With the end of Session XL just weeks away, the Student Senate took most of its 21st meeting of the year to call for a campus-wide ban on Styrofoam, increased maintenance on “truncated” domes and longer appointments for students at the Connors Writing Center, among other matters.
The night’s first resolution – R.40.23, entitled “Creating a Campus Wide Ban on Styrofoam” and introduced by Campus Structure Chair Devon Guyer and Sen. Nick Crosby (Stoke 3) – urged the university to enact a complete ban on all Styrofoam products as a means to contributing to UNH’s goal of improving its sustainability programs, as well as to protect students from chemicals such as polystyrene and benzene that foods and liquids held in Styrofoam containers can potentially absorb and give students “higher instances of cancer, neurological issues, headaches, depression, fatigue” and other ailments, according to the motion.
Additionally, the resolution argued that Styrofoam products are not compostable or recyclable, meaning that they can only end up at landfills, where it can “easily” break down into “microscopic styrenes that contaminate soil and water resources for centuries.” Dining Services, per the document’s text, currently bans all Styrofoam products from its facilities, a policy that has been in effect for over two decades. However, the motion revealed that UNH does not presently have any campus-wide policies banning any student or organization in Durham from using Styrofoam products.
“So, Devon and I decided to create this resolution because we thought that Styrofoam is one of the most unsustainable material[s] and it’s extremely bad for the planet and for peoples’ health,” Sen. Crosby told the body. The Stoke senator also highlighted the potential negative impact of prolonged Styrofoam usage on UNH’s current “Platinum” sustainability rating courtesy of the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) awarded to UNH in Feb. 2018, a measure of collegiate sustainability from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), stressing that the night’s motion was a “logical step” to both preserve that rating and encourage greater sustainability efforts from the community. He added that the motion would not alter how students purchase on-campus foods and beverages.
When asked where Styrofoam is currently used in conjunction with food and beverage products within UNH, Guyer responded that when she talked to buyers of those items, they did not know whether Styrofoam was used to package and store them.
“…they don’t make residence halls tell them what types of products they purchase, they don’t make the faculty departments on campus tell them what products they purchase, so they’re technically under [their] own free will to utilize Styrofoam if they wish, so we don’t have that exact information,” she said. “So, with that, we [she and Crosby] decided that it would be a good idea to create a general ban so that all departments and residence halls and any [part] of UNH know that this is not an acceptable product to purchase.”
Student Body Vice President Jake Adams added that the Sustainability Institute, following previous discussions with him and Student Body President Ethan McClanahan, suggests that most current uses of Styrofoam products stem from “academic settings,” but did not highlight any specific areas within such “settings” where Styrofoam was or is used the most.
R.40.23 ultimately passed the body unanimously.
Meanwhile, Resolution 40.24 – entitled “Installing and Repairing Truncated Domes” and brought to the floor by Campus Structure Chair Guyer and Sens. Logan Stevens (Peterson 1, Co-1), Jack Franco (Hunter), Jade Haynes (Fairchild), Taylor Donnelly (Williamson 1), Thomas McDonough (Gibbs 1, Co-1) and Annah Santarosa (Stoke 1) – urged the university to look into the state of UNH’s “truncated domes” – or “ground surface indicators” that aid pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired – to assess “the necessity and feasibility of replacing deteriorated” domes and installing new ones.
The motion argued that many truncated domes currently in place are deteriorating and reducing in size, which violates guidelines for truncated domes set by the International Code Council (ICC) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that require all domes in an area to be the same standard size. According to detectable-warning.com, the ADA requires all truncated domes to have a base diameter ranging from 23mm (0.9 in) to 36mm (1.4 in), a “top diameter” measurement ranging from half of the base diameter minimum to 65 percent of the dome’s maximum diameter, and a height of 5mm (0.2 in).
R.40.24 added that a number of crosswalk areas on campus that are supposed to feature truncated domes feature no domes at all, and that their absence marks a “safety hazard” for visually-impaired pedestrians. The document also referenced university claims that portray the university as “committed to supporting and sustaining an education community that is inclusive, diverse and equitable,” according to its website, especially with its “wide range of students with varying visual abilities,” per the motion.
