Wrapping up a year of innovative projects and unprecedented challenges, the Student Union delivered its annual State of the Union address virtually in a collection of videos and transcripts emailed to the Brandeis community on Monday. Members of the Union Executive Board and heads of the Union’s five branches shared their accomplishments, how they responded to the COVID-19 crisis and their plans for the future.

In her speech, Union President Simran Tatuskar ’21 highlighted major Union accomplishments and initiatives, as well as her work to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Union and the Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center worked together to launch the SipChip initiative, which made tests for date rape drugs available for students during early March. “This marked a huge step in showing that we have a college culture that refuses to tolerate sexual assault to any capacity,” Tatuskar said.

Tatuskar also announced that she had created a contract with Lyft that would have continued the Union’s late-night ride subsidy program for March and April, had the pandemic not interfered. A trial version of this subsidy program occurred for a week in late October. Campus Operations would have matched $5,000 of Union funding to launch this spring’s initiative. Looking towards the future, Tatuskar announced she has secured $5,000 for both the SipChip program and the Lyft subsidy program in next year’s Union budget so that these initiatives can continue.

This year, the Union also provided $10,000 of funding for the Hiatt Career Center’s commuter rail subsidy program. About half of that funding had been used by the time COVID-19 disrupted campus activities, and the remaining funding “has been repurposed to provide fully subsidized transport for students on campus to local grocery stores via ride-shares such as Lyft or Uber,” Tatuskar explained.

In order to support students during the COVID-19 crisis, Tatuskar has read through the nearly 500 submissions and worked to ensure they are addressed to the Union’s student feedback form, and she continues to meet with administrators to share students’ perspectives and needs.

Union Vice President Kendal Chapman ’22, who is also head of the Union Senate, highlighted the work done by the Senate’s committees. She praised the Dining Committee for its employee appreciation work and its efforts to address student questions during the COVID-19 crisis. The Rules Committee passed bylaws to clarify Union procedures and the Club Support Committee is working to amend the bylaws to allow a cappella and comedy organizations to get funding. Among other work, the Facilities and Housing Committee worked to “try to amend the communal damages process,” the Sustainability Committee brought “meatless Mondays” to dining halls and the Health and Safety Committee worked to improve the Care Form process. After the Spring 2020 Midnight Buffet was canceled, the Services and Outreach Committee supported other Union initiatives. The Social Justice Committee implemented a variety of initiatives and has a campus employee appreciation project in the works.

In addition to mediating conflicts between Union members and branches, the Student Union Judiciary has “grown closer together as a team” and integrated itself more tightly with the rest of the Union this year, Chief Justice of the Judiciary Rachel Sterling ’21 said.

Allocations Board Chairs Marshall Smith ’21 and Aria Pradhan ’21 described the University’s ongoing transition from the Student Union Management System to Slate, which serves as the financial management platform that clubs use to request funding. A-Board worked this semester to make Slate more user-friendly for clubs and Union members, as the University works toward completely replacing SUMS with Slate. Union Treasurers Yona Steinman ’20 and Liat Fischer ’20 also discussed the transition to Slate, joining Smith and Pradhan in thanking Budget Analyst Stephen Costa and Assistant Dean of Students Stephanie Grimes for their support. Working remotely, the Treasury has ensured that “all students were reimbursed for prior purchases,” Steinman said.

Union Chief of Staff Zac Wilkes ’20 focused most of his speech on his work with the Community Emergency and Enhancement Fund. CEEF funded five main projects this year, but only two were completed before COVID-19 disrupted campus operations. The BEMCo “Stop the Bleed” kits project and installing free condom dispensers in residence halls were completed, but the dharmic prayer room, East Quad beautification and bike renovation projects were all halted. The condom dispenser initiative put 44 dispensers in residential buildings and created restocking plans, Chapman explained in her video, highlighting the work the Senate Health and Safety Committee contributed to the project. The bike initiative was Tatuskar’s project and would have repaired and resold bikes to students while making campus more “bike-friendly,” per Tatuskar’s statement. She intends to continue it next year. The East Quad Beautification project “would have been completed this May and would have provided artwork and study spaces to those residents,” Union Secretary Taylor Fu ’21 said in her video. Wilkes encouraged the unfinished CEEF projects to reapply for funding next year.

CEEF also funded emergency projects, including the SipChip initiative and providing moving materials for students in March. Nevertheless, the fund was left with significant “leftover” funds, Wilkes explained, so the CEEF team has “decided to send approximately $90,000 over to the Brandeis COVID-19 Relief Fund.”

Looking to next year, Wilkes said he hopes that Senator-at-Large Nancy Zhai ’22 will continue the work they had started this year to establish a Union newsletter.

In her video, Fu also shared work that multiple parts of the Union are working together to address racism toward Asian and Asian Americans at Brandeis. Fu will work with the Union’s Social Justice and Diversity Committee “to combat this hatred and bigotry with appreciation to bring awareness to the accomplishments and contributions of Asians through a social media campaign” during May, which is Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month.

Joyce Huang ’22, the Union Diversity and Inclusion Officer, also spoke about her work with the Social Justice Committee during her video. In February, for Black History Month, Huang and the SJC put inserts in the dining hall napkin holders with information about 25 “iconic” figures in African American history and coordinated a Black History Month brunch. Using the SJC Instagram account, Huang also created the Minority Awareness Project “to share basic facts such as national language and location about small countries that many people lack knowledge on,” she explained. She and the SJC also worked with other clubs to host the International Women’s Day brunch. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Huang is working with Mark Brimhall-Vargas — the University’s Chief Diversity Officer and vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — to survey international students about their experiences with online classes while overseas in different time zones.

Union Director of Academic Affairs Jacob Diaz ’20 transitioned his planned Take Your Professor to Coffee initiative to take place via Zoom and received over 40 responses to the program, he reported during his video. Diaz also described his work with the University’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee this semester — especially during the response to the unfolding COVID-19 situation — to share students’ voices and opinions with the administration.

Bishal Baral ’23, the Union Director of Technology and Media, supported E-Board technological needs, such as “creating Snapchat filters, graphic designs, updating social media or the SU section of the university website.” Looking to the future, he said he would like to make the Union’s social media more interactive and make the housing selection process easier by creating virtual resources to help students know what different housing options look like.

Leah Fernandez ’22, who served as the chair of the Union’s Health and Safety Committee this semester, was appointed Union Director of Advocacy and Accessibility on March 10 “to advocate for the specific needs of the Accessibility Community during this crisis,” she explained. That work has included working with Facilities Services to provide more hand sanitizer dispensers on campus and creating a poster to educate campus about keeping immunocompromised community members safe. Fernandez also works closely with Student Accessibility Services, both to support students who need accommodations during the COVID-19 situation and to enact longer-term initiatives to support students with accommodations. One of those long-term projects is working with the Office of Equal Opportunity to create a Campus Accessibility Committee.

In an email on April 23, the Union announced that elections, which normally occur in spring, will be postponed to the fall due to the COVID-19 situation. Until then, all Union members who are eligible will maintain their positions, and work will be done this summer to “[ease] the leadership transition as much as possible.” 

Representatives to the Board of Trustees Zosia Busé ’20 and Zoe Fort ’21 and Director of Community Involvement Kruti Jetwa ’22 did not submit speeches.