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The General Student Senate recognizes multiple clubs and debates over funding request

On Tuesday, March 29, the University of Maine General Student Senate (GSS) met in Neville 100 for their weekly meeting in which they recognized multiple clubs and sparked a debate over funding. 

The meeting opened with Connor Bray’s official appointment to the position of Vice President of UMaine Student Government (UMSG) and the President of the GSS after being elected by the student body. Bray will be taking on this role starting next fall for the 2022-2023 academic year. 

A representative from the Black Student Union (BSU) was present at the senate meeting as the club is seeking to be recognized again as a university organization. 

“We are not just looking for one specific type of person to come,” the Vice President of BSU said. “Everyone is welcome, it’s just a place where people of color can feel safe, recognized and speak on their struggles.” 

The club is among many groups that was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the club is now trying to make its official return to campus.

“I remember BSU from my freshman year… Like many clubs and organizations, [COVID-19] really took a toll on it, so I’m very excited to see it back up here for preliminary recognition,” Zachary Wyles said, the president of UMSG. 

After a majority vote, BSU was approved for preliminary recognition. The club meets on Tuesdays in the Multicultural Center and welcomes all who want to make UMaine a more inclusive campus. 

A representative from the Permaculture and Gardening Club was also present as the club was seeking final recognition. 

“It is a space for getting hands-on practice with gardening and permaculture techniques,” the club’s representative said. 

According to the club representative, the word permaculture is a play on “permanent agriculture,” and they are working toward learning how best to work with the Earth. 

They host events at the Terrell House, which is a university building that was converted into a space for students to practice and learn permaculture in 2010. 

“I think the Permaculture and Gardening Club is a great way to extend our green thumb and show our sustainability as a university and student body,” senator Ciro Falanga said. 

After a brief period for discussion, GSS approved the club’s request for final recognition. 

Senator Falanga also highlighted in his report as chair of the Residence Hall Association that the Spring Festival is going to be on Sunday, April 10, from noon to 8 p.m. According to Falanga, there are going to be activities geared toward on-campus residents to welcome the spring season. 

Off-campus residents are also allowed to participate in any of the activities and events. The festival is being hosted on the University Mall with activities and raffles happening all day. From 4 to 8 p.m. there is also going to be ax throwing.

“It’s going to be a fun day of spring festivals so please come and join us,” senator Falanga said. 

The senate concluded their meeting with a funding request from the Backcountry Squatters club. 

Backcountry Squatters is an outdoor club for women and gender-nonbinary students with a mission to create a space that represents these students and encourages them to get outdoors. 

“We want to increase the availability of outdoor recreation to people who may not necessarily have that naturally to them or have access to the resources on their own,” Meave Merkle-Scotland said, the vice president of Backcountry Squatters. 

One aspect of the funding request sparked a large debate within the senate, after Vice President of Financial Affairs, Frank Kelly, suggested removing the funding for new climbing equipment from the request. 

“I think the senate should be hesitant about funding the climbing gear aspect of the resolution, given that we have a pre-existing climbing club,” Kelly said. 

According to Kelly, it is a policy of the senate to not have clubs that accomplish the same tasks. 

“Although the two clubs accomplish different things, purchasing the same gear for both organizations does not fall into an effective use of the student activity fee, in my opinion,” Kelly said. 

Multiple senators weighed in their opinions on this recommendation, some in support of Kelly’s suggestion and others opposed. 

“I do think that VP Kelly does have a point on being redundant with budget items, however I do think that the fact that Backcountry Squatters is more specifically geared toward female and nonbinary persons we should treat them as a separate thing and look at it from that perspective,” senator Falanga said. 

There were concerns raised about how the clubs would go about sharing climbing gear and where the line is drawn when it comes to asking clubs to share gear with one another. 

Lauri Sidelko, the advisor to student government, raised a point that they also have to consider who is responsible for maintaining the upkeep of equipment and the long term safety of having multiple groups utilizing the same gear. 

After a very close vote, the senate did approve the removal of the climbing gear and approved the rest of the funding request. 

President Wyles was happy to see many student senators passionate and involved in Tuesday’s  meeting. 

“Everybody put their two cents in and I love that so I’m really proud of you guys for getting involved in the process,” Wyles said.

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