The SAF Increase: How Good Intentions are Disadvantaging Oxford Students
by Jordan Hasty
Monday night, in a close vote between the undergraduate divisions, the Emory SGA voted to put an increase of the Student Activities Fee (SAF) to a student referendum. The SAF funds each of the collegiate governing bodies; here at Oxford, our SGA portions out the monies from this fund for all club events. If the referendum reaches a majority, the SAF would increase from $95 a semester to $110, and the fee would increase by 1.5% yearly.
Proponents of the bill make a strong case. They point out that the fee has not increased in over a decade; with yearly inflation, the buying power of the fund has certainly fallen. Due to a decade of inflation and growth of clubs at the Emory campus, many organizations find funding to be increasingly tight. The increase is lauded as a correction to inflation that would remedy this struggle. More information can be found at emorysaf.org.
The timeline for this legislation has moved quickly. November 11th was the first vote by the Emory SGA on the bill. On Monday the 18th, a town hall was held on the Emory campus from 6:00-7:00 pm, followed by the second vote on the bill. Wednesday the 20th will be the student referendum, and the Oxford SGA will hold their town hall that evening.
An increase to the SAF would certainly help the Emory campus; their students seem to approve of an increase, and there is momentum to the movement. But what about what Oxford students want? Do our students need this increase? Where has the communication about such an important bill been? Oxford students were only recently informed of the SAF increase proposal from a college-wide email on November 11th. The only other mention of this bill to our students was on November 14th when Oxford SGA President Rachel Ding posted an announcement to the Facebook group.
Even if we were informed of the issue, how are we supposed to make ourselves heard? Oxford makes up less than 1/8th of the undergraduate population, so we would need to seek a larger audience: a town hall. Emory SGA wrote, “The town hall is specifically designed for public input and conversation. We invite anyone and everyone to come to speak their mind.” Yet, the town hall in Atlanta lasted from just 6:00-7:00 pm on a day when the shuttle runs at only 1 pm and 5:30 pm. I guess the price for civic engagement is skipping your afternoon classes or a $40+ Uber.
The biggest issue with this bill, however, isn’t that the vast majority of Oxford students were systematically excluded from the conversation. It isn’t the fact that we were given just nine days to learn what the SAF even is, or why anyone would want to further raise the cost of an Emory education. The largest issue with this bill is that it prioritizes the needs of Emory College over the needs of the undergraduate divisions, including Oxford. This bill is part of a history of placing the Emory campus first and leaving Oxford as a second thought. Further, the recent implementation of “One Emory” policies don’t actively acknowledge the inequalities between the campuses; this threatens to place on us solely on the Oxford campus to adapt to the needs of the University. Oxford must instead be seen as a partner on equal footing with the other undergraduate divisions.
Emory has identified a problem—a lack of funding for clubs—and they are trying to solve the problem. But Oxford doesn’t have the same problem. Our clubs aren’t financially strapped in the same way as those of Emory College. While there may be many reasons for this, it boils down to the fact that the campuses are inherently different and have different needs. Oxford doesn’t need a SAF increase; our students aren’t motivated about this issue. If you ask most students, they are uninformed about the issue, and most are indifferent. That’s understandable when it often feels like we’re speaking our concerns into an empty room.
Let’s imagine the situation was flipped. Say, in five years, Oxford students decide they need an increase in the SAF. To achieve this, we would have to convince at least 3/8ths of Emory undergraduates to subject themselves to a SAF increase that they don’t want or need—that’s 3,000 students if everyone voted, by the way. That would seem absurd. So why would it be so absurd to let each campus set their own SAF? We should give each campus the autonomy to decide these issues for ourselves.
The inability of the SAF to adapt to the needs of the specific campus reflects a larger problem. In line with the One Emory philosophy, the administration has linked the cost of attendance between Emory College and Oxford College. In effect, however, this action runs counter to one of the four pillars of One Emory, to be an Academic Community of Choice, described as allowing Emory to offer “the most inclusive and financially accessible education among the country’s top universities.” I am a firm believer that the Oxford experience is just as valuable (possibly even more valuable) than the experience of our fellow first and second years at Emory. But does it have to cost the same? I’m doubtful. If we can provide a similarly valuable experience outside
There is no villain in this story. As easy and satisfying as it would be to vilify the Emory SGA for failing to include our student body, our SGA for not communicating this weighty issue to us sooner, or the One Emory policy for equating the obviously different experiences, this wouldn’t do anyone justice. All of these parties have great intentions, and, I believe, are doing many great things for the University and our students. But sometimes, good intentions can have serious consequences when implemented through flawed systems. Hopefully, we can find ways to improve and reform these systems before we cycle out of Oxford, taking the memory of this unjust situation with us.