The Cornell Women’s Resource Center appealed the Student Assembly committee’s 75 percent budget cut of one of the group’s programs on Thursday evening, saying the committee’s actions have been “insulting” and “unreasonable.”
After an intense debate regarding the cost of the Feminism: Food for Thought program, the S.A. overturned the Appropriations Committee’s budget cuts and satisfied the $4 byline request.
The committee’s cut — which targeted the FFT program — would have brought the WRC’s byline funding to $3.67, instead of $4 per undergraduate student. FFT currently spends $16 per attendee to accommodate free dining passes at weekly discussion sessions for about 10 to 20 students in the Flora Rose Dining Hall, an expense that some members of the S.A. argued was unfair to students paying the activity fee, as well as other on-campus organizations that require funding.
“The program is spending too much money,” Gabriel Kaufman ’18, vice president of finance, argued during the debate. “No other byline funded organization has this funding.”
Kaufman pointed out that most student organizations spend approximately $5 to $6 per member, while FFT spends $16 per student on free meals at weekly meetings.
Hannah Light-Olson ’18, a member of the Women’s Resource Center Executive Board, said the CWR board is appealing to the S.A. on the grounds of procedural injustice. She said the Appropriations Committee failed to perform a complete assessment of the FFT program before making the 75 percent budget cut.
At the byline funding hearing, Light-Olson said the committee asked a limited number of questions regarding the FFT program, and no questions at all about the need to host weekly meetings in the Flora Rose Dining Hall. She also said that the S.A. Women’s representative was absent from the hearing and was therefore unable to defend the WRC or FFT in deliberations.
“Feminism: Food for Thought is the channel through which so many ideas are borne through collaboration, where support is offered through hard weeks on campus,” Light-Olson said. “It has been the first stepping stone for so much success for the WRC on campus.”
Light-Olson said the Appropriation Committee’s prior request for FFT to do less programing was “unreasonable” and “insulting,” calling the request a demonstration of their “lack of understanding” of FFT’s role on campus.
During the debate, other S.A. members advocated for supporting groups like FFT on campus, maintaining that these types of programs create inclusive spaces for all students.
“It’s disheartening when the WRC is advocating for minimal amount of support for women, and people in the room are smirking, and not taking it seriously,” Marco Peralta-Ochoa ’21 said. “There are people that don’t have meal plans or meal swipes, and the I think the S.A. needs to put its money where its mouth is and support these groups on campus.”
Peralta-Ochoa added that just a few weeks ago, the S.A. had discussed a “huge surplus of money,” and said the assembly should use that funding for programs like FFT.
Kaufman argued that the funding issue for FFT was “not an issue of inclusivity,” but rather an issue with balancing food expenses of one organization in relation with other organizations on campus.
“If we have the student body fund other people’s food, it must be at a reasonable level,” he said. “Our only concern is the cost of this food budget.”
“The WRC is able to provide this program with much less money,” he added. “You can get catering pricing for half the amount of money that you are currently spending.”
In response to high food cost concerns, Light-Olson said that eating at Flora Rose dining hall provides essential accommodations for students who need special access to buildings, or who require special foods options that other catering services do not offer.
In defense of funding cuts, Samantha Romero Zavala ’19 argued that the S.A. should not excuse the expensive price of FFT, but offered to help the program find alternative venues and more financially accessible means to fund food for attendees.
“If we want to be fair to all organizations on campus, I don’t see how we can spare $16 per person,” she said. “I don’t see how the money is being fair to all the students that pay the student activity fee.”
“Do you need $16 per person to have a meaningful conversation?” she asked.
Kaufman suggested that FFT meet every month rather than every week, and have less expensive dinners at their meetings to reduce expenditures and make an impact at a lower cost.
Elise Czuchna ’18 responded that monthly meetings would not allow FFT to cover all the necessary issues.
“Our mission is diversity and inclusivity,” she said. “Other clubs and organizations getting less funding are not catering to the same types of people we are. Other organizations are not necessarily open to all students like we are.”
The S.A. ultimately motioned to overturn the Appropriations Committee’s 75 percent cut to the program, satisfying FFT’s byline request at $4.
“I’m happy because we are supporting women’s rights on campus and the accessibility of all the programs we have,” said Molly Pushner ’19. “This vote means we’re able to secure funding for these types of inclusive programs for students at Cornell.”