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Jenny Feinberg’s State of the Union Address

By Jenny Feinberg

Section: News

December 9, 2005

Here is the transcript of Jenny Feinberg's complete State of the Union Address on December 6, 2005:

I woke up this morning to find F-Board member Harrison Chizik and
Senator Brian Paternostro passed out, still in their clothes, on the
couches in my Ridgewood. Scattered around the table and floor were
half-eaten late-night snacks, empty coffee mugs, and pages of my
speech. Based on the evidence before me, there was no question that
Harrison and Brian had stayed up the entire night, making edits and
additions to my speech for this evening. At that moment, I realized and
reminded myself what makes our Student Union different from past years'
Unions. We are a Union that cares;

we care about each other, we care
about the message of this organization, and most importantly, we care
about making Brandeis a place students love to study, work, and live.

When I was elected to office last Spring, the Justice accurately
cautioned that I had inherited a Union “regrettably estranged from the
administration and more imporantly, the undergraduate students it [was]
charged with serving.” That is not the Student Union we are today, and
that is no longer the direction in which we are headed.

It is with great honor and excitement that I stand before you this
evening with our State of the Union Address. I embarked on my
presidency articulating a vision of an accessible Student Union,
connected deeply to its Brandeis roots. It is the purpose and
responsibility of the Student Union Government to unearth the core
values of our University. As the President of this organization, I see
no other way to govern than to assert the most passion into our
microcosm of the real world and gain an intimate understanding of our
school. And that has been my approach in guiding the Student Union this
semester.

From the beginning, my presidential campaign pledged accessibility and
accountability: real resources for clubs, transparent finance reform,
and an improved relationship between the Union and the student body.
As a Union, we wanted to increase the availability of student services
on campus, enhance our social and academic opportunities, and
strengthen our clubs and organizations. Most importantly, we wanted to
guarantee that we were accurately placing our energy and resources into
the most representative interests of the Brandeis student body. To
achieve this concept of accountability and representation, we all took
on very different responsibilities and routes, ultimately linking us to
four themes of the semester: Advocacy, Diversity, Social Life, and
Allocations.

My speech this evening is two-fold;

I will first describe the issues we
have identified and addressed this semester, and then illustrate how
these efforts will shape our direction for the spring.

Advocacy:

In order to better advocate for student needs, our Senators spearheaded
various initiatives that I am certain have increased student
satisfaction in response to their needs.

Transportation has long been a concern of students. Specifically, off
campus students have complained that the Bran Van does not run in the
morning, when many students in Grad and on South Street must make the
long walk to Rabb, often in the freezing cold. I am proud to announce
that Senators Miriam Sievers and Alison Schwartzbaum have successfully
advocated to extend BranVan morning hours. Beginning next semester, the
BranVan will make runs through Waltham starting at 8am.

Our services committee, led by Chairs Darren Gallant and Lauren Becker,
organized Turkey shuttles which carried over 200 students to
Logan Airport, New York, and Long Island. These are just two examples
of how your Union is advocating for your transportation needs.

In keeping our hand on the pulse of the student body, Union officers
have realized that many students on this campus keep very diverse
schedules. In order to accommodate all of our students,, the Union has
found places where we can make life better for night owls and early
birds. Senator Adam Gartner has worked with dining services to extend
Saturday night C-store hours as well as the library to increase their
weekend hours. In addition to increasing library hours, the Union also
realizes that it is crucial to preserve multiple spaces on campus where
students can access to study in. Many students have approached senators
regarding the budget cut-backs in the Shapiro Campus Center, concerned
that we can no longer study in the conference rooms after 12:30AM. I
too feel deeply committed to assuring that this building remains
the most available to students as often as possible. Next week, our
Student Union Senate will pass a resolution strongly urging the
administration to channel additional funds into building manager hours.
The small cost is well worth the benefit to our student body.

Our Union has increased advocacy for Student Academics. In this
area, Jason Brodsky, our Director of Academic Affairs, has taken on
some incredible initiatives. He has worked with the academic
departments to post their book lists and syllabi online so we can
purchase cheaper books, and he most recently worked with the
Undergraduate Curriculum Committee Representatives, Lianna Levine,
Carol Ortenberg, and Arielle Strauss to send out a poll to determine
how we can improve the University Writing Seminar for first-year
students. The poll results have been compiled, and the UCC is currently
considering how to incorporate the complaints and suggestions into USEM
reform.

