Jerlisa Fontaine defends trip called ‘Waste of Money’ by Gov. Ops Chair
A student government training convention that Student Association leaders will attend later this month in New Orleans has some within the organization questioning the trip’s intentions.
Slated to take place between Feb. 9 and 10, the National Student Leadership Diversity Convention, which will be attended by at least five SA members, takes place during the annual Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans.
At SA’s weekly meeting on Wednesday, Sen. Anna Agnes called into question the validity of the convention.
“That’s a waste of money,” said Agnes, who painted the trip as nothing more than a vacation for SA leadership paid for by students.
Those expected to attend next week’s convention include Jerlisa Fontaine, SA president; Madeeha Khan, SA vice president; Langie Cadesca, chief of staff; Nicholas Hacksaw, comptroller; and Aniel Luna, director of Intercultural Affairs.
According to Fontaine the trip is still in its planning phases, making the overall cost unknown as of writing.
Senate Chair Jarrett Altilio and Co-Chair Subha Tasnim are expected to attend the convention as well but have yet to fully confirm their intentions.
Expenses for attendees will be paid for using the executive branch’s conference line, a $5,000 provision in SA’s budget – which is made up of student activity fees – designated for trips of this nature.
Should Altilio and Tasnim decide to attend, their expenses would be paid for using a similar $4,000 provision in SA’s budget split between attending student government conferences and SUNY Student Assembly conferences.
Agnes, chair of the Committee of Government Operations and member of SA’s Board of Finance, said regardless of price she would rather see the money be used for student groups and programs on campus.
“I’d like to see the [conference] line be much less,” said Agnes, who plans to make reducing the line a priority this upcoming budget season.
According to the 2017-2018 SA budget, the executive conference line was reduced by 50 percent from last year’s $10,000, while the legislative line remained steady at $4,000.
Fontaine defended the trip on Wednesday saying such conventions benefit the campus community and will help her administration better understand diversity issues – an issue she committed to while running for SA president during last year’s election.
“Although I feel like the university is doing a great job with bringing all types of diverse students to campus, I feel like we’re struggling to have conversations about very controversial things,” said Fontaine. “I need to put myself and my peers in a position to learn how we can have those conversations because I’m not trained for that.”
When pressed whether Mardi Gras played any decision to attend the February convention, Fontaine said the timing was a coincidence.
“It’s wherever the conference is being held,” said Fontaine. “We can’t control where these are held or what our test and academic schedules are as well.”
Altilio said he understands how students may see the New Orleans trip as a vacation for SA leadership but insists the conference will be beneficial to students in the long run.
“We do learn a lot from other student governments across the country,” said Altilio. “We do figure out how, in different political and cultural landscapes, other student governments navigate those environments…I think there’s a lot to be learned moving forward for our SA and how we approach those questions [of diversity].”
“Conferences are important because of the connections you make and the resource you gain from them,” said Fontaine. “We’re able to be a resource to our community. We’re learning things, we’re meeting new people.”
As for the overall price of the conference, “It’s a budget,” said Fontaine, “and a budget gets approved.”