Student Trustee Christian Merheb, although not an official author of the resolution, said he conducted research into truncated domes while the motion was being crafted, and uncovered that of the two different types of truncated domes – yellow, plastic domes made from urethane or metal domes made out of polyurethane – the deterioration of the more common plastic domes poses the biggest risk to campus pedestrians.
“…a lot of the yellow urethane ones just wear down due to natural wear because it’s like a plastic material, so the more people that walk over them, the more they get worn down,” Merheb said. “And the legality here doesn’t come in from necessarily needing these domes…you’re not legally required to have these, but if you do have them, it’s legally required that they have to be a certain height, depth,” and other required and previously-stated ADA standards.
R.40.24 ultimately passed the Senate unanimously.
Meanwhile, the night’s third and final resolution – R.40.27, entitled “On Extended Appointments at the Connors Writing Center” and introduced by Sens. Luke O’Connell (Congreve 1) and Stevens, and Academic Affairs Chair Audrey Getman – called for UNH to extend the standard length of appointments between student authors and writing assistants from 50 to 110 minutes as a means to increase “productivity,” as well as recommend that the Center offer students the choice between one 110 minute session or two 50 minute sessions per week due to the above change.
The motion argued that longer papers have the potential to “absorb much of the time allotted” during a typical 50 minute meeting, and that the current shorter-length sessions result in discussions between students and writing assistants being “frequently cut short,” resulting in the Center “unintentionally” failing to offer helpful “critical thinking, reflection, and inquiry about the writer’s project” by offering to help students brainstorm and create “strategies” for outlining, drafting and revising papers, a key component of the Center’s “mission.”
The resolution added that students can only schedule two meetings in a calendar week, and that scheduling future conferences with the same writing assistant is made more difficult during “certain weeks of the semesters,” and especially so during midterms and finals seasons. It also stated that the meetings can be “extraordinarily beneficial” to students taking mandatory “writing-intensive” courses.
R.40.27 ultimately passed the body unanimously.
During communications, Senate Speaker Nicholas LaCourse stated that several items had been pulled from the night’s agenda, including two resolutions and two bills dealing with Student Activity Fee (SAF) budget amendments and the approval of next year’s Student Activity Fee; the former amendment bill will not hit the floor until the Student Activity Fee Committee (SAFC) itself passes the amendments, while the latter was delayed until student organization budgets are introduced to the chamber, according to the Speaker.
The two resolutions in question – R.40.25, entitled “Regarding Expansion of Meal Exchange Policy,” which would have urged UNH to investigate the “feasibility” of allowing meal exchanges at both Philbrook Café and Wildcatessen, according to the motion; and R.40.26, entitled “On Asking For Gender Identity in Course Evaluations,” which would have urged the Office of the Provost to change the gender question on course evaluations to include more gender options for transgender students by Fall 2019 – were both pulled by their authors, according to LaCourse.
LaCourse added that the night’s scheduled guest speaker, Vice President of Advancement and UNH Foundation President Deborah Dutton, could not make it to Sunday’s meeting.
In other senatorial business, the chamber officially approved of the results from this semester’s Student Body General Elections, with a corresponding bill listing each candidate’s final vote tally and announcing that the winning Student Body Presidential ticket – Study Body President-elect Allison MacPhee and Student Body Vice President-elect Kelsey Crowley – will hold their positions from May 1, 2019, to April 30, 2020. It also declared that Student Trustee-elect Cailee Griffin will hold office from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. The bill passed with one abstention.
Additionally, the Senate unanimously welcomed Gareth Jones as its next SAFC Chair for Session XLI.
In an announcement to the chamber at meeting’s end, Sen. Yuri Makar (Peterson 1, Co-2) gave his previously-debated Resolution 40.18 – entitled “Urging the Creation of a Pet-Friendly Dorm,” which he co-authored with Campus Structure Chair Guyer – a “95 percent chance” that it would be included in the Senate’s final meeting of the Session; it had previously been remanded to the Campus Structure Council following stalemated debate during the Senate’s 16th meeting back in February.
Following Sen. Makar’s announcement, the Senate adjourned at 7:05 p.m.