The Undergraduate Council of Students heard updates about disability study spaces, gender-inclusive restrooms and financial aid initiatives at its general body meeting Wednesday evening. The Council also elected Lijin Dai ’22 as its treasurer.
At the meeting, UCS President Shanzé Tahir ’19 presented alongside Associate Provost for Academic Space Leah VanWey on the development of a disability study space, which the University plans to open by the fall semester. The study space will be in Room A10 in the Rockefeller Library, and will follow criteria to ensure features such as accessible seating and natural light.
After meetings between UCS leadership and University administrators, Tahir organized a focus group that began meeting in December and included students with disabilities from UCS and student group Disability Justice at Brown to discuss criteria for the study space. VanWey said $50,000 in funding has been secured for the space.
The Office of the Provost sees the study space as a pilot, VanWey said. “If this is something that’s really successful, we’re going to figure out what’s most successful about it and replicate it in different places on campus.”
VanWey also updated the Council on the expanded number of gender-inclusive restrooms in academic, administrative and dining buildings.
The University’s goal is to have gender-inclusive restrooms in 100 percent of buildings not including residential halls, VanWey said. The Office of Residential Life has a separate initiative for gender-inclusive restrooms in residential halls.
By the end of this summer, all but three buildings on campus — 96 percent — will have gender-inclusive bathrooms, VanWey said. The three without such restrooms — MacMillan Hall, Pembroke Hall and Sidney E. Frank Hall — require additional construction and funding. Nonetheless, VanWey said she is “optimistic that we will be able to do this during the next academic year.”
This summer, gender-inclusive restrooms will be added to Alumnae Hall, Lincoln Field Building and the Sharpe Refectory, whose restroom will also be made Americans with Disabilities Act accessible.
All single-user restrooms will be relabeled as gender-inclusive this summer, and signs that show a male or female symbol will be updated to simply indicate a restroom. Signs providing directions to gender-inclusive restrooms will also be implemented, as will signage providing instructions on reporting bias incidents, VanWey said. This signage comes as a response to increases in bias incidents around some gender-inclusive restrooms on campus, she added.
Increasing the number of gender-inclusive restrooms “is something that the LGBTQ Center here has been advocating for for a long time,” VanWey said.
Dean of Financial Aid Jim Tilton also attended the meeting to discuss initiatives including the Brown Promise, the $0 Parent Contribution Direct Cost-Scholarship, which covers the full cost of tuition, room and board for students with demonstrated need and the Middle/Moderate Family Income Initiative, which works to decrease parent contribution and increase scholarships.
“The most important thing, I think, is the commitment that we have from Brown and from the institution and the Corporation to fund financial aid,” Tilton said. A total of $135.4 million was budgeted for financial aid in fiscal year 2019, according to a slide in his presentation.
In recent years, the Office of Financial Aid has worked to “even out the socioeconomic distribution of students on campus,” Tilton said. “This year we were able to do a pretty good job” as a result of scholarship initiatives, in addition to other kinds of support students on financial aid receive.
Tilton added that he hopes improved financial aid will reduce student borrowing.
UCS also held an internal election for next year’s treasurer. Dai, a member of the Campus Life committee, defeated UCS historian and Communications committee member Sam Caplan ’22 in the election. In her speech, Dai highlighted her experience working on the Campus Life committee and the funding obstacles the committee encountered while trying to carry out certain initiatives.
“My goal for next year would be for each committee to have the ability to carry out their projects” by working with the Undergraduate Finance Board to increase project funding, she said.
Dai also proposed “establishing individual budgets for the chairs of the committees” while also permitting them to apply for additional funding throughout the semester.
In his speech, Caplan proposed allocating part of the treasurer’s discretionary fund to create “campaigns to increase involvement in UCS,” including a pre-orientation program for incoming first-years to familiarize them with the Council.
After the general body meeting, the Council held a reflection and brainstorming session on what went well in UCS this year and how the Council could improve.
Broad goals for the Council included expanding inclusion of general body members in committee projects, increasing general body engagement and ownership of work and addressing the Council’s low general body retention.
Chair of Academic Affairs Sofia Jimenez ’21 recommended that the Council increase the general body’s involvement with Council initiatives. Further, Chair of Student Activities Alex Song ’20 suggested creating opportunities for general body members to launch their own projects.
The Council members still present also discussed how to best increase general body retention.
Chair of Campus Life Melissa Lee ’20 raised the idea of lengthening the general body meeting time by half an hour to 90 minutes. Setting this precedent “gives (UCS) an increased legitimacy when it is a further time commitment (and) you are constantly accomplishing things,” she said.
The Council debated the effectiveness of its current attendance policy, which bars general body members who have missed two or more meetings from voting.
“The idea of representative government as a whole is to get as many as voices as possible,” Caplan said. UCS “should try to be as accommodating as possible.”