Sage the Gemini performed at UC Santa Cruz on Oct. 20 to over 2,500 students. Miscommunication surrounding Student Union Assembly (SUA) use of general funds for the concert later sparked outrage among college governments and ethnic organizations.

Members of the Black Student Union, Asian Pacific Islander Student Alliance, Bayanihan, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA de UCSC) organizations on campus and those standing with them in solidarity gather in Quarry Plaza in preparation for their presence at the Student Union Assembly (SUA) meeting. Photo by Lluvia Moreno.

The competency of the Student Union Assembly (SUA) was called into question during the past week over its mishandling of student fees. Allegedly unapproved expenditures, violations of its constitution and miscommunication on multiple levels fanned the flames of an unfolding SUA controversy.

Four of the Big Five campus ethnic organizations — Black Student Union (BSU), Asian Pacific Islander Student Alliance (APISA), Bayanihan and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA) — confronted SUA at its Oct. 30 meeting. A week prior, they learned of SUA’s use of $30,000 in general programming funds for the Sage the Gemini concert, which left only $17,000 for other organizations.

“They didn’t follow […] the procedures that they were supposed to follow,” said BSU President Shania Anderson. “They didn’t ask. The money was taken from programming that could have went toward programs to better the lives of the students.”

Money from SUA’s general programming fund is used by organizations across campus for ethnic programs, though any voting member of SUA can submit a request to use those funds. This year, funding was disproportionately allocated toward SUA.

“It takes money away from other organizations,” said Daniel Aholt, a Kresge Parliament member. “That money typically goes toward funding other events that student orgs put on. So having the whole general fund cut in half is just absolutely  absurd.”

A lack of communication and transparency among SUA officers and uncertainty about voting quorum over the summer led to their use of the $30,000 without the majority of SUA or other organizations knowing.

Concert Cost and Allocating Funds

Isabella Bullock, SUA vice president of student life, surveyed students in June and found over 90 percent of the 2,500 responses indicated they wanted SUA to fund a campus-wide concert. Bullock then created a concert budget and secured funding from administrative entities on campus. However, a tight schedule and miscommunication among officers resulted in questionable decisions that violated the SUA  Constitution.

“It’s frustrating, this process,” Bullock said. “It was definitely not what I was expecting. And it’s hard because a lot of students are like, ‘You didn’t expect this?’ It’s just […] an awkward situation for me, not being able to work together properly with the other officers.”

The six core officers voted to approve taking $20,000 from SUA’s general fund on Aug. 27. After it was clear they wouldn’t meet the budget with sponsor funding, the officers proposed taking another $10,000 out of the general fund on Sept. 17.

According to its constitution, the Assembly must vote on summer quorum but the vote may not have occurred. President Ayo Banjo said in an interview that by default, the six core officers qualify as quorum over the summer, which is what they operated on when voting and holding meetings. This default is not mentioned in the bylaws or constitution.

Banjo said this supposed default allowed SUA to make a formal decision on the concert’s budget during the summer, including the initial approval of the first $20,000.

Banjo called an emergency meeting online and in person on Sept. 17, but only three college representatives in addition to Banjo, Bullock and one other person were present. Two of the representatives were in favor of approving the funds and one wanted to discuss with college governments before giving their approval, Bullock said. Banjo and Bullock both said in interviews they were not comfortable approving the budget without getting feedback from SUA representatives.

Because of the low turnout to the emergency meeting, Banjo was meant to send a summary of the meeting to representatives to get feedback. According to Bullock and multiple college representatives, those notes were not sent. Later, the $10,000 was used, but miscommunication and a lack of documentation obscure what happened in the time between the emergency meeting and the decision to use the money.

BSU President Shania Anderson raised concerns about SUA transparency and student representation at the Oct. 30 meeting.

“There was an informal meeting where a formal decision was made that affected the fees of the students who […] elected y’all as officers to be in this position,” Anderson said. “There was no quorum met and yet we are just finding out about this post-concert.”

SUA President Ayo Banjo (left), Vice President of Student Life Bella Bullock (center), and Parliamentarian Zach Klieman (right) listen to the concerns and unofficial demands voiced by ethnic organizations present at the meeting. Photo by Lluvia Moreno.

In interviews with City on a Hill Press (CHP) and during the Oct. 30 SUA meeting, Banjo stated multiple and varying accounts of what happened in the approval process of the $10,000. In the meeting, he first said he singularly approved the $10,000 to be allocated to the concert, but later said it was a decision on behalf of all six officers.

