Student Senate looking to use an unallocated $5 out of each undergrad’s tuition by the end of the academic year

As the semester wraps up, so too does the work of the Student Senate ad-hoc committee for the unallocated Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) funds. Since the St. Kate’s chapter of MPIRG, a third-party student-directed organization that empowers and trains students and engages the community to take collective action in the public interest throughout the state of Minnesota, lost its charter in the spring 2017 semester, Student Senate has been tasked with finding a use for the $5 from the activities fee included in each undergraduate student’s tuition.

MPIRG, as some seniors may remember, was an active presence on campus during the 2014-15 academic year. Student Senate President Biftu Bussa, Public Health Major, ’18 remembers her involvement with MPIRG fondly: “It was so amazing, I just really liked the energy that was in the room.” The three student chairs of MPIRG focused on voter registration and education issues, women’s empowerment, and environmental justice, who were all overseen by an advisor from MPIRG who worked with other colleges and universities in Minnesota.

Despite MPIRG’s popularity and visibility among the student population during the ’14-’15 school year, their presence on campus waned the next year. Senate revoked MPIRG’s charter in the spring of 2017, after two semesters without any significant programming on campus. While, according to Bussa, relations between Student Senate and MPIRG continue to be friendly, there are no current plans for a MPIRG to return to St. Kate’s.

Since October Sarah Haglund, International Relations and Political Science Major, ’17 and Jasmin Yangwaue, Social Work Major, ’21 have been working as co-chairs on an ad-hoc senate committee to research possible projects worth funding with the former MPIRG money. Hoping to use the money similarly to MPIRG, that is, toward social justice, Haglund and Yangwaue have narrowed down the possible projects to three: voter registration efforts, Title IX bystander training, and mental health programming, or as Haglund put it, “a semester-long Destress Fest”.

Haglund and Yangwaue’s work on the unallocated funds project since October is actually a continuation of the work Bussa and the previous Senate Leadership Team’s work from last spring. Bussa spearheaded research on the idea of attorney office hours on campus, where, for a set time each week, students would be able to speak with an attorney on campus, free of charge.

Senate’s focus on the project was stalled slightly by the beginning of a new session and the survey that goes out each fall with the Senate ballots via email. The beginning of year survey is a valuable tool for Senate in assessing ways to enhance the student experience. While the results of the survey inform the following session (there are active Senate committees addressing the thematic concerns from the survey results: the lack of both prayer space and gender-inclusive bathrooms), there are never responses to the fall survey from all or even most of the student body.

A major Senate project of the 2016-’17 academic year in action: hydration stations.

Senate has discussed in meetings throughout the semester where they would like to see the money go, but Bussa said, “we don’t just want to go with what the Senate wants, we want to do what everyone wants”. One of the biggest challenges of the process has been figuring out how to hear the most student voices. “Its always hard to get a large amount of students to be invested because you have to figure out how to do it many different ways,” said Bussa. Indeed, both Bussa and Haglund were doubtful if the average St. Kate’s student is aware that there is a large sum of money for the taking by the end of the year, though they are hopeful for the continuation of the conversation next semester.

As of now, Senate will continue to investigate the merits of each potential projects various members of Senate have brought forward, no formal decisions have been made. Senate’s goal is to bring well-researched projects that reflect the needs of the student body, to students for their consideration during the Spring 2018 semester.

Stay up to date with all Senate dealings by attending their weekly meetings, open to all students, from 12:00-1:15 pm Tuesdays in the Rauenhorst Ballroom.