Wayne State Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution to adopt a new public comment policy at its virtual meeting Thursday.
Senator at Large Zack Thomas proposed the resolution. He said there are problems with current comment procedures, which involve reading comments from Senate's Facebook livestream at the beginning of each meeting.
“The current custom of Facebook Live and Facebook Live comments is not proposed to be changed,” Thomas said. “People will still be able to comment on the Facebook Live broadcast which we’ll still do, and student senators can still read those comments and echo those comments at the meeting. What I’m proposing is a formal, professional way for people to address the body.”
Thomas did an analysis of the May 20 Senate meeting, he said. He found that out of 365 comments left by 40 people, about 56% of comments were made by eight people.
He said he was concerned about disparities in whose comments were being seen.
“The ‘top commenter’ left 60 comments, and the person commenting the least, or persons, left one comment apiece,” Thomas said. “So, it’s intuitive that when people comment more they’re more likely to be seen and in effect heard than the people who are perhaps being drowned out.”
Senate's method of receiving public comment during virtual meetings is not the most effective, Thomas said.
“I think the intention is that if somebody commented fast enough, we would read it at the beginning of the meeting,” he said. “However, including in this meeting and the other meetings, that part of the meeting goes by pretty quick, within a minute or two, so usually there isn’t a public comment to be read.”
His resolution included a two-option proposal.
The first would require individuals to RSVP to virtual Student Senate meetings. They would then be provided with a Zoom link to join and could voice their comments in meetings.
The second option would allow individuals to submit written statements to Senate in advance to be read aloud during meetings.
Thomas' resolution would also require individuals to make their students status and full name — legal or preferred — known when commenting.
“That helps us meet that reliability component where we will now know which person is a student and which person is a non-student, and we’ll pay special attention to our constituency — the student,” he said.
College of Education Representative Lukis Bagdon motioned to use WSU’s Get Involved page as the platform for accepting public comments, which passed unanimously.
After approximately an hour of discussion, Thomas' resolution was also passed unanimously.
Once Senate resumes in-person meetings, most of Thomas’ resolution will become irrelevant, he said. However, the policy requiring individuals to state their name and student status will remain in effect.
The rest of Thomas’ resolution will be on standby in case virtual meetings become necessary again, said Senate President Sailor Mayes.
Calm, a mindfulness and meditation app, reached out to Director of Community Affairs Mannat Bedi with the possibility of partnering with WSU, she said.
“As a university, trying to help with mental health struggles is definitely a very important… struggle to identify and also help with, especially for students,” Bedi said. “And so, through this partnership, we would be able to provide students with free subscriptions to the app if Wayne State was to partner with the app.”
The University of Michigan partnered with Calm to give subscription codes to the first 1,000 students who said they wanted one, Bedi said.
“If we were to provide it for all students, it averages around $6 per student which would be, for our kind of campus, around $120,000,” Bedi said.
A final decision has not been made on the idea.
Dean of Students David Strauss said recent campus flooding shouldn't impact fall in-person classes.
“(T)he flood damage is very severe, but on the positive side, it is very likely not going to affect any classroom usage for fall semester,” Strauss said.
The Law School, Richard Cohn Memorial Building, Art Building, Community Arts Building, old alumni house, Integrative Biosciences Center and the Physics Building basement sustained significant damage from the flooding, he said.
“Those were damaged extensively, mostly in the lower level,” Strauss said. “And we’re not talking inches, we’re talking feet of water.”
But he said he was confident in WSU’s ability to resolve the situation.
“(I) think we’re in good hands with the insurance company and the university’s risk management team and the university’s facilities team,” Strauss said.
WSU expects to hold FestiFall on Aug. 31 and Orientation Part Two on Aug. 30, Strauss said.
The next Student Senate virtual meeting will be held July 15. Mayes said in-person meetings will resume Aug. 19.
Kate Vaughn is a contributing writer for The South End. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo by Kate Vaughn.