In numerous accounts through interviews with CHP and during the Oct. 30 meeting, Bullock consistently said Banjo told her he sent out the notes from the emergency meeting and she could use the $10,000 for the concert.

“I’m upset with myself that I didn’t check to make sure that [Banjo] actually did it,” Bullock said. “[…] I thought he must have done it.”

Bullock and SUA representatives first found out at the Oct. 22 SUA meeting Banjo did not send the notes from the emergency meeting. He did not get approval from most SUA representatives about the $10,000 being used for the  concert.

Members of ethnic organizations present their grievances with SUA’s transparency with the budget for the fall concert. The organizations successfully prolonged the agenda item for the majority of the meeting, extending into an hour of overtime. Photo by Lluvia Moreno.

Now, only $17,000 remains in the general programming fund. Bullock and Banjo both said there was less money than they thought in the general programming fund and attributed the misconception to mistakes in the 2017-18 budget made by previous SUA officers.

Shania Anderson said she was disappointed in the decision to use the funds for the  concert.

“We would hope [the concert funds] would [have been] used, given that a lot of the officers ran on retention and educational programs for people of color,” Anderson said, “[…] for programs for our retention and our education here on this campus.”

Ethnic Organizations Confront SUA

When members of four of the Big Five ethnic organizations discovered SUA allocated $30,000 of general program funds to the concert, they were shocked at the gravity and lateness of the information.

“We as students are concerned as to why that charge is showing up right now,” said BSU Vice President Colby Riley during SUA’s Oct. 30 meeting.   

On Monday night, core members of BSU, APISA, Bayanihan and MEChA held an emergency meeting to discuss action around the coming SUA meeting.

A half hour before SUA’s Tuesday night meeting, students from and in solidarity with the ethnic organizations gathered at the Quarry to review a list of demands before presenting them to SUA.

These demands include review of an exact budget of overall concert expenses, pre-approved budgets on future SUA spending, the SUA president’s summary document on SUA’s summer budget meeting, more transparency regarding SUA actions, cultural competence training, accountability and overall respect from the SUA office. Formal demands are in the process of being drafted and will be displayed on the SUA website, according to College Nine Senate representative Stephan Edgar. Banjo agreed to this during the meeting.

SUA’s standard two-hour long meeting centered on the concert budget. In SUA meetings, agenda items are classically allocated 15 minutes of discussion, meaning attendees and representatives made several motions to extend the discussion of the budgetary concerns throughout the meeting. Other agenda items were postponed to the next SUA meeting as the budget discussion lasted the entirety of the meeting.

Concerns circulated the room about the budget figure and the process and jurisdiction of approving the budget itself.

Members of the ethnic organizations spoke first, emphasizing their frustration with what seemed like a bureaucratic deflection of issues and questions.

“What it sounds like to us is that you’re covering your ass because money was reallocated that shouldn’t have been touched to begin with,” Shania Anderson said during the meeting.

As the meeting progressed, student representatives echoed sentiments of the ethnic organizations.

“Y’all [SUA officers] are citing parts of the constitution or bylaws that give you the ability to make the decisions with essentially nine people, and I am not seeing that anywhere,” said Stephan Edgar. “This bureaucratic argument that you are making, I don’t see the logic behind it.”

The SUA concert budget left $17,000 in general funds, money that could have been used for Big Five programming.

“We wouldn’t mind having a concert if that was communicated to us earlier with the budgets approved,” Anderson said in an interview. “If there was some formal process of asking for more money and having that be approved to the students, then that would have not proven to have been such  a  problem.”

At the end of the meeting, Isabella Bullock proposed allocating unused funds in the SUA budget back to the general fund. SUA only had a part-time adviser during the summer so leftover funds from full-time adviser pay can potentially be put back into the general fund. All leftover funds from the concert budget will also go back to the general fund.

“I’m just very, very sorry. I don’t even know how many sorrys I can say without it being drowned out because I know that people don’t want to hear sorrys. They want to see results and change,” Bullock said. “[…] I just wish from the bottom my heart that we can find a way to resolve this and make sure that students can get their demands met.”

Corrections: In the print version of this article, the day the ethnic organizations called an emergency meeting to begin their response to SUA was misstated. They met on Monday Oct. 29.

In the online version of the article, the same caption was posted for two photos. The first photo caption has since been corrected.