By James O’Brien, Staff Writer
On Sept. 1 the Student Bar Association (SBA) conducted their first virtual meeting of the 2020 Fall semester. SBA President Heather Francis began the meeting by addressing the senators and student body regarding the unique challenges facing the VLS community this academic year and how the SBA hopes to address these issues. The remarks were followed by brief reports from the officers, swearing in several new student SBA representatives and appointees, pitch proposals from student groups, and a closing statement.
President Francis’ introductory statement to the meeting sought to address the exceptional challenges we at VLS, and all across the globe, are facing with the myriad of health, economic, social, and political obstacles of this year. She highlighted topics such as: the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism and police brutality, the transition to a remote learning environment at VLS, and the tensions of the upcoming November election.
She drew specific emphasis to how VLS must navigate these obstacles together as a community, and how the SBA, and all its officers, plan to set the standard for how this will be done. This includes initiatives such as a drop box on TWEN for new student proposals, working to engage with the student body to dismantle racism on campus, and how certain committees, such as the student diversity committee, are currently working on an antiracism initiative to be adopted by the SBA.
Following the statement, all student officers gave brief introductions and updates. The key takeaways were from the Vice Presidents (VP) of both Student Affairs and Student Activities as well as the from the Treasurer and Secretary. The VP of Student Affairs, Nicole Adelman, gave an important update that Oakes Hall is now open on a “trial run” as a studying area for those preparing for the October Bar exam. Students must test negative for COVID and send their results to the administration to come on campus.
The VP of Student Activities, Ricardo Edwards, discussed the care packages that are being sent to all 1L students and urged those who do not have their names on the resource list to do so as soon as possible. Treasurer James Mulhall discussed the remaining budget of roughly $51,000 to be used for the schoolyear, asking student groups to devise plans for clubs/initiatives and reach out to him to secure funding. Lastly, Secretary Serena White reminded attendees that elections are coming up and positions still need to be filled to reach a full senate.
After the officer briefings, new positions were confirmed and voted on starting with the swearing in of Treasurer Mulhall and Secretary White. Numerous other positions were voted on and approved, including: 2L and 3L Curriculum Committee representatives, 2 Faculty Hiring Committee representatives, an IT Representative, and the Campus Greening Manager. For an updated list of new student appointments, please reference the SBA Student Group Page.
Two proposals were brought before the SBA seeking approval in the form of a resolution. These resolutions would express support for the proposal’s topic and would tell the administration that the issue is a high priority to students. Both proposals sought to address and dismantle racism and bias at VLS. The first proposal, “Intro to Critical and Intersectional Race Theory,” proposed a new course that would be required for all VLS Master and JD students. This course would cover a wide range of topics, from racism in the legal system, intersectionality in BIPOC communities, and legal and policy issues related to race, gender, sexual orientation and more. It was proposed as a 1-2 credit course graded on a Pass/Fail basis. A debate began among the board regarding the worry of another required course being added onto an already heavy student workload, as well as the appropriate time to administer the course and the moral issues regarding the course’s mandatory nature. After being put to a vote, the motion to approve a resolution in support of this proposal failed.
The second proposal, “Vermont Law School Diversity Recruitment Task Force,” sought to enhance the pre-existing efforts at VLS to increase recruitment of students and staff of color. Guidelines on how this initiative would be conducted were presented and then discussed between the senators and presenting group. Ultimately, the motion to approve a resolution in support of this proposal passed.
To conclude the meeting, President Francis opened the floor to community announcements, during which Dean Jefferson gave a quick update regarding the Gear Shed, which will likely reopen this week on campus for student use.
Clarification: The approximately $51,000 SBA has available was left over from the spring semester after the school shut down due to COVID-19. Additional funds will be added once the new fiscal year begins on 1 October, 2020.