The Student Government Association (SGA) Senate passed a statement commemorating the late Tatiana Benjamin, welcomed presentations from JMU Dining and the Muslim Student Association and allotted money to Chabad Jewish Student Group and The Madison Project during Tuesday’s meeting.
The meeting began with a moment of silence for the students who passed away in Friday’s car accident: John “Luke” Fergusson, Nicholas Troutman and Joshua Mardis.
SGA passes statement in memory of Tatiana Benjamin
The Senate read and unanimously passed a statement honoring the life and death of Tatiana Benjamin, an assistant professor of justice studies at JMU.
“She was a bright light to the many that knew her and her light will shine forever and the influence she had on the university will never be forgotten,” the statement reads. “We honor and carry her forever in our hearts.”
The statement was submitted by senior Andrea Mariscal-Guzman, SGA’s community engagement (CAGE) chairperson.
“She really did impact so many students and faculty members here at JMU,” Mariscal-Guzman said. “We want to show our support to the students who have been impacted by this.”
SGA hears from JMU Dining and Muslim Student Association
JMU Dining and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) presented to the SGA Senate to raise awareness and promote future collaboration with SGA.
JMU Dining was represented by Jenna Gray, director of student engagement, and Gillian Kelly, health and wellness manager. The pair said more punch options have been introduced to Freshens locations and The Den and discussed events occurring at dining halls throughout the next month, including Steak Night on Feb. 14, Seafood Dinner on Feb. 15, Mardi Gras Dinner on Feb. 21 and the International Food Festival on Feb. 28.
Gray said JMU Dining is in the process of planning a student roundtable called Impactful Innovations Around Meaningful Conversations that’ll tentatively take place on March 8 in the Hall of Presidents in D-Hall. The roundtable’s objective is to encourage greater student participation in JMU’s dining program.
Prior to the meeting, members of the Senate submitted their questions to JMU Dining through the attendance form. Questions involved allergy and vegan-friendly food, Starbucks during the Carrier library renovation, dining hall music and salad and fruit options on campus.
Gray and Kelly reassured students that when Carrier closes, the Starbucks truck will be available around campus. Kelly said JMU’s partnership with Merge Coffee also hopes to alleviate students’ need for coffee.
Kelly said JMU Dining has a music service that it utilizes, so song requests from students aren’t an option. In terms of food options, Kelly encouraged students to reach out to JMU Dining — preferably through social media — to make the program aware of students’ needs.
“We are always looking for feedback,” Kelly said. “We do take requests … we always want to know what to do for you because it is your program.”
MSA was represented by senior Nabiha Akber, MSA president, and sophomore Elena Ogbe, treasurer.
The organization’s goal is to unite Muslim students across Harrisonburg, Akber said, and to create a greater sense of belonging among the community.
“We not only try to have an impact on our community here at JMU but our community here in Harrisonburg,” Akber said.
Ogbe said the group conducts bi-weekly meetings and socials, weekly Jumah prayers, collaborations with other organizations and banquets.
Ogbe introduced a poll sent to MSA members before the meeting asking what they want from SGA. The students said they want a welcoming environment, more Halal food options on campus, prayer rooms and more funding.
Ogbe and Akber emphasized the importance of year-long prayer room availability, including months outside Ramadan. Ogbe said Taylor Hall’s interfaith chapel in Madison Union is insufficient due to its size, lack of gender separation and business. The group encouraged SGA to raise awareness and pass resolutions to combat these issues.
“It’s more than just helping a club. It is accommodating the whole JMU community,” Ogbe said.
SGA approves funds for The Madison Project and Chabad Jewish Student Group
SGA unanimously approved contingency funds for The Madison Project and a program grant for the Chabad Jewish Student Group.
The Madison Project, an acappella group, celebrated the release of its EP “All At Once” on Dec. 2 with a concert and requested $2,087.12 of contingency funds for costs associated with the event. The group was represented by its president, senior Logan Blatt.
Blatt said the majority of the costs of the event were covered through sponsorships, GoFundMe projects, funds raised during A Cappella Thon and other performances. However, Blatt said most of this money went toward the costs associated with The Madison Project’s EP’s creation and release.
Blatt specified that funds requested from SGA would finance the live sound production and engineering required for the show.
Junior Abby Canella, SGA membership chair, asked why The Madison Project hadn’t approached SGA about the concert’s outstanding costs prior to the event. Junior Mahek Shroff, SGA’s finance liaison, clarified that the group had approached SGA before the concert, but due to miscommunication, their request had been delayed.
“The Madison Project really put a lot of effort into this performance,” Shroff said. “From what I hear, it was a really good event.”
The Chabad Jewish Student Group — an on-campus group for Jewish students of JMU that, according to Guberek, aims to unite Jewish students on campus — requested a $5,000 program grant to finance its banquet, MEGA Shabbat, that’ll take place Feb. 17. The group was represented by its president, senior Arman Saadat, and student board member and freshman Tamar Guberek.
Guberek said the event will aim to unite JMU’s Jewish community in an accessible way. Prior to COVID-19, MEGA Shabbat was an annual event. This year’s MEGA Shabbat would mark the banquet’s return, Guberek said.
Saadat said the banquet’s objective is an extension of the club’s mission.
“What Chabad aims to do is provide to JMU students,” Saadat said. “Since the community is so small, Jews on campus may feel underrepresented or isolated.”
Saadat said the event would primarily be financed by donations made by private donors to JMJews Chabad, an off-campus organization. Other methods of fundraising include the sale of sweatshirts and buttons and the solicitation of table sponsors.
Saadat said the event’s largest expense would be kosher food with other costs including tablecloths, centerpieces, advertisements and photography. The funds from SGA would bridge the gap between the group’s previously accumulated funds and the event’s estimated cost of $9,000.
“Regardless of faith … it is our responsibility to help all members of the JMU community feel accepted,” SGA senator and junior Nate Hazen said.