Student Senate

Senate passes BCDT package and bereavement legislation


Content notice: This article discusses death and bereavement. 

The Student Senate meeting began at 6:02 p.m. on Monday in Centennial 1415, instead of the Dakota Ballroom due to set up for the Viennese Ball in Davies Student Center.

Jake Wrasse, the legislative and community relations liaison for the chancellor’s office, gave a presentation about the Joint Committee on Finance and the 2023-25 Biennial Budget process.

Wrasse said the Joint Committee on Finance will visit the UW-Eau Claire campus from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 11 in the Ojibwe Ballroom of Davies to hold a public budget listening session.

Gov. Tony Evers previously released his recommendations for the 2023-25 Biennial Budget, including a proposed $231 million in the Capital Budget for phase II of UW-Eau Claire’s new Science and Health Sciences Building.

More information about the public budget listening sessions is available on the Wisconsin State Legislature’s website.

Equity in Student Matters Commission Senate Director Josh Holness said after resolution 66-R-10 passed, interim Dean of Students Gregory Heinselman reached out to the authors of the resolution with ideas to prioritize students’ mental health.

“A couple of the ideas was to fund a full-time wellness coordinator for the dean of students office through senate, another idea was to create a senate commission on wellness and wellbeing,” Holness said. “I think we’ll probably lean more towards the commission just because it would be easier for us to get that through.”

Intergovernmental Affairs Commission Director Hannah Kelly said several members from the senate will be attending the Chippewa Valley Rally on Wednesday, March 29 to advocate for funding for the new Science and Health Sciences Building.

Kelly said the IGA Commission will be tabling with the League of Women Voters from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, March 29 in Davies to educate student voters about the Wisconsin Supreme Court race on the April 4 ballot.

According to Kelly, The IGA Commission will also be tabling with the Communications Commission for Motivation Monday on Monday, April 3 and giving out drinks with coffee sleeves that have QR codes leading to Campus Vote Project’s resources for the April 4 election.

The IGA commission will also be holding the Community Walk Through at 9 p.m. on April 6 to highlight student safety concerns, Kelly said.

Director Joseph Dokken said the Information Technology Commission voted on technology initiatives and decided to fund more virtual reality equipment, digital signage, laundry sensors and more.

Director Zach Jacobson said the University Activities Commission will not be hosting any events this week.

Bill 66-B-10: Approval of the Blugold Commitment Differential Tuition Funding Proposal Package for 2023–2024

Academic Affairs Commission Director Sahana Suresh reintroduced bill 66-B-10 to approve $10.17 million for the 2023-23 Blugold Commitment Differential Tuition (BCDT) package.

The bill was introduced at the previous senate meeting on March 13, and Stephanie Jamelske, a budget planner in the provost’s office, gave a presentation on the history of BCDT and the budget process.

Bill 66-B-10 passed unanimously with a vote of 31-0-2.

“I’m glad that it passed, (BCDT) is important. Sahana has put a lot of work into it, so I’m very proud of them getting that through,” President Rossellin Gaitán said. “I’m really proud of all the work that has been put on the floor recently, I think people are really seeking out things they feel like they can be part of the solution.”

Student Office of Sustainability Commission Senate Director Sydney McGuine withdrew bill 66-B-12 to fund research on human and wildlife interactions.

“To my knowledge, it’s just because it’s funding research and there were some questions about the research being academic,” Vice President Brett Farmer said. “I do believe they intend to bring (the bill) back, I think they just need to clarify some language so it’s not funding academics through the Green Fund.”

Resolution 66-R-13: In Support of Adding Bereavement to the list of University Authorized Absences

Gaitán introduced resolution 66-R-13 to ask UW-Eau Claire to add bereavement as an authorized absence.

According to the resolution, four out of 13 universities in the UW System have explicitly included bereavement in their authorized absence policies and the language from UW-Green Bay and UW-Madison’s policies were included in the resolution.

“The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay policy states, ‘Upon approval from the Dean of Students office, the students are allowed one week, commencing from the day of notification to the Dean of Students Office,’” resolution 66-R-13 says.

