Black Action Society addresses letter to Bonner, SGB


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

SGB denied in full the Black Action Society’s allocations request for $15,000 to host actress Dominique Jackson at an event.

By Anushay Chaudhry and Benjamin Nigrosh

Black Action Society President Jenea Lyles said in a letter addressed to Dean Kenyon Bonner and Student Government Board President Zechariah Brown that recent SGB decisions have created “intentional barriers that questions ‘sense of belonging’ for People of Color” at Pitt.

Lyles sent the Feb. 26 letter in response to board decisions made during the Feb. 19 public meeting, at which SGB denied in full BAS’ allocations request for $15,000 to host actress Dominique Jackson at an event. The board’s vote on the matter was split 6-3,  with Eric Macadandang, Cedric Humphrey and Anaïs Peterson in favor of instead approving the request in full.

“Pitt often speaks about this ‘sense of belonging,’ however during this process, we witnessed members of your board making inappropriate facial expressions while other members challenged the ruling to deny funds,” Lyles said in the letter.

Lyles made several requests in the original letter, such as the inclusion of a “professional staff member” at SGB meetings to oversee board decisions, ongoing bias training for SGB members and for the board to reconsider and approve BAS’ allocations request.

While Brown said that he could have moderated the request better, he said that bias had nothing to do with the committee or board decisions.

“I don’t think that it’s fair or accurate to conflate this issue of an interpretation of the allocations manual or a request for funds with a denial or disrespect towards the mission of BAS,” Brown said in an interview, “because those are two very separate things.”

When BAS’ submitted its request to SGB, Brown said, it followed the regular process all student organizations follow. They submitted the request to the board the Wednesday before it was to be presented at SGB’s public meeting. Since the request was greater than $1,200, the recommendation of the allocations committee was presented to the board, in keeping with SGB procedure.

At the board’s Friday planning session each week, SGB Allocations Chair Ben King provides a summary of the request and the committee’s suggestion. After the board discusses the request with King, Brown said, the request is then moved to Tuesday public meetings.

The only materials that contributed to the board’s decision to deny the request came from the allocations manual and the information presented on the request, Brown said.

According to Lyles, this process of allocations requests is not as straightforward for the organizations requesting funds, even after her and other members of BAS reviewed SGB’s allocations manual.

Brown and King wrote a response letter sent to Lyles on Feb. 28 to address several of the concerns posed in the original letter to SGB and detailed the reasons for the board’s denial of BAS’ request. According to the letter, the board was worried that the estimated attendance of 300 was too high, citing that the group’s estimate on the original proposal was 75 students.

“Previous events have not shown attendance at the level expected,” Brown and King said in the letter.

Brown and King also wrote that BAS’s cost-benefit analysis of the event favored “too few students of the student body,” that there was “no clear marketing plan” and that there were “no outlined collaborations” with other organizations for the event.

Those kinds of critiques, Lyles said, are just some of the issues BAS is attempting to shine a light on in the letter.

“We felt like some points in the letter were evidence of the problems we were having, like the explanation that our event doesn’t reach a large enough portion of the student body or that the per capita expense would be too high is an example of the feeling that our program — which does target black students and the LGBTQ community — isn’t as important because it’s not the majority of campus,” Lyles said.

But, Brown said, he and other board members could have done a “better job” of moderating the board’s discussion with BAS at the public meeting.

“We still could have been clearer in our discussion,” Brown said. “That is something that we’re always striving to do, to improve the efficiency, and I wouldn’t say transparency, but to lessen the confusion that public meeting can bring for groups.”

According to Brown, the allocations manual prevents the board from approving an allocations request once it has been denied, but they are planning to assist BAS’ mission in other ways.

“We will do our best to find alternative sources of funding, but the allocations committee’s recommendation as well as the board’s final decision isn’t going to change,” Brown said.

Brown said he is working on setting up a meeting between members of SGB, members of BAS and representatives of other offices that were sent Lyles’ original letter, including the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Student Affairs.

While the board cannot review BAS’ allocations request again, Brown said, he is open to discussing possible changes to SGB policy to prevent future confusion and frustration.

“I do think as always, as any government should or any group of students should, we can evaluate allocations policy to address the specific concerns with the manual,” Brown said. “But we are dedicated to at least having this resolution with BAS because the work that they do is incredibly important, and we completely support the mission that they have as well as the impact that they make.”

Brown declined to go into detail regarding the specific date of the meeting, but said he hopes it will take place soon after the University’s spring break.

“Our main goal is to have a meeting with BAS’ representatives to find a resolution for this, to explain the committee’s recommendation as well as the board’s decision, and what that was rooted in,” Brown said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated the clarify that the cote to deny BAS’s request was not unanimous.