AJ Pruitt, president of the University of Maryland’s SGA, encouraged the body to focus on being a voice for students in his last state of the campus address Wednesday night.
The body also passed legislation condemning sexist language in the computer science teaching assistant handbook and another bill urging professors to include an overview of this university’s sexual misconduct policy on their syllabi.
Pruitt said it’s been a tough year for the university overall — even down to the past few weeks, during which sexist language in a computer science department teacher’s assistant handbook was uncovered, and a student was temporarily barred from her apartment after a mental health-related hospital trip.
Pruitt started by discussing 2nd Lt. Richard Collins, a black Bowie State University student who was killed on this campus last May in what is being tried as a hate crime.
The fatal stabbing “changed the trajectory of the student government and changed the trajectory of the student body,” said Pruitt, a senior government and politics and economics major.
Pruitt will be graduating and leaving his position with the Student Government Association in May.
He said students often end up battling not just personal incidents of sexual assault, mental illness and hate bias, but also institutional shortcomings in those areas.
Pruitt praised the efforts the SGA has put forth so far, and student groups like Scholars Promoting and Revitalizing Care that have championed mental health issues on campus, but said there was still a pressing need for increased student advocacy.
SPARC has been campaigning for shorter appointment wait times for the Counseling Center with their “30 Days Too Late” campaign.
“We have incidents that raise these issues, and raise our attention, and for a short period of time, there is effort and there is passion put into them, but for whatever reason, it cannot be sustained,” Pruitt said.
He said for years the university has been addressing diversity and inclusion and sexual misconduct prevention, but once the administration puts out statements, often students forget the problems and stop pushing for solutions.
Pruitt said the Student Government Association would be most effective when it focused on acting as a mouthpiece for students to bring issues before administration.
“Our role is not diminished by the fact that maybe we don’t have as much to govern, we still have plenty to lead,” Pruitt said. “We need to advocate on behalf of the students, because we are the voice that I think, in many ways, they need.”
The SGA also introduced emergency legislation Wednesday night to condemn the sexist language in the controversial computer science teacher’s assistant handbook. Every SGA legislator in attendance not only voted to support the resolution, but added their names as co-sponsors of the bill.
Many female SGA legislators wore black clothes or ribbons to stand in solidarity with female computer scientists at the meeting. M Rao and Radhika Gholap, representatives for engineering and computer, mathematical and natural sciences, respectively, gave a joint statement about the inappropriateness of the handbook’s language.
The handbook warns male TAs to avoid being “particularly susceptible to flirtatious or provocative behavior,” or risk female students “attempt[ing] to capitalize on the male-female dynamic to their own advantage” for a better grade. It also tells female TAs, “your students may experience some difficulty accepting you fully in a scientific field.”
Gholap charged the university with claiming to prepare students for discrimination, while in actuality, it “placidly fosters” discrimination in STEM programs.
“Why is it, that when I go to my female academic advisor for guidance to add a double major, she speaks to me about women in STEM, and the challenges I face, instead of speaking to me about logistical or academic obstacles?” Gholap asked.
Julianne Heberlein, the journalism representative, sponsored a bill that will urge academic colleges to require their professors include a short overview of the university’s Title IX policy in their syllabi. The bill passed 33-0, with the speaker of the legislature as the only abstention.
“If this is implemented in all syllabi, every student at this university will see that policy statement,” said Heberlein, a sophomore multiplatform journalism and government and politics major.
Anthony Barnes II, a senior history and theater major, said he already saw Title IX clauses on most of his class syllabi, but they didn’t affect his knowledge of Title IX policies.
“To be honest it only helps if you actually read them, and since I’m not a jerk, I don’t feel the need to,” Barnes said.
He did think, though, it would add an institutional way hold students accountable.
“There are people who don’t process the world they see in front of them properly, so this should be necessary for them,” Barnes said. “Even if they don’t read it, professors can say, ‘See, I wrote it down. It was in the syllabus.’ So they can’t say, ‘I didn’t know.'”