In light of the frustration students have overwhelmingly voiced about
the bookstore, Senators Rachel Graham Kagan and Josh Karpoff will now
serve on our Bookstore Advisory Committee created to give voice to the
concerns and requests from students regarding the services from our
campus bookstore.

Jason Brodsky has also worked with Aaron Gaynor, Director of Union
Affairs, to bring back the campus readership program, which provides
free newspapers to all students. We hope this program will begin again
next semester. Finally, Jason has overseen the compilation of our
Course Evaluation Guide, a service that allows us to read student
evaluations online before selecting our courses.

As a result of the overwhelming success of Communiversity, which was
founded by our Secretary Aaron Braver, we will again create this
program in the spring. Communiversity allows any faculty member, staff,
or student to teach a course in any interest or hobby they would like to
share with us, and in turn provides for an opportunity for any member
of the community to learn a new interest.

An even greater example of successful student advocacy efforts is the
recent passing of the Fair Trade Referendum. Last week, approximately
70% of the voting members of the student body voted in favor of
switching all coffee products sold on campus to Fair Trade. I commend
the Fair Trade Brigade not only for their success but also for
revitalizing our ideals of social justice. Vice President of Campus
Operation Mark Collins has personally assured me that the conversion of
all coffee products on campus to Fair Trade in Usdan and the non-kosher
side of Sherman will take place by January.

As you can see, your Student Union is working hard to advocate for
student needs;

we have responded with new initiatives like extended
Bran Van hours, more available time and space for student study, and
easier access to academic information, while offering support for
popular programs already in place. However, student advocacy is only
one part of the four-pronged approach we have taken to bettering
student life. The second theme of this administration is Diversity.

We love the word diversity on this campus and every year we see new
strides from the administration and from students to define its
meaning. There is no question in my mind that the hiring of Jamele
Adams, our New Assistant Dean of Student Life in Support of Diversity,
has brought us to a better place. Jamele has helped to ensure the
presence of diversity in our thoughts, actions, and understanding. With
his direction, the Student Union has initiated numerous efforts to
incorporate diversity in our lives.

We have worked with the Justice, the Hoot, WBRS, and BTV to convey the
importance of representative campus media. Every student on this campus
must feel they have an outlet to vocalize his or her opinions and
recognize the power of his or her voice. I appreciate that the new
Justice Editor-in-chief, Dan Hirschorn is cognizant of the multitude of
complaints that have been expressed regarding the Justice's accuracy,
and we look forward to a more dependable paper in the coming semester.

We have also worked to ease the lives of students facing particular
difficulties on the Brandeis campus and provide a more inclusive atmosphere. Our Senator for the Transitional Year Program, Melissa Howard, has made incredible progress by representing the TYP students and helping to involve them in the Brandeis undergraduate life.

Senator Mara Blumenthal, has worked with Mark Collins and the Committee
on Disabilities to oversee the implementation of more railings on Rabb
steps and East quad so the Brandeis campus is more accessible for
everyone. These railings should be installed and fully functional by
the beginning of next semester.

Our community has also come together in times of disaster. Working with Student Events, Hillel, the Waltham Group, and other clubs on campus, we collected nearly $7,000 this semester for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Additionally, Senator Shreeya Sinha has dedicated herself to educating the student body about the horrific earthquake in South Asia. Along with friends and fellow senators, Shreeya has collected over $3,000 while also convincing our University President, Jehuda Reinharz, to donate $2,500 to the cause.

I need to especially thank Senator for Racial Minority Students Diana
Chiang, who is organizing a week of Diversity events for next semester.
Her experience as a leader in the Intercultural Center as well as an
active Community Advisor lends her the most credibility in this task. I
also want to recognize Senators Josh Karpoff and Brian Paternostro, who
have met with leaders from all of our religious groups on campus to
discover their needs and determine how we can better meet the religious
desires of Brandeis students. Senator Sammy Vaghar, has made incredible
strides with the Social Justice Committee this semester and has led
others to reach out to our political and activist leaders and establish
a common ground.

I can't express enough how significant common ground truly is. Every facet of this campus, which contributes to our diversity, helps us to create a more cohesive community and cultivate social opportunities. This brings me to the third theme of this administration: Social Life.

One of our main goals this year was to improve campus life, specifically regarding the social aspects of our weekends. Our Director of Social Affairs, Edgar Ndjatou, has worked tirelessly to create a partnership with Student Events in an effort to enhance the social atmosphere while maintaining our health and safety. I commend the members of Student Events, who have accomplished so much this semester by reaching out to the student body and working more with our clubs and organizations.
The Union is thrilled to co-sponsor Winter Week with Student Events and Hillel, and we look forward to collaborating on more events in the coming semester.

