t want to deter people from URI,” Shindler said. “If we’re a little too hard on the students, like making arrests and active suspensions, yes it will get our point across but it may harm us in the future.”
Constituent Marland Chang also proposed a “three strikes” rule; however, that was shot down. Instead, Instruments Committee Chair Chris Bove suggested that students should be punished with even one violation.
“I think that basically tells students ‘OK, I can go out three times a semester,”’ Bove said regarding Chang’s proposal. “I think that if you are caught at a party of 100 people or more there is no second chance. You are making that decision with full understanding of the risk that you are putting all of us at, and if you are actively choosing to be that reckless, there should be no additional two chances.”
Collins also said she was not in favor of arresting students, arguing that police only had the authority to arrest students based on group sizes. She also considered current events regarding police, particularly police brutality against African-Americans, and wondered if an increased police presence would make students feel unsafe.
In a separate matter, Collins asked Senate for $50,000 to help plan events and traditions such as Pancake Night during exams. She explained that the University needed student input for events on nights and weekends that the Division of Student Affairs did not plan or budget for.
Collins also noted that a lot of pressure for this came from parents who asked for refunds because they believed that URI wasn’t holding enough events. The funds will be put towards making more events for all, per these requests.
When asked by Cultural Affairs Chair Bolu Taiwo why the University couldn’t pull money for these events from funds used before COVID, Collins said that URI’s budget for the current fiscal year was due in October of 2019– before anyone knew about COVID.
Additionally, URI’s Housing and Dining programs lost $17.6 million, and Collins said that URI had to lay off a “significant” amount of staff over the summer.
Bove, who is also the president of URI’s College Democrats, said that while he agreed that Collins’ sentiment was good, he questioned using money that was intended for student organizations while telling them that they can’t meet.
“I’m the president of a student organization,” Bove said. “We are struggling to hold onto our membership for dear life and it hurts our organization to not be able to throw in-person events.” Student Senate did not reach a decision on this matter during the meeting.
The Elections Committee also received eight declarations from people who wish to run for Senate in their upcoming elections.