Bonner addresses COVID cases, xenophobia at second SGB meeting

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Zoom Screenshot

Student Government Board met Tuesday night via Zoom.

By Nathan Fitchett, Staff Writer

Kenyon Bonner, the vice provost and dean of students, addressed Pitt students and faculty at Tuesday night’s Student Government Board meeting, asking community members to come together and take care of each other during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to give each other grace,” Bonner said. “We’re gonna make mistakes, people are under a lot of pressure and stress, so I would encourage you to give each other grace, help each other out, lift each other up and make sure we’re checking in on each other.”

SGB held its second weekly meeting of the fall semester Tuesday night, with board members giving updates on their agendas as well as the first vote of the semester on bills. Board members and committee chairs were joined by Bonner, who gave updates from Student Affairs regarding the pandemic and issues of racism and xenophobia on campus.

Bonner addressed the current state of the pandemic on campus, citing the new confirmed case numbers released Monday. The numbers show 46 new positive cases, about 75% of which were found to be students living off campus. Even though the number of confirmed cases is increasing, Bonner said he remains cautiously optimistic.

“I think relative to our peers across the country, we are doing quite well,” Bonner said. “But we can do better. It only takes a few students to be irresponsible for those numbers to shoot up, and we find ourselves in a situation that is difficult to get out of.”

Bonner, along with several board members, took a walk around South Oakland on Saturday night to survey what the off-campus housing situation looked like firsthand. They distributed masks to students who weren’t wearing them, and even gave prizes out to those who were displaying proper quarantine behavior. While Bonner did have to break up a few larger gatherings, he said he was very pleased overall with what he saw from students living off campus.

Bonner said the responsibility of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Oakland was something that must be shared between faculty and students. He added that it is both the students’

and faculty’s job to remain vigilant for the sake of those living in the Oakland community who may be vulnerable, such as elderly residents and immunocompromised students.

“We need to stay on top of ourselves and hold ourselves accountable, not just students but faculty and staff as well,” Bonner said. “We cannot eliminate the risk, but there are definitely things we can do to mitigate risk to the entire community.”

SGB President Eric Macadangdang also echoed this sentiment in his opening address, stating that the responsibility goes both ways.

“We can and should remain critical of those who are in the decision-making power at this University, making sure what they’re doing is proactive and making sure that student’s interests are consistently at the table,” Macadangdang said. “But we can also be vigilant in making sure our friends and peers are adhering to guidelines.”

Bonner also discussed initiatives that Student Affairs is currently working on to help address concerns about racism and xenophobia on campus. Student Affairs will now use five in-service days per semester to train staff on de-escalation and anti-racism initiatives. Bonner said he met with leaders from the Asian Student Alliance to hear their stories of xenophobia toward Asian students on campus during the pandemic and shared his disappointment with the stories he heard.

“It was a very enlightening conversation to hear their lived experiences on campus during the pandemic since January,” Bonner said. “It’s disheartening to hear their experiences, and I think that’s something we have to continue to stay mindful of and call out xenophobia and racism and all forms of hate that are disrupting our community.”

The board voted unanimously in favor of adopting Board Bill 2021-1, which was presented to the public for review at last week’s meeting. The bill revises SGB’s governance code to better suit the virtual campus environment, as well as making some revisions to the Allocations Manual.

Board members also discussed some of their current initiatives on campus, such as the 14-day engagement challenge. The event kicked off this week as part of the Year of Engagement and will feature a new prompt tweeted out each day asking students to consider the idea of engagement from a different perspective. Participants are asked to respond to these prompts and tweet out their responses tagged with the hashtag #PittEngage to win various cash prizes. The SGB website was also updated to now feature a Pitt Votes TurboVote link, which makes it simple for students to register to vote.

SGB discussed their initiatives still in the works like the civic engagement hub, changes to budgeting for the student activities fee, the student leader database and the LQBTQ+ resources center.

At the end of his address, Bonner acknowledged the challenges the Pitt community will face this semester and encouraged the community to rise to the occasion.

“It’s going to be a tough semester, but we can all get through this,” Bonner said. “We determine our destiny as a Pitt community. We’re impacted by what’s happening around us, but we don’t need to concede to what’s happening in our country. I’d like all of us to embody that spirit and do the best we can to make this a great community.”

Allocations

African Students Organization requested $16,347.08 for its second annual Welcome Back Meet and Greet concert featuring Teni the Entertainer. The board approved in full.

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