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'A holding pattern': Here's how student government is adjusting to reduced operations

DTH Photo Illustration. With UNC's campus closed and large gatherings banned as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, members of UNC's student government hold meetings over Zoom.

Since UNC's official move to remote instruction on March 23, actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have impacted almost every aspect of campus life — and student government is no exception.

Student Body President Ashton Martin said student government has been mostly been put on hold by the campus moving to remote classes and reduced operations.

“We had to suspend most of our operations because the executive branch operates on a committee sort of structure, so committees can't meet,” Martin said. “And it's kind of hard to get things done when all the teachers and administrators are so focused on the virus and moving online.”

The Undergraduate Senate, the student government's legislative branch, had to adapt to members working remotely, Martin said. However, its work is still being halted by the coronavirus and reduced campus operations. 

“They had their first online meeting last night, so that's operating, but most of what they do is funding student organizations, which of course aren't operating anymore, so they can't have funding," Martin said. "So they're sort of in a holding pattern as well, where they’re trying to figure out how to respond."

Martin said the most tangible thing the student government has done during the crisis has been declaring a state of emergency. 

That declaration helped student officers transfer funds to help those affected by the pandemic and its disruption, Undergraduate Treasurer Carter Vilim said. 

“The big takeaway is that we're able to spend down some of the reserve balance that the Student Safety and Security Committee has,” Vilim said. “What we've decided to do is transfer, effective as of March 23, $25,000 from that reserve balance to the Carolina Student Impact Fund as a way to support the administration's response to helping out students who are suffering from COVID-19 related financial hardships.”

The student impact fund is being used to help students who are experiencing unexpected financial hardships due to COVID-19. 

The committee wanted to ensure the fund could be used to help students struggling with expenses like utilities, rent and food, Vilim said. 

Martin’s administration has still held cabinet and executive board meetings over Zoom, but she pointed out that it's almost time for the transition to the new administration.

“I thought Silent Sam was sort of the worst thing that I could have taken over, but I'm not sure I'd want to take over now,” Martin said. “I can't even imagine because a lot of this transition is sort of hinged on people being there and being able to work and recruiting new students to be in student government and none of that can happen really.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created difficulties, Reeves Moseley, who will officially begin his term as the undergraduate student body president on April 7, says he and his team are hitting the ground running. 

“It's already hard to transition, just getting the ins and outs of the presidency and what the administration is going to look like in transitioning the administration under me," Moseley said. "Luckily, we are navigating this and I think everyone's kind of on the same page. Now, our first priorities are providing resources or making sure that resources are available to students who need it.”

Although the transition is taking place during unprecedented times, Moseley said he was able to hold meetings with Chancellor Guskiewicz and other administrators before students were sent home. 

Apart from coronavirus-related matters, Moseley said he and his team are excited to begin working on the Red Zone Initiative, which works to combat sexual assaults for female-identifying students. 

“We're trying to have people from our team spearhead that and we're initializing our relationships with different people across the campus,” Moseley said. “I think that's something that I'm really excited for, just because we can start focusing on different areas outside of just COVID-19.”

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are not how Moseley envisioned beginning his term, but he said this is the job he and his team signed up for

“At the end of the day, you're going to get knocked down at some point," Moseley said. "We just got to get back up and keep going with what we set our platform out to be."

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