Student Government Association meets with Board of Trustees, discuss range of issues

Photo by Sarah Del Villar '17 | The Board of Trustees and the Student Government Association discussed Ada housing among other things at their semi-annual board meeting.

Katherine Hazen '18 Associate Editor

In their semi-annual meeting with the Board of Trustees on campus last month, the Student Government Association (SGA) brought forward many important issues pertaining to life at Smith.

Notes provided by SGA President Meghna Purkayastha ’16 indicated students met with the trustees in roundtable discussions on topics ranging from accessibility for undocumented and international students and housing for Ada Comstock scholars to the organization of health services and the controversial status of Smith’s medical leave process.

In regards to the status of undocumented students, funding was the main issue brought to the board, as according to the Office of Admission’s “Frequently Asked Questions” for traditionally-aged applicants,  “Financial aid for international students is highly competitive.”

“We discussed the possibility of creating a new ‘bucket’ of donations for undocumented students, since the Board of Trustees seemed hesitant to simply place undocumented students in the domestic students bucket,” Purkayastha wrote.  “The Board suggested that [Organizing for Undocumented Students’ Rights] talk to the people in charge of these buckets.”

At the undocumented and international students roundtable, Idia Irele ’16, Silvana Saca ’18 and Alyssa Mata-Flores ’16 also “talked [about] the greater international and non-East Coast community,” Purkayastha wrote.  “We proposed combining the shuttle system with the other [Five] Colleges so we can get students, particularly international students, from [Logan International Airport] and [John F. Kennedy International Airport] to Northampton.”

It was also suggested that the college provide a list of alumnae and staff who volunteer to host international students for longer breaks, made available to students by the Office for International Students and Scholars.

Katie Wing ’AC17 spoke with Trustees on the issue of housing for Adas, which had also been raised in the fall meeting.

According to a campus-wide email from SGA in November after the fall meeting, “We asked for a high-level committee to review alternative solutions for housing a larger number of Adas on campus, and greater support in acquiring suitable off-campus solutions. Right now, the Ada community did not receive adequate housing to suffice the needs of Adas who have children or who are currently pregnant. This situation has been the worst it has been in years.”

Purkayastha said that though the administration expresses the college’s obligation is to first secure housing for those it guarantees housing — which does not include Adas — the adminitration seemed aware of the need to do more.

One proposal offered includes forming partnerships with local property owners, but no “clear and concrete change” has been enacted as of yet in regards to Ada housing, according to the notes.

Health services, especially counseling services, has been a major issue for quite some time, as The Sophian reported in 2015.  Earlier this semester SGA sent out a survey on counseling services “to assess the current situation of access and quality of counseling cervices,” as the email sent to surveyed-students said.  Recurring complaints among the student body include the time and accessibility of appointments and the lack of diversity among staff members.

“[SGA] learned that the Schatt Center administration is getting reorganized in the coming years and will eventually be under one director with associative directors in the different departments. There will be four new hires in the next three years and the priority will be hiring a diverse staff,”  Purkayastha said. “The center is transitioning to 12-month care, to better serve students and Adas who are on campus during the summer.”

With many issues in the topic of what SGA denotes as “universal accessibility,” including physical accessibility of houses and access vans to medical costs, the most contentious seems to be medical leave, specifically the process of returning from a medical withdrawal.

Students who voluntarily or involuntarily take medical leave have to reapply upon return, demonstrating they have “regained functional capacity” during that time off-campus, according to the Student Handbook.  The Director of Health Services reviews “requests for readmissions … and make[s] a recommendation … to the Administrative Board which makes a final decision.”

SGA argued that other schools do not have policies such as this, and further “that policy makes students who have taken medical leave feel as if they are not valued as [Smith students] enough to return without proving themselves to the administration,” Purkayastha wrote.

According to Purkayastha’s notes, Trustees had a less than favorable reaction, arguing that as students readmitted were given administrative accommodations they needed, there is no problem with the medical leave policy.

Overall, Purkayastha was disappointed with the attendance of Trustees but thought many important conversations have taken place.