“The University of Wisconsin-Madison states, ‘Our students come from various cultures and family configurations. In general, it is appropriate to grant an accommodation for a significant death in a student’s life,’” resolution 66-R-13 says.

Gaitán said a student came to her asking about bereavement legislation last year after they experienced the death of someone significant in their life. 

Lisa Quinn-Lee, a social work professor specializing in death and bereavement, spoke at the meeting and shared input from her students who had loved ones die while they were attending UW-Eau Claire.

“I think student bereavement leave should be an authorized absence to allow for students some time and space that they need to grieve the death of someone important to them,” Quinn-Lee said. “This is a part of life we often don’t talk about and I think this has been much needed.”

During Gaitán’s first year at UW-Eau Claire, her father died and she didn’t receive proper time to grieve during the semester.

“It kind of domino affected everything unfortunately and I wish it wasn’t the case. I feel like I slipped through the cracks a bit, because my grades suffered immensely,” Gaitán said. “It messed with my academics, it messed with my personal life, it really threw me off course socially and then COVID-19 hit, so I was not at all connected with the campus.”

Gaitán said because of the lack of a bereavement policy, the dean of students wasn’t able to help her or give her more than one day as an excused absence for the funeral. Gaitán had to rely on the grace of her professors, but all of them weren’t understanding of her situation.

“Academically it really skewed me, and my professors weren’t — all of them weren’t super understanding. I became a student of concern several times and it’s embarrassing at some point like I felt like I was trying to pick myself up and it was a lot,” Gaitán said.

Gaitán said she felt isolated after the death, but credits some of the comforts she felt at that time to Linda Pratt, who was the hall director of Oak Ridge Hall and now serves as the assistant director for leadership and education.

According to Gaitán, she felt like she was sacrificing her academics and being a person. The pressure made Gaitán consider taking a gap semester or dropping out, but she knew she wouldn’t want to come back if she did that.

“If I would have had time to just grieve and had proper resources, I think I could have excelled a lot more and I probably would have reached out for help,” Gaitán said. “I try not to reminisce like what if this would have happened, because it tends to upset me — it was just a really dark moment in my life. I would like to think that that version of my first-year self would be more than relieved and in some sense comforted.”

When Farmer was a first-year student, his roommate died but the dean of students gave him resources and time to grieve.

“I am very aware that I had some situational privilege because I was the roommate. The dean of students reached out to me right away, I was talking with the director of counseling the next morning, I had the police chief asking if I was okay — I just had everybody (offering to help),” Farmer said.

Farmer said he was with a friend when they found his roommate’s body, but the friend received very little resources or time to grieve. According to Farmer, his friend didn’t feel like she could talk to her professors and wasn’t able to get more than a few days excused to grieve. 

“I was very lucky to receive support because I was the roommate, but there were people who were just as emotionally tied that were offered the same resources that I was,” Farmer said. “In relation to this legislation, I think it’s very important to give people the option. You can’t measure how close somebody is to someone that passes, so to have the bare minimum of what you can request is incredibly helpful.”

Resolution 66-R-13 passed unanimously with a vote of 31-0-2.

Resolution 66-R-14: Calling on the Student Senate Office Manager to Provide Pronoun Stickers for Placards

Senator Matthew Lehner introduced resolution 66-R-14 to ask Student Senate Office Manager Stephanie Pyykola to provide pronoun stickers and/or space for pronoun stickers on placards.

Some members of the senate already have pronoun stickers on their placards, but Lehner said it was important for the senate to use the correct pronouns to address each other. 

Resolution 66-R-14 passed with a vote of 26-1-2.

Gaitán, Mascot Coordinator Kyle May and student Elizabeth TenBarge were appointed to the Elections Committee.

Parliamentarian Thomas Miller said petitions for the senate elections begin on Monday, April 3 and continue through Friday, April 7. Students interested in running can get their petitions and campaign packets from Pyykola in the Student Senate Office.

The senate adjourned at 8:32 p.m. and will reconvene at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 3 in the Dakota Ballroom.

Kasper can be reached at [email protected].