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Student Senate Update- April 14, 2019: calls for recognition of non-Christian holidays, pressure during spring break


Calls for greater recognition of non-Christian religious holidays, lessening academic pressures during spring break, and a constitutional redefining of a major senatorial committee all served as just a sample of the Student Senate’s wide-ranging agenda for its 22nd and penultimate meeting of Session XL. 

The first of the night’s two resolutions – R.40.28, entitled “On Academic Recognition of Religious and Cultural Holidays,” originally introduced by Academic Affairs Chair Audrey Getman and Student Activity Fee Committee (SAFC) Chair Joshua Velez – urged UNH to update its academic calendar to officially include “religious and cultural holidays and/or holy days” for non-Christian students, as well as to create new academic policies that would allow students observing such holidays to make up coursework “of equal rigor and not exceeding the original difficulty” of missed assignments. 

The motion argued that students of other religions aside from Christianity find themselves “often unable to celebrate their holidays” and currently risk missing classes and on-campus activities if they were to observe them, adding that the university’s academic calendar bases its holidays and off-days on those recognized by the federal government, including some holidays based on Christianity such as Christmas.  

The motion also stated that, in the past, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) has scheduled its annual Homecoming Weekend or Family Weekend events during non-Christian holidays like the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, forcing students who celebrate them to choose between participating in campus events and observing their religious beliefs, despite UNH’s stated commitment to representing “the full spectrum of racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities,” according to the President’s Statement on Diversity quoted from UNH’s “Inclusive Excellence” webpage. 

R.40.28 comes months after the Faculty Senate passed its own resolution – motion XXIII-M10, entitled “On Acknowledging Major Holidays and Observances” – regarding increased recognition of non-Christian holidays back in January. Student Body Vice President Jake Adams – who spoke of the bill on behalf of Chairs Getman and Velez, both of which were absent from Sunday’s meeting – said that he attended the Faculty Senate meeting that passed motion XXIII-M10 and called it “straightforward” while highlighting its “unanimous” support from within that body. 

When asked by Sen. Logan Stevens (Peterson 1, Co-1) about how “in depth” R.40.28 would go in calling for increased recognition of non-Christian holidays and defining which ones would receive a full day off from classes as opposed to a simple acknowledgement from UNH, Adams replied that holidays that had the potential to impact “large minorities of students” would be considered for a day off from classes, dependent on changes in UNH’s demographics over time. Adams did not specify which “large minorities of students” would be immediately impacted by the updated calendar upon its passing. 

The vice president’s response led to follow-up concerns from Sen. Cameron Horack (Non-Res). Horack called the process “perpetual maintenance” for UNH administration concerning what defines a “large minority” and what holidays represent larger minority populations in the student body at any one moment in time. Horack ultimately asked Adams whether such concerns were ones to address upon the motion’s passing or down the road in future discussions about updating the calendar. 

“I don’t think it really needs to be addressed in the resolution because I know it was kind of addressed in more detail in the Faculty [Senate],” Adams responded while advising against going too “narrow” with defining which holidays get which treatment, “and in the administration that will actually be implementing this, this is pretty much our kind-of ‘go ahead’ if we choose to vote on this saying that those efforts and how they’re initiated are worthwhile to look into, and that the exact implementation should be done in a…not overly-complicated and sort of labyrinthian manner.” 

R.40.28 ultimately passed the Senate unanimously. 

Sunday’s other resolution – R.40.29, entitled “On Reinforcing Spring Break” and brought to the floor by Health & Wellness Council Chair Jennifer Hargenrader, Academic Affairs Council Chair Getman and Sens. Stevens, Maria Koch (Sawyer, Co-2), Annah Santarosa (Stoke 1), Yuri Makar (Peterson 1, Co-2), Chris Garcia (Woodsides), and Luke O’Connell (Congreve 1) – sought to urge the Faculty Senate to encourage professors to not assign coursework due during UNH’s yearly spring break week off. The motion argued that the university, through programs like the UNH-Alternative Break Challenge (UNH-ABC), encourages students to use their spring break to either take part in alternative experiences to benefit their studies or take the week off for leisure – more often than not involving out-of-state trips – and that many destinations students may choose to travel to during the week may leave them “unable to submit assignments” during that time. 

