Student Senate to reconsider cap on food funding for RSOs

GVL Archive / Matt LaVere
Latino Student Union hosting their annual dinner and dance

GVL Archive / Matt LaVere Latino Student Union hosting their annual dinner and dance

Emanuel Johnson

The Student Senate at Grand Valley State University will reconsider a proposed food budget after several cultural organizations displayed strong opposition to it.

Seven representatives from five different cultural groups at GVSU attended Thursday’s Student Senate meeting to voice their concerns for the proposal that would place a $1,000 cap on the food budget for any given event a student organization wishes to hold.

Alyssa Tierney, vice president of Finance for the Student Senate, said the finance committee will need to re-discuss and revise the proposal.

“What we’re going to do now is we’re going to go back to the drawing tables,” she said. “Every senator (in the finance committee) is going to their councils and discuss it all over again for a second time and get their feedback in what they feel the cap should be or if there should be a cap at all.”

Tierney said the Senate entered discussions after the Finance Committee reviewed the use of allocated money in the Student Life Fund. She said more and more of the money was being used for food when its actual purpose is to put on events.

“Over the past few years, we have noticed that more and more money from the Student Life fund is going toward food, and the purpose of the Student Life fund is to put on programming,” she said. “So as a Finance Committee, we sat down and discussed how we can combat this so the purpose of the fund is going toward what it should be going to and not feeding students.

“We had each senator attend a different council, and we asked them what they thought about it and heard no response back. So we were under the condition that organizations were eating the same food that we were, and we felt that they needed a cap as well,” she continued. “So going into this and setting this guideline of a $1,000 cap, we didn’t think it was radical, we just thought it would help improve the fund as it is now.”

Although the Student Life fund is supposed to be used for programming, Latino Student Union President Derek Duzan said the food that cultural organizations order for their events serves as a useful tool in attracting people to come out for the events.

When Student Senate President Jarrett Martus opened the floor at the Senate meeting for people in the gallery to speak, Duzan asked the senator to reconsider the cap.

“(The food) is not the main reason that people are showing up (to events), but it is an incentive that helps people show up,” Duzan said. “It’s kind of a way to mask what it really is about – it’s about educating people on culture. Food is a very important part of culture. If you limit it to $1,000 … that’s ridiculous. So I urge you to reconsider (if) Grand Valley really wants to limit culture on campus, because that’s what you’ll do by capping it at $1,000.”

Dennis Šlogar, a representative for the Cultural Funding Board, which serves as a united body for all cultural organizations at GVSU, said $1,000 is not nearly enough for most of the events.

“For example, Bollywood Fever, around 300 or 400 people show up, and the average (food price) is $3,000,” he said. “The Student Senate decides yearly to give the Cultural Funding Board around $80,000, and I think the only reason they’re trying to put this cap on is to save money, which is hurting the culture groups.”

Currently, student organizations wishing to include any food in an event must do so through Campus Dining. Šlogar said the university does this to make sure students who eat the food do not get sick from improper preparation or bad ingredients.

Mitchell Diep, the president of the Asian Student Union, said placing a $1,000 cap on the food budget would be especially detrimental to any organization because of the high prices that Campus Dining sets.

“Asian New Year Festival is held every February, and last year we had about 500 people attend in our audience,” he said. “Last year we made a budget for food at about $2,500, and this year, since they increased prices for food through Campus Dining, it’s going to be $3,500 … with the amount of food, we can’t feed 500 people on a $1,000 budget.”

Diep said cultural organizations are also concerned with the quality of the product being purchased. When organizations submit a catering request to Campus Dining for special foods, they must also provide recipes and instructions on how to cook them.

“A lot of the ingredients are very hard to get, and even when they do complete a dish, they mess it up,” he said. “The food is just – it’s not authentic, and we usually rely on authenticity to bring cultural awareness to this campus.”

Šlogar said part of the problem is the university’s desire to have the food go into campus-sponsored sources rather than coming from outside sources

“We’re losing authenticity in our cuisine when we can’t go anywhere else but Campus Dining,” he added. “GVSU says to (cultural groups), ‘We have chefs – world class chefs – that can provide authentic food,’ which is completely false every single time. They just want the money to go back into the school and not outside sources.”

During the meeting, there was some dissension between Senators on whether to even discuss the proposal despite the dozen students that came to voice their concerns. Senator Zach Conley made the initial motion to hold a discussion, but a few Senators, including Kristen Zeiter, voiced concern.

“Just because we don’t have the specific proposal on the table to discuss, that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it,” Zeiter said. “We’ve discussed many things from an abstract point of view on this body before, and we need to discuss these issues because they’ve been brought to us by the students.

“I feel like we’re always trying to get students to come into the gallery speak at the meetings, and now that we have the opportunity to interact with students and we’re not going to take it?” she continued. “That seems wrong to me, and it seems like we’re not doing our jobs as student senators if we don’t discuss this.”

The motion was turned down 18-17 with no abstentions, and all but one cultural representative that came to the meeting got up and walked out immediately following the vote.

The Student Senate will not reconvene before the winter break. Its next meeting will take place on Jan. 13.

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