Student leaders raise concerns during inclusivity forum
*This story has been updated as of 2:20p.m. on Feb. 2 2017.
University leaders are responding to faculty and students who say they want a safer and more inclusive campus in the midst of swift-moving political change across the U.S.
University President Cynthia Teniente-Matson moderated two conversations and open forums this month to ask how the campus can work together to foster inclusivity and open dialogue.
Addressing a small group of faculty Jan. 19, Matson said she wanted to “assure students that they have a great experience.”
Matson announced earlier this year she will launch a President’s Commission on Equity in response to faculty and student reactions to a contentious election cycle and talk on federal policies regarding undocumented students and historically marginalized groups.
The commission will offer support for students and continue to educate faculty, staff and students to provide an equitable environment.
To begin the conversation, students received an email from Matson Dec. 7, 2016 outlining A&M-San Antonio’s commitment to inclusivity after receiving requests to create a sanctuary campus from members of the A&M-San Antonio community.
In response to those requests, Matson replied the university complies with state and federal laws and offers many protections to students.
“We will continue to uphold those policies and practices,” the letter states. “Texas A&M universities, however, cannot exempt themselves from federal immigration laws. A&M-San Antonio will continue to follow regulations as we continue to embrace all students, especially those from the historically underrepresented communities we serve.”
The letter concluded with an invitation for students to attend a student forum on inclusivity excellence held Jan. 24.
Although attendance was low, student leaders of prominent clubs and organizations attended to represent their organizations and the student body.
Following opening remarks, Matson invited students to talk about creating a more inclusive campus.
“More than anything, we want to create an environment that is conducive to your success,” she said.
Erick DeLuna, president of the Student Government Association, accompanied Matson at the podium, offering feedback to individual student organization leaders
The conversation started with pre-health society President, Ricardo Venegas, who asked for support for his student club.
Venegas wanted to know how to work with administrators and other students who do not necessarily have an interest in the medicinal field.
Matson responded by assuring the awareness is out there for students and the President’s Commission.
Cynthia McCardle, treasurer of A&M-San Antonio’s Mexican American Student Association (MASA), said student organizations face financial burdens because of Student Activities funding reimbursement policies.
McCardle introduced herself and expressed her concern with funding through Student Activities. She presented Matson a printed-out memorandum titled “Addressing Exclusive Bureaucratic.”
The memo, acquired by The Mesquite, addressed to university faculty, staff and students, said the funding process is not in students’ best interests.
McCardle wrote financial burden on organization members and a lengthy reimbursement process contribute to student hardships and frustration.
During fall 2016, McCardle said she spent $450 of own funds for the organization.
To receive a reimbursement McCardle said she had to file a request, file a W-9 and submit an itemized list prior to making a purchase.
Kathryn Pearl, another member of MASA, raised separate concerns for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students.
“There is a fear that undocumented students have,” Pearl said. “What can we do as a campus, to alleviate those fears and tension?”
According to Matson, there are currently 55 undocumented students enrolled at A&M-San Antonio.
She said the university has reached out to DACA students and offered services and support during their college experience.
Matson suggested to MASA members become familiar with policies and laws to offer support to DACA students.
As part of the conversation on inclusiveness, a member of the campus’ new Black Student Union (BSU), said there were barriers to getting their organization off the ground.
Wendellyn Miller, treasurer of BSU, said the club experienced roadblocks to market their meetings and events.
Miller addressed the club’s concern after the fact that Student Activities would not approve fliers for the organization resulting in no advertising and few student memberships.
Miller believes that the Students Activities policy that requires all marketing materials be stamped prior to display is necessary so that student and organization posts can be regulated.
“We had a graduation ceremony and there were about 53 graduates and only six showed up,” Miller said.
In response to Miller, Deluna, invited club members to join SGA to voice concerns and meet with other leaders to improve communication.
The conversation continued with small groups. Students were able to discuss with their peers around the table and voice their concerns.
To conclude the forum, Deluna invited students to participate in SGA. The next meeting will be at 5 p.m. Feb. 7 in the Central Academic Building Room 225.