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Student Senate Update: Feb. 10, 2019 – Senate Brings Future of WildActs, Title IX Response to the Floor


Guest Speaker UNH Police Chief Paul Dean:


Full Student Senate Meeting – Feb. 10, 2019:


Intense debate over the future of the WildActs student theatre group and calls for an updated mandated response surrounding the resources of the Title IX office formed the foundation of Sunday’s meeting of the Student Senate’s 40th session. 

Concerning the former, the night’s lengthiest resolution – R.40.17, entitled “Regarding Funding for the First-Year Student Orientation Performance” and introduced by Sen. Luke O’Connell (Congreve 1), Student Body Vice President Jake Adams, Student Activity Fee Committee (SAFC) Chair Joshua Velez, SAF Chief Financial Officers Emily Cochran and Payton Taylor, student Gareth Jones, Community Development Chair Nelson Idahosa and First-year Representative Juliana Phillips – urged UNH administration to seek out “reliable” long-term funding for the WildActs’ Wildcat Days performance for with the fall 2020 semester on, on top of expressing the student body’s representative disappointment at “actions taken by administrators…and certain faculty” within the Office of First Year Programs to minimize funding for the show; the resolution also expressed the body’s collective representative hope that those administrators would be “participants” in securing the long-term funding. 

The motion argued that the Office of First Year Programs, a long-time sponsor and primary funder of the show – which, entitled “The Wild Years Ahead,” aims to be a “first-year student orientation performance” for the campus’ residence halls during the opening days of the academic year, according to WildcatLink – has gradually decreased its funding over the years and had recently communicated its intentions to withdraw from financing the show altogether due to cost-cutting measures. The announcement, per the motion, has resulted in the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP), UNH’s Theatre and Dance Department, faculty and staff from the College of Liberal Arts, the Dean of Students and WildActs members “frantically” seeking alternative sources of funding. 

R.40.17 stressed that such efforts have hit a dead end after the Office of First Year Programs, despite appreciating the show’s value and the resources it provides each year, declined to fund the show; the difficulties come as the university has welcomed over 6,000 new students between the fall of 2017 and fall 2018, giving the social justice-oriented theatre troupe an ample audience to “use theater…as an educational tool to create [social] awareness” and “promote the idea of an active bystander,” among other ideals it aims to impress upon new students each year. The motion additionally stated that information present through “The Wild Years Ahead” is not given throughout the rest of the Wildcat Days programming at semester’s start. 

Sen. O’Connell said that the motion “came about very shortly” in the last five days due to the time-sensitive nature of the matter, so much so it was brought up in the agenda’s “other business section” due to its last-minute submission. The senator told the body that the resolution came to be following a meeting with administrators overseeing the Office of First Year Programs, who, per O’Connell, hoped to utilize the money slated for performances like “The Wild Years Ahead” and put it toward other amusements such as more barbecues and fun-houses during orientation week, despite multiple polls showcased throughout the motion highlighting positive student reception toward the show and its messages. 

“So, while this sort of emergency…[and] actions that might be taken by the administration to minimize WildActs [are] very new…in the past week or so, certain administrative hostility to the program has been around for years,” Adams told the body in defense of the motion. “In fact, in a lot of the meetings that I’ve sat in, any time there’s really any budget crisis, they’re like, ‘oh, why don’t we just cut WildActs and then put the money there [at the problem],’ without any kind of care as to what students want or anything. In fact, last semester, I was in a meeting discussing this, and a university administrator, who I’ll leave unnamed, who thought that this was just a way to tell students what the best dining hall was, said, ‘I don’t understand the impact of this, we should be giving them more fun things instead of just informing them into useless information,’ which seems like they don’t really know the first thing about what students want or what this program is.” 

When asked about the cost of the show, Sen. O’Connell stated that the cost of each show depends upon how long the actors are performing and training for, as well as a week’s worth of construction and the four days the performers are enacting the final version of the show, all adding up to a 10-day process; the show’s preparation stage as also ranged from seven to 20 days’ worth of preparation in past years. 