The resolution added that UNH currently has no policy prohibiting professors from assigning coursework to be due during spring break, arguing that the week’s “intent” becomes “nullified by professors’ ability to assign work” during break. UNH also, per the motion, requires many students to depart from their housing on the Friday prior to spring break, with only a limited number of residence halls allowing residence during that week and alternative vacation housing available for additional cost for students needing to reside on campus over break, housing that the motion stated is “not guaranteed” for students not living in residence halls permitting spring break residency. 

Judicial Affairs Council Chair Work, in stating the motion’s intent and rationale to the body, described an experience in which she had a paper assigned near the end of the week before spring break and due during her spring break trip to countries like Greece and Israel, all while facing problems completing many of the assignments on time due to difficulties finding an internet connection. 

“And I thought, ‘that can’t be allowed,’” she said. “I texted Jenny [Hargenrader], ‘Jenny, can you believe this? This has never happened to me.’ And she said, ‘oh, every single spring break I’ve had four to five assignments that were due every single day of spring break.’ And this is just…I laid out a lot of what the university is doing in trying to push students to have options to go elsewhere, because the university really can’t have it both ways in saying, ‘look, we really want you to spend your spring break volunteering down in Haiti if you can; we want to send you to other places to just have more experience and contribute to the world and get a better cultural perspective,’ and also say, ‘we are going to allow teachers to expect you to submit assignments electronically while you’re away.’” 

Several members of Senate supported the motion, with Student Trustee Christian Merheb responding that the resolution would not entail “pointing our fingers at the professors” but encouraging them to “take a little bit more care in their planning process” to prevent unwanted burdens on students during break; Adams, meanwhile, backed the motion due to its potential ability to institute a “gradual decline” in spring break assignments. 

The motion ultimately passed the body unanimously.  

Senate Speaker Nicholas LaCourse, during his communications, stated that bills overseeing the approval of the FY20 Student Activity Fee (SAF) Budget Amendments and Student Activity Fee itself had been delayed until the body’s next meeting; a definitive reason for the delay was not given by LaCourse due to it being, per the speaker, “personal in nature.” 

Sunday also featured Dr. Stacey Hall, interim leader of the Memorial Union Building and director of Campus Recreation, as the week’s guest speaker. Hall discussed with the body the MUB staff’s recent progress on self-assessment tests issued through the Council for Advancement of Standards (CAS) to “benchmark” how the university’s programs fare against similar real-world experiences. The assessment, per Hall, asks participants about all aspects of university life, ranging from “Fraternity and Sorority Life to commuter programs to the building itself.” The tests also encourage recommendations from the staff on how to improve those aspects. The director added that, due to the “condensed timeline we have with CAS, there is not a lot of opportunity for input from folks” other than MUB staff.   

“So part of what my role is to take that information and come up with a game plan, organizationally, to help the MUB move into the future,” Hall said soon after she encouraged members of the Senate to jot down recommendations of their own for how to improve the overall MUB experience. 

In other senatorial business, the Senate went into a private executive session during which they determined new officers for Session XLI. The final approved officers for next session are Parliamentarian David Cerullo, Executive Officer Annah Santarosa, Director of Public Relations Jonathan Goldberg, Business Manager Jonathan Merheb, Historian Nicholas Crosby and SAF Chair Financial Officers Ethan McClanahan (1) and Delilah DiMambro (2). The approval of the new officers spanned two bills, with the former approval of non-SAF officers passing with one nay and three abstentions, and the latter SAF-centered bill passing with one abstention. 

Additionally, the body announced a constitutional amendment changing the designation of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs from a committee to a council, with the position of a Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Liaison, an “ex-officio non-voting” member of the Senate, being discontinued due to the creation of the new council. The Senate also welcomed a new member Sunday with the unanimous approval of Sen. Alyssa Jameson (Non-Res 10). 

Following the constitutional amendment announcement, the Senate adjourned at 7:48 p.m. There is no Senate meeting next Sunday in observance of Easter. The body’s final meeting of Session XL will be held on April 28 in its normal time and location. 

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