Many sense a common sentiment this semester that social life has in
fact improved, and I credit that to the open-mindedness of Edgar,
Student Events, and the Offices of Residence Life, Student Activities,
and Public Safety. I am excited that Residence Life has taken a new
approach towards social life this semester, and I appreciate that the
Administration has granted us more trust to have responsible and
enjoyable social lives.

Numerous Union officers, along with Edgar, have been working to provide
more social outlets for students this semester. Senators Alex Braver
and Jacob Bockelmann, have worked with their quad councils to plan
events and address the needs of first-year students in their
residential quads. The sophomore class in particular has been privy to
a wide variety of social and bonding opportunities this semester thanks
to its tremendous senators. Senator Sarah Klein has worked above and
beyond to create both Rosenball and next week's Midnight Buffet. She
has also worked with Senator Darren Gallant to sell over one-hundred
fifty sweatshirts to various members of their sophomore class. Senator
Adi Shmuel has hosted a wide variety of events in the Castle dorm such
as the Hunted House and the Royal Ball.

For the Junior class, Senator Brian Paternostro is in the process of
planning a major campus-wide concert next semester called
Ridgewoodstock. All of our senior senators- Sam Siegel, JC Cohen, Robyn
Kaplan, Miriam Sievers, Morgan Marcus, and Matt Shuman- did a
tremendous job organizing and running Modfest last October, where
students came out in numbers to partake in our beloved campus-wide
event.

Yet, as I share my excitement, I cannot skirt over the significant
issue of safety that arose during Modfest, and that exist even more so
today. At Modfest, numerous students were hospitalized due to excessive
drinking while others engaged in inappropriate behavior with other
students and public safety officers. If we, as a student body, expect
to maintain our bonds of trust with the administration, we cannot
possibly behave in this manner. Edgar is currently working on a proposal for social ettique on campus so we have some standard of expectation for these events. Not all of us should be penalized as a result of inappropriate behaviors of a few students, but must maintain some level of responsibility to guarantee that we can continue having large-scale events such as Modfest in the future.

As you are surely aware by now, several attacks occured on our campus
this past weekend. These events are extremely troubling in light of
the lifestyle of safety and freedom we have enjoyed at Brandeis in
previous years. On Sunday evening our Student Senate passed a
Resolution by unanimous consent, condemning all acts of violence on the
Brandeis campus, and encouraging students to be more aware of their
surroundings, to lock their doors, and to ensure that unknown
individuals are not able to enter our community's private spaces. I
commend the Senate's call to action, and hope that we will all continue
to work together to look out for unfamiliar people, and to protect each
other from any future incidents. I also commend and thank the Office
of Public Safety for their immediate response to all Brandeis students
in need of assistance.

This brings us to our final theme: Allocations. Our Student Union,
while very in touch with the social, academic, and personal needs of
our student body, also feels deeply responsible for the success of all
campus clubs and organizations. I take it extremely seriously our duty to provide funds and support for campus groups. To guarantee that we were accurately identifying and addressing club concerns this year, we did the only thing that made sense: We launched a campaign, early in the semester,
pledging to meet with club leaders and students to hear how they felt
about our current infrastructure, and identify what needed to be fixed.

With the strong support of the new club liaison program, lead by Noah
Haber, we were able to gain a broad perspective of how Brandeis
organizations functioned. The role of a club liaison is to serve as a
personal advocate to our clubs on campus, offering leaders assistance
with Union processes, financial requests, and general advocacy issues.
Liaisons provide guidance about planning events, maintaining
membership, and accessing funds, and I urge club leaders to access this
useful resource.

Club Liaisons, Senators, and Executive Officers have completed meetings
with leaders from political groups, the media, cultural organizations,
competitive teams, religious groups, and beyond. It came as no surprise
that common issues surrounding our financial allocations system arose
at almost every meeting. Leaders expressed a desire to increase their
groups presence on campus, and we need a financial system
that is going to support that goal. Since then, we have formulated a
series of reforms to help provide more for the Brandeis community, while
leaving room for growth. Our ideas for reform changed and
grew with each meeting. We always maintained flexibility, never putting
full stock in a single way of thought. Our reforms represent where
Brandeis can go and how, if we work together, we can accomplish more.