Despite the authors’ urging to pass the budget due to the time-sensitive nature of the motion and a short two-week deadline brought about by administrators seeking a budget for WildActs as soon as possible, several members requested a week’s postponement on the vote due to what Student Trustee Christian Merheb called questionable “language” that had the potential to improperly reflect true student sentiment regarding the show, as well as to provide more time for senators to speak to their constituents about the motion and receive their official input before proceeding. Merheb added that, although saying he did not see the show himself, he made efforts to talk to first-year students about the show when discovering that R.40.17 was added to the agenda, which he said illustrated a less universal backing of the show than what the resolution claimed.

“So, in the future, I think something like this should be brought up…to the Senate in advance so senators do have ample opportunity to talk their constituents, because although, you know, if I feel like I like it, my constituents might not feel like they like it,” the trustee said.

External Affairs Chair Liam Sullivan officially called for a motion to postpone the vote, which ultimately failed with a vote of 11-16. When R.40.17 was put up for a vote after over 20 minutes of debate, it passed with 23 in support and seven against. 

The night’s other resolution – R.40.16, entitled “On Further Urging Mandated Response in The Title IX Office” and brought to the floor by Academic Affairs Chair Audrey Getman, Health and Wellness Chair Jennifer Hargenrader, Judicial Affairs Chair Alexandra Work, SAFC Chair Velez and Sen. Marinda Weaver (Adams Tower 1, Co-2) – “strongly” urged the administration to “adopt the mandated reporting system to SHARPP” from the Title IX office, as well as increase “direct communication” between UNH and SHARPP in cases of sexual assault to make survivors more aware of their available options in such situations. 

The motion argued that afflicted students who bring forward a case or grievance to the Title IX Coordinator’s Office may be required to meet with the coordinator themselves, which could “negatively affect the mental and emotional health of a student,” whereas SHARPP’s advocates are “directly trained” to deal with cases related to sexual assault and crisis response. As a result, the motion stressed, directly providing victims with an advocate through a mandated response would relieve the student’s stress surrounding their search for proper representation and resources to deal with the problem. 

R.40.16 ultimately passed the body unanimously. 

UNH Police Chief and Assistant VP for Public Safety and Risk Management Paul Dean served as the night’s guest speaker, who touched upon his positive reactions to Durham’s handling of the Feb. 3 Super Bowl LIII celebrations, and stressed his commitment to improving accessibility to mental health resources on campus for students in need, an issue he called “alarming.” 

“And so, if there’s anything that I think that we can do collaboratively, it’s outreach to students on this campus for resources…We need to have more awareness of this. It’s a silent thing that happens here at UNH,” Dean told the body. “We need to do more; we need to do more around that.” 

In other senatorial business, the Senate greatly increased its roster on Sunday, as it unanimously welcomed Sens. Nick Crosby (Stoke 3), Jade Haynes (Fairchild), Jack Franco (Hunter), Christopher Garcia (Woodside 1), Austin Megalaitis (Williamson 2) and Allison Fischer (Mills 1) to the body, while seeing the removal of Sens. Michaela Ur (Jessie Doe 1) and Jonathan Goldberg (Williamson 1). Meanwhile, the Election Committee witnessed the arrival of new members in Sen. Elza Brechbuhl (Gibbs 1, Co-2), Executive Officer Brittany Dunkle and Sen. Weaver, as well as the removal of Sen. Gordon Guilmette (Gables 1) from the committee. 

The Senate also voted on its next Parliamentarian at the meeting when it voted in Sen. David Cerullo (Upper Quad 3) to succeed José Calvo with five nays and two abstentions. 

Following debate on R.40.17, the Senate adjourned at 7:33 p.m.

This report has been updated with additional information to R.40.17’s opposition and motion to postpone.

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