Senate Recap: Student religious leaders upset by lack of representation

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Bills to give Hillel and Muslim Students of the University of Miami (MSUM) seats on the Student Government (SG) Senate were not passed at the senate meeting Wednesday afternoon after about an hour-long discussion by members of SG only.

All non-senate members – including members of Hillel, MSUM and student media – were asked to step out during the discussion. According to SG Advisor Brandon Gross, senate reserves the right to ask all non-senate members, including the media, to leave during periods of deliberation and discussion.

Hillel President Joey Newfels said that he did not understand why the senate would ask students to leave during the discussion.

“It seems unfair to ask students affected by this decision to not be present during their discussion,” he said.

In order for an organization to be considered for a senate seat, they must present a substantial need for representation. The SG Supreme Court uses a three-prong test to determine this need: the organization must be registered with the Committee on Student Organizations (COSO), receive funding from a mandatory-fee source unrelated to residency, and demonstrate “substantive need” as determined by the court.

The organizations hoped to use the seats to alleviate issues with dining options for both religions, to propose greater leniency toward religious-holiday absences and to promote awareness for their respective events and services.

The majority of the Supreme Court believed both organizations did demonstrate substantive need and therefore have the right to present a bill to the senate. The dissenting opinion stated that the issuance of senate seats to these religiously affiliated organizations may seem unfair to other religious organizations and may lead to senate having to grant individual seats to those other organizations.

One of the recommendations by the Supreme Court was the formation of an umbrella organization to represent the various religious groups on campus on the senate. Several members of MSUM said they felt the recommendation of having an overarching organization to represent the organizations would not work because of the diversity of belief systems.

“I’m not sure if one individual could represent multiple religions in the senate and make decisions that would benefit all of them,” said Areeba Imam, president of MSUM.

Although these bills did not pass, it did raise the issue of handling senate seats for organizations. According to Allie Hussey, chief justice of the student supreme court, the proposals by Hillel and MSUM raised many questions about representation.

“There’s a lot we could do to improve the representation of students in student government,” Hussey said.

Notes:

  • A bill previously scheduled for the meeting was pulled due to what SG President Brianna Hathaway called issues with “research.” The subject of the bill was that of the delegation of certain duties of the president. Hathaway said the authors of bills should thoroughly research the issue at hand and communicate with those involved before proceeding to present it.

  • Two bills regarding the process of amending SG statutes and senate roles were scheduled for discussion, but due to the extent of the previous bill concerning Hillel and MSUM, they were tabled for the next meeting.

  • President-elect Vikesh Patel and Vice President-elect Ashley Pittaluga presented a new plan to restructure the senate that would revamp the SG website and add several positions to ease the flow of information to and from students, senate, and administrators.

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