A public comment raising concerns about the language used on the graffiti wall located in the Quads led to an extended discussion about the possibility of removing the wall at Student Senate’s public meeting last Thursday in the Trustees’ Room of Alumni Hall.
The meeting also featured an appearance through Skype by Chuck Smith ‘84, Chair of the Board of Trustees, who received questions from Senate.
The meeting of Student Senate began with the assembly hearing two public comments, from Soleil Smith, senior, and Drake Edmonson, sophomore.
Smith came to the meeting concerned about Senate’s revising of its constitution, which Smith had heard was in the works but which she believed most of campus was unaware of. She urged senators to make sure the student community was informed, and for the process to be open to the whole assembly rather than just Senate’s executives.
Senate Secretary Kathryn Allee, junior, responded that the constitutional revision was largely about changing aspects of how Senate is structured, rather than changes that would necessarily impact the student body. However, she added that the general assembly would have the opportunity to review and choose whether to approve the proposed changes made by Senate’s exec.
Treasurer Andrew Liput, junior, added that it sounded like Smith’s concerns in respect to clubs on campus fell under the budgeting process, which Liput is in the process of reforming while communicating to student organizations.
Edmonson’s public comment brought up the topic of the graffiti wall. Edmonson referred to an incident in which writing on the wall saying “#TransLivesMatter” was altered to “#AllLivesMatter,” which Edmonson described as transphobic. Edmonson stated that students have been discussing why the administration seemed to not be doing anything about the wall and wondering why the graffiti wall even exists.
Student Senate agreed to set aside time for discussing the issue.
Trustees Chair talks finances
Chuck Smith received a series of questions from both senators and guests present at the meeting.
The discussion with Smith began with the budget of the deficit and rising tuition. Smith expressed his understanding that rise in the cost of college can be painful, and reiterate that keeping prices from rising was a key goal for the board and the school.
On the subject of the deficit, Smith stated that it’s normal for colleges to have to dip into their endowments, but that for the last few years the deficit had been rising higher than normal. In the interest of lowering this deficit, Smith stated that difficult choices would have to be made.
Responding to a question about a need for increased communication, Smith expressed a willingness to make meetings with Student Senate a regular occurrence in the future, and to make attempts in the future to be present in person.
Asked specifically about the board’s commitment to keeping costs down for international students, Smith said this would be a subject at the next Board of Trustees meeting in February.
When the discussion moved to the topic of accessibility, Smith stated that he and President Teresa Amott had regularly discussed the need to address such issues, and that it had been prioritized in the renovation of SMC.
In response to a comment by Smith about how the Board prioritizes certain projects, senator Luis Patino, junior, questioned whether the board was prioritizing different buildings than students. Patino described improving the condition of residential buildings as a central concern for students, giving the example of things falling from the ceiling in Seymour, where he lives.
Smith acknowledged that the dorm buildings have not changed much even from his time at Knox. He stated that what can be renovated depends on what gets donations and the renovations like SMC are important to the future of the school, but that did not excuse serious issues like things falling from the ceiling.
Edmonson, who is currently in a walking boot because of an incident he suffered on the stairs of Old Main, asked if Smith was aware of the the state of the Old Main’s stairs and the safety issue they present. Smith stated he was aware the stairs were worn from age, but not of students slipping on them, which he agreed was a problem.
PNC Bank Controversy
Student Senate also wished for Smith’s response to students concern over PNC Bank, which students have expressed interest in seeing the college stop partnering with.
Smith, who understood the issue as revolving around PNC Bank’s involvement in the Dakota Access Pipeline, responded that the college could not currently cease relations with PNC Bank due to the current debt-structure the school has with PNC.
Smith expressed willingness to look at alternatives when the time comes for the school to restructure its debt and to take social issues as a serious concern. However, he emphasized that there would be other considerations as well. Smith considered PNC Bank a good partner, and highlighted that they had initiatives to help the environment like PNC’S Green Bonds.
Soleil Smith, who identified herself as an organizer of the PNC removal student initiative, thanked Chuck Smith for explaining why the school could not currently cut off its relationship with PNC.
