Students voted on whether to create a Student Empowerment Fund on Feb. 6 after the Georgetown University Student Association passed the referendum proposal at their weekly meeting Feb. 2.
The fund would be used by future classes of Georgetown University students to bankroll large campus projects and events. The GUSA Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee would annually allocate $50,000 from the approximately $1.3 million Student Activity Fee budget to create the fund at the beginning of the 2021 fiscal year and continue adding funds for the next 15 years.
The referendum results were not available at the time of publication.
The fund would be expected to grow to $1.3 million by 2036 with regular mandated allotments at an approximate interest rate of 3%, according to FinApp Committee member Peter Hamilton (COL ’20). The senate will not be able to withdraw funds from the endowment until 2036, when the university begins a new cycle of campus construction plans, according to the referendum proposal.
The referendum appeared on the ballot of the GUSA Executive elections Feb. 6, alongside two more referenda addressing divestment from fossil fuels and ocean preservation practices.
The FinApp Committee originally circulated a petition through social media two weeks ago to gauge student support for the fund. FinApp members decided to propose a referendum to further advertise the idea to the student body, according to FinApp Committee Chair and Senator Juliana Arias (SFS ’20).
“It was a good way of putting it out there so that students could see what we’re doing right now,” Arias said in an interview with The Hoya. “It is mostly a way to publicize it.”
Twenty senators voted in favor of the referendum proposal, with only one senator voting against. Eleven senators, including GUSA presidential candidate Joshua Marin-Mora (SFS ’21), collaborated to introduce the referendum.
GUSA began setting aside funds from the Student Activity Fee in 2001 to sustain club funding over the long term. In 2010, GUSA transformed the fund into an endowment to bankroll campus projects. Students decided to use the fund to help finance the establishment of the Healey Family Student Center in 2011.
The fund would offer students a valuable mechanism to influence important campus projects and advocate for student interests on an institutional level, according to the resolution proposal.
“The student body showed its commitment to campus improvement and had a measurable impact through our financial buy-in to the project. In the future, if we seek to replicate the success of the HFSC, we must be willing to make a similar financial investment,” the resolution read. “As demonstrated by the university and the student body, both win when students are given agency in campus planning. The SEF will grant us such agency.”
The fund would enable GUSA to streamline its finances to projects that will have the most direct, positive impact on students, according to GUSA Senator Eric Bazail-Eimil (SFS ’23).
“Student money is being wasted by inefficiencies across the system and the loss of these funds hurts students in the long-run,” Bazail-Eimil wrote in a statement to The Hoya. “Money speaks on this campus and if we want improvements to student life and student resources on campus, it will only come when we can properly invest and spend that money. This is why I joined the other members of the Finance and Appropriations Committee in this project to create the Student Empowerment Fund.”
The GUSA Senate may face obstacles sustaining interest in the fund over the course of 15 years, according to Senator Leo Arnett (SFS ’22).
“Fifteen years is a long time,” Arnett said at the Feb. 2 GUSA meeting. “I hope that you all have thought of a way to be able to continue the same energy that you all have behind this and the same very well-intentioned spirit, to where the FinApp Committee 15 years down the line has the same.”
To address this issue, Arias would propose to initiate the fund for two years, she said. If the fund proves successful and garners enough support from the student body at the end of the two-year trial period, the FinApp Committee will create a referendum to determine whether the fund will be codified in the GUSA Constitution.
“The idea is to create this fund, implement it next year and then test it for two fiscal years starting next year, and if it is effective and if it is supported by the student body, then my idea is that it is pushed through a referendum to be a constitutional change,” Arias said in an interview with The Hoya.
The university has not officially opposed or supported the initiative, according to a university spokesperson.
“Georgetown has not taken a position on the Student Empowerment Fund,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
University officials have pushed back against the fund because they believe the FinApp Committee has overstepped its role on campus, according to Arias.
“They believe that GUSA shouldn’t do this because they think that students should stay with student affairs,” Arias said at the GUSA meeting Feb. 2.
Bazail-Eimil is also concerned that administrators will be unwilling to collaborate on the fund, he said.
“The reality is that our only concern is the university stonewalling us because they don’t want this project, even though we’ve had it in the past and it was a measurable impact on the student community,” Bazail-Eimil said at the GUSA meeting Feb. 2.
CORRECTION: This article was updated to accurately reflect the amount allocated to the SAF, according to the source.