At Monday’s meeting of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, members heard presentations from Office of the Assemblies director Gina Giambatista on the history of shared University governance bodies and from Graduate and Professional Student-Elected Trustee Liz Davis-Frost, grad on the campaign for free period products at Cornell.
Beginning in 1981 with the creation of the Employee and Student Assemblies and eventually including the GPSA after its creation in 1993, the shared governance system uses assemblies to allow groups across the University to participate in University decision-making and discuss campus issues.
According to Giambatista’s presentation, prior to 1955, the University faculty had decided all academic and non-academic policies. The Board of Trustees then transferred control over non-academic policy to Cornell’s President, who delegated some of that authority to the assemblies as occurs in the current shared governance system.
Shared governance has often been reactive to campus events — including a 2017 protest at the U.A. by Black Students United at Cornell over an attack against a Black Cornellian in Collegetown — and arose in response to historic campus turmoil. Giambatista said that the system was created in part due to the Willard Straight Hall takeover and other campus actions led by the Students for a Democratic Society in 1969.
The assemblies range in size and authority: While the Faculty Senate has 130 senators representing 2,824 constituents and oversees mostly academic matters, the Student Assembly has 30 members representing 14,743 constituents and primarily controls the funding of undergraduate organizations who receive money from the student activities fee.
The implementation of all decisions made by assemblies are contingent on approval from the President.
The GPSA also heard a presentation from Trustee Davis-Frost on free period products at Cornell.
The Free Period Product Initiative launched in fall 2020 with $30,000 of funding from the SA Infrastructure Committee as a collaboration between the Women’s Resource Center, the Gender Justice Advocacy Coalition and the Building Care and Facilities department to provide free period products — including tampons and pads — in bathrooms across campus.
A second round of purchasing in April 2021 allowed the campaign to introduce liners and other period products, but a lack of long-term funding for the project has led Davis-Frost back to the assemblies. She aims to secure more funding and move away from the current source of funds, which relies on the undergraduate student activity fee.
For many, access to period products is key to their quality of life on university campuses. Davis-Frost cited Columbia University Master of Public Health candidate Francis Rojina, who said that her education suffered because her family was too poor to afford period products.
In the future, Davis-Frost said she hopes to expand the campaign and make it more sustainable. Goals include securing short-term funding for another round of product purchases, and also creating an educational campaign and a diverse campus working group to oversee the project.