Student Senate seeks to improve and expand student mobility

Limited accessibility for off-campus students and students with disabilities sparks conversation and new legislation

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Photo by Amanda Thao

Finance Director Jorge Herrero Berengue presented a bill seeking a special allocation for the expansion of the current student shuttle service.

In their last meeting of the fall semester, Student Senate passed a bill and a resolution looking at campus transportation and student mobility.

In addition, Senate introduced a bill that will be voted on during the first meeting of the spring semester and several student organizations gained approval.

Finance Director Jorge Herrero Berengue introduced both bills. One bill addresses a special allocation of $750 funding a group of students who are part of the Eau Claire Gamers Guild to attend the No Brand Con, a convention held in Wisconsin Dells. This bill will be discussed and voted on in the spring semester.

The second bill resulted in an extensive conversation among Senate. The legislation, once again introduced by Herrero Berengue, moved for a special allocation of $6,381 to be designated toward a trial expansion of the Resident Escort Shuttle Service (RESS) programs.

The expansion would include longer hours for RESS operation, from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The service would also be offered to more off-campus locations and generally more available to students.

“Since this service will be utilized by absolutely everyone on campus, even those who do not live in the dorms, it would not be ethical to have Housing (and Residence Life) pay for this service completely,” Herrero Berengue said.

The funds will come out of the student segregated fees fund, which currently contains around $370,000. Senate is partnering with RESS and Student Affairs for the program.

Dean of Students Joseph Abhold explained the $6,381 is a close estimate for what the expansion will cost and is essentially being matched by Housing and Residence Life.

If the cost is less than that amount, the money will be returned to Senate. If it is more, the difference will be covered by Housing and Residence Life.

Some Senate members raised concerns about the wording of the criteria, listed in Senate bylaws, which special allocations must meet. Those criteria state the funded event must be of substantial benefit to the university and/or community, must be an extraordinary event and must be economized effectively.

Herrero Berengue said expanding the RESS could be considered an event since it would be a one-time financial transaction and would only use the established funds during the spring semester trial period.

Many Senate members, including Campus Affairs Director Lars Nelson, said they supported the bill and believed it would be beneficial to students.

“There’s a lot of things within this university that get overlooked. There’s a lot of students that get overlooked,” Nelson said. “I think this is where we stand up and say we aren’t overlooking these issues anymore.”

Some members voiced dissent over the unclear definition of “event” and whether or not a semester-long program could be classified as such.

Senator Branden Yates was the only member who voted against the bill, which ultimately passed 25-1-0. Yates said he did not feel comfortable supporting a bill he believed did not abide by the criteria.

“If we need to twist a word to fit our own definition, maybe then we should change the bylaws, then go back and vote this up,” Yates said. “Overall I’m for this, but I think it’s pretty hard to classify something that is semester-long as an event.”

During discussion, Senator Bobbi Freagon looked up the word “event” to address these concerns. She referenced definitions from both and the Oxford dicitonary, both of which classified an event as an occurrence or happening of importance.

“I know there was hesitation brought up about how there should be something better or administration should get more involved with this,” Freagon said, “but I think passing this bill would serve as a really good catalyst for administration to see we care about this and want to see this expanded to students, so hopefully that would generate conversation with them.”

Academic Affairs Director Nathan Altmann presented a resolution providing evidence that administration action on university-provided student transportation has been lacking. This resolution also passed.

The resolution supported accessible transportation on UW-Eau Claire’s campus. Right now, students with temporary or permanent disabilities can use the Conveyance Van service, which travels between upper and lower campus and to academic buildings.

However, the van designated for this service is not wheelchair accessible. It also has time and day availability, limiting the mobility and therefore, Altmann said, the students who need it.

“This isn’t a new problem,” Altmann said, “but the extent to how long they have been trying to get a wheelchair accessible van, just one, has been an insurmountable hurdle for decades.”

He said the resolution may not seem meaningful enough, but it would show the Senate’s support behind pushing change for the issue, which would draw the administration’s attention to this enduring limitation.

The resolution passed by a voice vote without dissent.

Senate also approved three student organizations’ constitutions, including the History Enthusiasts, Sports Fanatics and Documentary Club.

In addition, Senate bade farewell to two long-time members, Senator Abigail Kielman and Mascot Coordinator Sam Milewsky, both of whom will graduate Saturday. Kielman and Milewsky were given a standing ovation by Senate to close the meeting.