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Senate launches USG Reform Project, agrees to sponsor DEI Committee referendum

<h6>Annie Rupertus / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Annie Rupertus / The Daily Princetonian

During their weekly meeting on Sunday, March 20, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) announced the USG Reform Project, a new initiative with the goal of introducing administrative changes. The Senate also heard committee updates, approved a budget proposal for the Princeton Perspectives Project, and agreed to sponsor a referendum for the spring election cycle that would make the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee a core committee of USG. The Social Committee also announced that they plan to select a student opener for Lawnparties this week.

The USG Reform Project comes out of what was known as the Internal Resources Working Group, headed by USG Chief of Staff Dillion Gallagher ’23. Gallagher expressed that the push for reform was motivated by “the student body’s general disinterest in the work of USG.”

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Gallagher is an opinion columnist for the ‘Prince.’

“It’s clear to me and to many of you that the USG is facing a crisis of confidence in ourselves and in our work,” Gallagher said. “To the students we serve, we are often seen as an extension of the University administration, instead of active partners in numerous initiatives of our classmates. For some of the most difficult years of our lives, USG was forced to reactively explain and frame University decisions.” 

Gallagher said that, since then, “USG has been unable to find its footing internally.” He listed issues such as USG members who “don’t take serious interest in work in the Senate,” meetings filled with unanimous votes rather than debate, and frequent uncontested elections. He projected a slide with quotes from discussions with Senate members and students, including “it feels like people don’t care” and “most of the student body doesn’t know that USG does anything.”

Gallagher detailed changes he hopes to see implemented by the next winter election cycle. He emphasized that “when it comes to this process, everything must be on the table,” including enforcing Senate attendance “strictly but compassionately.” Another change includes implementing an expectation that all class senators and U-Councilors serve on at least one committee.

Other proposed changes include incorporating task forces into the senate constitution “so their scope and timelines are fully transparent,” creating a data and archives team, and considering “expanding the size of the Senate.” 

DEI Committee Chair Braiden Aaronson ’25 also presented a proposal for a referendum to establish DEI as a core part of USG.

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Aaronson explained that the referendum’s purpose “is to institutionalize the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and to ensure its longevity in the work of the USG.” 

The referendum would set the DEI Chair as a Senate Executive Committee position and a voting member of the Senate, elected during the winter cycle. The Senate voted unanimously to sponsor the referendum.

Parliamentarian Kate Liu ’23 explained that this vote means the Senate is “putting its weight behind” the referendum; next week, the referendum will be put up for a language review, a vote on whether its language clearly expresses what the referendum intends to accomplish. 

All proposed referenda, both Senate-sponsored and student-sponsored, must be subject to a language review. After approval, the referenda can appear on a ballot for the student body to vote on.

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U-Councilor Stephen Daniels ’24 delivered a mental health referendum update, although this particular referendum has not yet been put to a vote for Senate sponsorship. The referendum, originally described in last week’s meeting as a general funding request for mental health counselors, now calls on the University to work with USG to determine gaps in mental health resources before allocating resources.

Daniels indicated that this measure “would be a part of a larger strategy around mental health” and will be voted on next Sunday, March 27. 

“It makes a lot of sense to the Senate to sponsor this,” Daniels said, “because this would be a largely Senate-focused policy initiative.”

Daniels also presented a budget proposal of $1,000 for the Princeton Perspectives Project, which provides “an opportunity for students to share their experiences with mental health on campus.” In the past, the project has been given a $1,000 budget to help in its work to destigmatize conversations around mental health.

The proposal passed unanimously. The funds will be put towards food and a photographer for an event in April.

The Academics, Sustainability, and Social Committees each gave brief reports on their work so far this semester. 

Academics Chair Austin Davis ’23 emphasized his committee’s arrival at what he says is “pretty much a final proposal” for the implementation of academic minors. 

Davis said that the proposal “was approved by the Committee on the Course of Study this past week, and it will go to a faculty vote this coming week.”

“This is a pretty big change because it will completely change how certificates work at this University,” Davis said. “Now any academic unit can form a minor, so that means history can have a minor but also, say, [Statistics and Machine Learning] can continue as a minor as well.” The Senate will consider discussing these potential changes with administrators later in the semester.

Sustainability Chair Audrey Zhang ’25 spoke about her committee’s “first big event of the year,” a coffeehouse art gallery that will take place on Saturday, April 2 at 12 p.m. The event's location will be announced at a later time.

Zhang is a Contributing Writer for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’

Social Chair Madison Linton ’24 updated the Senate on planning efforts for spring Lawnparties. She reported that the committee has been in coordination with various administrators, including Executive Director of Athletics John Mack, Dean Alison Boden from the Office of Religious Life, and Father Daniel Skvir ’66 from the Orthodox Church “to ensure that we were being as respectful as we could” in choosing the Lawnparties date, which is Saturday, April 24. 

She noted that this semester’s event falls on Orthodox Easter, and Class Senator Kanishkh Kanodia ’23 added that Lawnparties will occur during the month of Ramadan.

The Social Committee put out a bid for an artist on Monday, March 7 and hopes to pick a student opener by this upcoming weekend.

USG Senate meetings are held in Robertson Hall Bowl 016 at 8 p.m. on Sunday evenings and are open to all.

Annie Rupertus is a first-year from Philadelphia and a News Staff Writer who covers USG for the ‘Prince.’ She is also a designer for the print issue. She can be reached at arupertus@princeton.edu or @annierupertus on Instagram and Twitter.

Correction: an earlier version of this article mischaracterized the mental health referendum’s request of the University and has since been updated.

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