The Student Governing Board recognized five new groups and reaffirmed its commitment to free speech on campus at its town hall Thursday night.
The board voted to recognize Active Minds, a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Education Umbrella, FIRST Robotics, and the Columbia Literacy Advocacy Project.
The Literacy Advocacy Project focuses on social justice and education in the New York juvenile justice system and organizes events and discussions for Columbia students. The group’s representative at the SGB town hall, Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, CC ’15, said that SGB recognition would make it much easier for the group to function.
“It means our group will be able to increase our on-campus programming as well as the impact we will make on the community we serve, which is wonderful,” she said. She added that group members hope to start a pilot program to tutor students who have recently come out of incarceration.
Austin Glover, CC ’14 and the president of Columbia’s NAACP chapter, said that the organization already has a strong presence in the surrounding neighborhoods. Active Minds works to make students more aware of mental health issues, Education Umbrella comprises more than 30 education groups at Columbia, and FIRST Robotics partners with public schools to mentor kids in robotics.
The board also voted to derecognize eight groups that have been inactive for at least two years: the U.S. India Political Action Committee, Break the Silence, Saving Mothers, CoreFoods, Campus Media Watch, Global Solutions, CatarACT, and the Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification.
“It had fallen out of practice for a while, and we realized we had a bunch of inactive groups on campus,” SGB Chair David Fine, CC ’13, said. “And we felt the need to be responsible shareholders in the wider student life community … and part of that is maintaining our list.”
Fine, a Spectator sports columnist, also discussed free speech on campus, referencing October’s fliering controversy. Barnard instituted a policy at the beginning of the semester dictating that fliers and other postings needed to be pre-approved by administrators, but after SGB and ABC voted to ignore the policy, the college rescinded it.
In a speech to student representatives, Fine invited SGB members to “reaffirm our commitment to free expression of student speech in all its acceptable forms on Columbia campus.” He said he would soon ask SGB groups to sign a voluntary, non-binding statement acknowledging their commitment to campus free speech.
“We put principles that have been in existence for a long time on to paper,” he said. “It’s a way of letting the school know that we take these things very seriously.”
Some students at the town hall expressed frustration with Columbia’s space reservation process and discussed problems arising from a lack of communication between University Events Management and the Student Affairs Central Business Office. Fine said that problems often come from the fact that while UEM controls space in Lerner Hall, other spaces are managed by separate entities.
“Both UEM and SACBO have been very open to meeting with us and talking about change,” Fine said. “It’s unclear how much we’ll be able to change in a very quick manner and time frame … But I’m pushing them to respond to our needs, and they seem to very open to that.”
In an interview after the town hall, Fine also responded to reforms voted on earlier this week by the Activities Board at Columbia, which include a one-semester suspension of new group recognition while the board re-examines its funding and recognition procedures.
“From my preliminary reading of the reforms, they look like they want to adopt many practices that SGB already does,” Fine said.