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SGA holds emergency meeting regarding concerns on campus

Ella Adams
Un salon lleno de alrededor de 125 estudiantes y miembros del personal, escuchan atentamente a un comentador público en la junta del gobierno estudiantil el 27 de marzo.

In response to recent concerns on campus regarding safety and free expression, the SGA Student Assembly held an emergency meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m. in room 119 of Anne Belk Hall.

The meeting focused on the recent renovation project of the free expression tunnels, recent changes to PrideFest and the Henderson Springs LGBTQ+ Center and the safety concerns and lack of resources available to students in the Department of Art due to the construction on Wey Hall.

The meeting, which was open to members of the public, included a public comment section where students and community members could voice their concerns.

In attendance at the emergency meeting were student representatives of SGA in addition to assembly speaker Maureen Hammer, deputy speaker Savannah Raley, Honors College representative Jackson Adams and SGA Student Body President J.P. Neri.

The meeting was well attended, with students lining the walls of the meeting room after chairs were filled. SGA allotted 45 minutes for public comments and every minute was used.

Junior sustainable development major Iona Blackburn observes public comments at the March 27 emergency SGA meeting. (Ella Adams)

One student voiced their opinion on renovations to the free expression tunnels and construction on Wey Hall, calling the projects an attack. 

“It really just seems like an attack on the arts, even if it was a coincidence, I really think that people should be more aware of what it looks like,” they said.

Another student brought up concerns associated with freedom of expression, saying recent changes at App State mimic a form of censorship.

Some students voiced their concerns over the recent name change of PrideFest, now called SpringFest. Many attendees who said they are members of the LGBTQ+ community said they do not feel as though recent changes at App State foster a safe and open space.

Molly Pocket, a member of the Boone Barbies, expressed frustration during the open comment and announced that the group recently found out they are no longer able to work with the university for events.

One student expressed their belief that the issues presented during the meeting speak to an issue on a different level.

“These issues are all interconnected,” the student said.

In addition to concerns regarding expression, many students from the art department said the working conditions in Wey and East Halls create an unsafe environment. Students noted the lack of accessibility, specifically in East Hall, a building without elevators, and argued the education they are receiving and paying full tuition for is far below subpar. 

Due to these conditions, some students said they would not have chosen App State had they known about the conditions the art students would be subjected to. 

Another student said, “they should be putting money into the buildings that keep us safe, they should be representing us in our events, and just using the word ‘pride,’ they shouldn’t be scared of that one word.”

Some attendees voiced their concerns, while others suggested solutions.

“Radical love is genuinely the only answer for permanent change,” said one commenter.

SGA student representatives also spoke during the open comment section, each noting that their opinions are their own and do not necessarily reflect the overall opinions of the SGA.

Colton Bucher, second-year representative, was one of the SGA students to speak during the public comments section.

“To our student body, thank you for coming tonight. The SGA hears you, the SGA cares, even if the chancellor does not,” he said. 

Bucher later continued, “And finally, to the chancellor, whether you are watching tonight or not. I ask one thing of you, and one thing only: your resignation.”

And finally, to the chancellor, whether you are watching tonight or not. I ask one thing of you, and one thing only: your resignation.

Following the public comments section, SGA President J.P. Neri made an announcement that he received an administration member concerning the free expression tunnels.

“I have just received word from university administration that starting next week, they are establishing a working group led by students to locate and establish a new space for free expression on campus,” Neri said. “This is only happening because of the work that is happening in SGA, and because of the voices of students that are speaking loud enough that the university has to listen.”

After the public comments section, the SGA presented three bills in relation to the concerns: Bill AB 057-030, “Statement on Supporting

Student Body Free Expression”, Bill AB 057-031, “Statement on SpringFest and the Henderson Springs LGBTQ+ Center” and Bill AB 057-032, “Statement on Supporting Students in the Department of Arts and Visual Culture.”

All bills were all unanimously approved by each SGA student representative.

After the meeting, Neri said in an interview he enjoyed seeing the turnout from the App State community at the meeting.

“This was the most successful meeting that we’ve had all year,” Neri said. “It was one of the most important meetings that we’ve had all year.”
Neri said members of the SGA spent “all day” the day before and the day of the event coordinating and preparing for the emergency meeting.

Margaret-Ann Littauer, vice president of the SGA, encouraged students to communicate future concerns with the organization.

“Continue bringing your concerns to us,” she said.

Anna Nall, director of communications of the SGA, said she also enjoyed seeing the turnout of the local community of students.

Fourth-year art and visual culture major Georgie Jones speaks to a crowded room at the March 27 emergency SGA meeting. Jones expressed concerns about LGBTQ+ censorship on campus, the restriction of free speech and the lack of accessibility for disabled students. ( Ella Adams)

“It was really moving for all of us,” she said. “I really think that this is the best that SGA can be, is when it is not just the 30 people who have been elected, and we’re able to include a larger part of the student body.”

Neri said the meeting was originally scheduled to be held after this week’s SGA election debate, but after seeing growing tensions and issues on campus, decided to host the emergency meeting.

“We did not feel that we could, in good conscience, skip a week,” he said.

Neri said the next steps are signing the bills, a role which he will fulfill as SGA president, before sending them to any relevant stakeholders while continuing to have conversations related to the issues presented at the meeting.

In response to the safety concerns surrounding Wey Hall, students held a peaceful protest Thursday afternoon at Sanford Mall.

In response to the protest, the university released a statement about free speech on campus. 

App State supports and upholds the First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly. University leaders have provided several opportunities for students to express their concerns with regard to Wey Hall, and their concerns are being heard,” the statement said. “The safety of our students, faculty and staff is paramount, and regular site reviews and safety inspections will continue.”

Additionally, the statement said App State’s construction project manager will now be on-site in Wey Hall every day beginning Monday to answer any questions or concerns that students, faculty or staff may have. The statement said “additional safety measures” will be implemented in Wey Hall throughout the remainder of the spring semester.

According to the statement, Wey Hall will follow the original project plan, closing this summer to complete renovations and re-open in summer 2025. The university will continue to explore options for Fall 2024 classes, including where to hold these classes, but has not decided on a set location.

The statement said students, faculty and staff will be informed in the “ongoing process” and provided links to additional resources related to the construction.

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About the Contributors
Madalyn Edwards, Associate News Editor
Madalyn Edwards (she/her) is a junior English major from Mount Airy, NC. This is her second year with The Appalachian.
K. Slade, Visual Managing Editor
K. Slade (she/her) is a senior journalism major. This is her third year with The Appalachian.
Pruett Norris, Multimedia Editor
Pruett Norris (he/him) is a senior double majoring in English with a concentration in Film Studies and Electronic Media/Broadcasting. This is his second year with The Appalachian.
Ella Adams, Managing Editor
Ella Adams (she/her) is a senior anthropology major.
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