However, while Chuck Smith’s response had focused on the environmental issue, Soleil Smith explained her issues with PNC also related to the Dakota Pipeline’s impact on Native Americans, and their giving of subprime loans to minorities.
Chuck Smith responded by once again stating that the school would take social issues into consideration for future decisions, and encouraging students’ challenging of power.
Funds Requests for ABLE, Wii’s
Representatives for the group Women in CS came before Student Senate for approval as an official campus organization.
While the club was founded in 2017, they have only become active in trying to hold events since last year. They characterized themselves as different from the largely inactive Coding Club because of their focus on professional development rather than just coding skills. The members also stated their events were open to anyone.
Senate voted to approve Women in CS as a campus organization.
Smash Club came made a $300 request to Student Senate for the purchase of 3 Wii’s. The club explained the purchase of the Wii’s would assist them in the running of their weekly Smash Bros. tournaments, as their current Wii’s are in poor condition. The Wii’s were in Smash Club’s original budget for last term, but the purchase of them did not work due to an attempt to buy from online vendor falling through.
Once purchased, the equipment is to be kept in Smash House. Senate approved the request, after a discussion in which senators expressed their faith in the responsibility of Smash Club’s exec.
A $70 request by Smash House for an event was also approved.
ABLE came to Senate with a $500 dollar request to assist them in the holding of various Black History Month events. The funding was necessary as a result of ABLE not receiving a budget for this school term. Senate approved the request.
Senator Kelly Feng, junior, spoke on behalf of the Organization Best Buddies, which requested $330 for the hosting of its Winter Term Gala, $185 for a terrarium activity, and $450 for members to attend the national organization’s leadership conference. Senate approved the request.
Friends of Green Oak House requested $69 for an upcoming event co-hosted with Tea Club about intentional community, which Senate approved.
President Cayne Randle presented Student Senate’s proposed constitutional changes.
Randle emphasized that the changes were largely focused on improvements the wording of sections and and making clarifications.
Among the changes were requiring senators to maintain good academic standing and taking out the rule that changes to the requirements for holding office could not come into effect for two election cycles. Candidates to fill exec vacancies will need at least one term of Senate experience.
Randle also discussed planned changes to the bylaws. Senate intends to move towards having five members representing every class, to decrease the difficulty in filling Senate positions. To make this happen Senate also plans to eliminate its Dining Services Committee.
Randle described dining services issues as having become less prominent, but said that dinning issues could still be discussed, and the committee can be re-created if it is ever deemed necessary.
Graffiti Wall Discussion
Senate held a discussion of the ‘Graffiti Wall,’ which multiple senators believed has been regularly used as a forum for anonymous hate speech.
Patino commented that the Graffiti Wall could also be used for positive messages, such as when members of Greek Life last year used it to post messages in tribute to the late Greek Life Advisor Frantz Salomon after his passing.
Other senators responded, however, that there were better forums for spreading positive messages. Patrick Mulchone, junior, stated that it was not an issue of free speech, as anonymous speech was different from public statements. He added that despite Knox’s reputation as a “liberal campus,” that did not mean it was free of the spread of hate speech.
Liput suggested that perhaps there could be a solution such as moving the graffiti wall into a building where it would be locked at night, with other senators also suggesting there could be some way of salvaging the structure.
Matt Milewski, junior, admonished other members of Senate for putting any considerations in front of the need to protect vulnerable members of the community.
He remarked on how when he was an RA of Raub-Sellew, he dreaded what he would see written on the wall every morning. He described the central issue as being the use of anonymous speech to “terrorize” marginalized people, not just members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Senate held a straw poll on the topic of whether senators wanted the graffiti wall taken down, which saw near unanimous support for its removal.
Vice President for Student Development Anne Ehrlich stated there was no reason that Student Senate could not make a request for the wall’s takedown, if they felt they were representing the desires of campus.
Ehrlich and Senate’s exec members, however, advised Student Senate to seek opinions from their constituents before moving forward on the issue. On Wednesday, Senate sent an email to campus with a survey to collect thoughts on the Graffiti Wall, though it did not provide specifics on the controversy.
The next meeting of Student Senate will be held on Thursday, Feb. 6 in the Trustee’s Room of Alumni Hall.