Under the current system, we allocate funds from our Student Activities Fee, which is collected from 1% of every student's tuition each academic year, totaling approximately one million dollars. Our constitution dictates that our student-elected Finance Board shall allocate 40%, or approximately $400,000 from the Student Activities Fee every year. The Finance Board serves an indispensable role in providing the necessary support for all our chartered clubs, but our current system has too many rules and restrictions and makes it too difficult to correct problems if they do arise. As part of our reform process, we reviewed all of Fboards rules, analyzed the reasons behind them and interviewed over one hundred club leaders to determine where change most needed to be made.

The first aspect of our reform was initiated this past week. On Sunday night, Harrison Chizik and Nick Freeman proposed to the Student Senate a series of by-law amendments that will help streamline our F-board system and allow Board members to not just allocate funds but also to get funds to club leaders faster. We have created a grievance process to give club leaders the chance to appeal decisions when they feel a mistake has been made, and weve given the Finance Board more freedom to adjust its rules so that funds are distributed fairly and equitably to all clubs.

Another major concern we have addressed is the clear need to provide more support for our club sports beyond the Finance Board. I am proud to announce that Treasurer Nick Freeman, Edgar Ndjatou, Noah Haber, and Jacob Bockelmann have met with numerous club sports leaders to draft a proposal and are working with the Department of Athletics, the Office of Students and Enrollment, as well as the Board of Trustees to enhance both the safety and the resources provided for our club sports.

The other 60% of our million dollar Student Activities Fee goes to
eight secured organizations that, over the past 6 years, the campus has
determined represent the general interests of the entire student body.
These eight groups: the Archon yearbook, the Justice, WBRS, BTV,
Student Events, Student Union, BeMCo, and the Waltham Group, receive a
guaranteed percentage of our SAF every semester and do not have to
request money from the finance board.

After a semester of intense work with club leaders from every aspect of
Brandeis student life, the overall consensus is both that chartered
clubs are not receiving enough funds and that $600,000 is an excessive
amount of money to be distributed to only eight organizations.

I have asked Jonathan Sham and Senator Sam Siegal to work with leaders
from secured organizations to look over their budgets and determine how
decisions were made regarding expenditures. As we continue these
conversations and research, we will consider new ways to ensure their
finances are transparent and their spending efficient. We have also
explored why these eight organizations are secured, and how we can
provide greater financial security to other major groups on campus:
such as the Hoot, the Undergraduate Theatre Collective, Hillel, Student
Sexuality Information Services, and the Intercultural Center. All of
these groups have grown drastically over the years, and we recognize
the importance of their presence on campus.

We are proud that we have been able to bring so many individuals into this effort to ensure it remains as open and honest as possible. As we seek to institute a constitutional amendment next semester to reform our financial structure, we ask that students and leaders continue to cooperate with our efforts and work with us as we progress in this endeavor.

Serving as President of our student body during this tremendous semester has been so rewarding. It has been incredible to witness our Student Union officers personify the concept of accessibility and embody the themes of representative advocacy: diversity, social life, and allocations. Earning the trust of the student body has been the major reason we have been able to accomplish so much this semester, and why I see so much hope for our initiatives in the future. We have restored a tremendous amount of credibility to the Student Union as a result of the inspiring words and actions of my Vice President, Jacob Kim. Jacob, you have led the senate in a direction that has never been done before – and you have helped every member of the Union to recognize the importance of their individual leadership. Jacob has worked along side Alison Schwartzbaum, our Senator At-Large and Executive Senator, to inject this organization with a sense of direction and purpose. I would not be standing here today had it not been for Alison, who constantly reminds me of how much good we can do in this world, be it the Brandeis world and beyond. Alison you have made me the President I am today and the organization flourishes under your leadership. Our Student Union would also not function without the dedication and hours put forth by our Treasurer Nick Freeman and Secretary Aaron Braver. I feel privileged to be your colleague and your friend, and I thank you for helping our organization as much as you have.

I would especially like to thank my parents for continuing to support me in all areas of my life, plus all of my closest friends in Ridgewood 4: Kirby, Lisa, Sarah, Angela, Jon, Aaron, Jeremy, Brian, Adam, and Harrison. All of these people understand the chaos that exists in the homes which I inhibit, and I thank you for your love, support, and patience.

It is my hope that learning the multitude of efforts we have set forth this semester will represent the Student Unions level of dedication to this thus far, and how we plan to continue working in the coming months. There is no doubt that the extent to which Student Union can be successful depends directly upon the trust from the student body, and I thank you for coming this evening and granting us your time and trust.

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