The Student Government Association Senate held a routine meeting Tuesday, October 5 at 7pm in the Mocha Room of the Smith-Brown Memorial Student Union.
Following the Freshman senators being sworn in, the meeting proved controversial, as discussion of making students pay a fee to use the Jaguar Eats on-campus food pantry took the floor. Under the proposal, every full-time enrolled student student could see a $5 fee charged during the fall and spring semesters, and a $1 fee during the summer semester.
“In order for Southern University's food pantry to move forward and continue to strive," Senator Blake Reddick explained, "the implementation of a $5 fee per semester and $1 for the summer semester will allow the Student Government Association food pantry to have more selections, better supplies, and better equipment for the students. Instead of leaving campus to go to the grocery store, they'll be able to get everything they need here on campus.”
Concern shifted to determining if students could afford the additional expense without struggling financially. Senator Caleb Holmes expressed his disapproval. “A lot of these students are on Pell grants and scholarships, meaning they already don’t have the financial needs," said Holmes, "Our job is not to increase taxes on students who already can't give any more of their money.”
The food pantry, which began operations last school year, gets the majority of its assets in donations, making it illegal to charge students for use. However, according to Director of Student Leadership and Community Engagement, Tiffany Freeman, the university would be able to bypass this legality by using the fee to offset “infrastructure” cost. This essentially includes the costs of appliances and technology, amongst others.
Outside of the food pantry issue, an idea was proposed to give students an itemized report, which includes hyperlinks to see exactly where their fees are being used. This led to the proposal of the “Good Government Act” bill, by Senator Caleb Holmes. This bill is currently undergoing revision, but will ultimately serve as a safety net for students’ financial concerns. Director of Athletics, Roman Banks, came before students present to announce the Athletics’ Department decision to take an Athletic Fee Increase proposal of $50 to the Board of Supervisors (BOS).
“This fee increase that will be voted on Friday [at the BOS meeting] is sensitive to students. The ID you all use to get into games and other events is not the case with all institutions. We never want to take that away from the student body. The student events that are related to athletics allow you to use your [student] ID to get in. Then you introduce this [fee] and those events begin to multiply. We can do more.”
Banks explained that due to the number of students enrolled at the University declining over the years, the athletic department is in a hole. In order to align the University with NCAA guidelines, and “take us to the next level,” the fee is necessary.
At Friday’s BOS meeting, there was minimal discussion around the proposal as the Board unanimously approved the fee increase, agreeing to adhere to students’ concerns about transparently reporting where the fee is being used.
Students will see the fee increase beginning in the spring 2020 semester. According Director Banks, the fee will generate about $325,000 for the upcoming semester alone, totaling a $650,000 increase for 2020-2021 academic year.
Junior Class President, Kelsey Perine, shared her opinion about some ideas presented throughout the meeting. “Learning that there are legal ramifications behind money being added to the food pantry makes me think differently about a fee being given to students, but I do feel like something should be done to improve it. As far as the athletic department, I’ve seen what happens when students don’t bring in the money, so if that increase will help, then I’m all for it.”