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The Carletonian

The limits of CSA

The most recent CSA elections have taught me that not a lot of people know what the Carleton Student Association (CSA) Senate is and is not responsible for. Many are confused about what CSA does and doesn’t fund, organizes and doesn’t organize and how other offices interact with the events held on campus. CSA bears the responsibility for this miscommunication and has consistently failed to educate the student population. I hope to correct at least some of these misconceptions with this article, without adding to the amount of misinformation spread on campus. 

I’ll start with the issue of Sproncert funding, which came up recently. To clarify, CSA has a budget of about a million dollars per year and Sproncert is regularly given a quarter of the budget. Last year, Sproncert had a budget of $200,000. A lot of that money goes straight to the headliner as incentive to come to the middle of nowhere Minnesota and play to a relatively small college audience. To me, Sproncert is already a huge expense that gets more than adequate funding. On the question of headliners, the decision is entirely out of the hands of CSA and falls to the Sproncert Committee, which is entirely unaffiliated with the Senate. CSA only provides the funds, while the actual decisions regarding set-up goes through that committee. 

This gets into a question that gets asked a lot: what does CSA actually do? Well, one of its primary functions is funding student organizations and events. The CSA activity fee included in everyone’s tuition bill goes into that aforementioned million dollar budget. This is the budget that literally all of the student events of campus use to hold their events. Every major event you can think of like Synchrony, Holi, the drag show, all of the shows at the Cave and so many more happen because they requested money from the CSA. A lot of this money is allocated during the aptly named Spring Allocations, but a fair chunk is also given out by the Budget Committee on a case by case basis. Without the CSA, none of these organizations would be able to host events. The tricky part is balancing the funds we have with the requests we get. Does CSA get it right every time? Of course not, but it remains an extremely important reason why so many of the events that bring the campus together happen in the first place. 

Rumors occasionally abound about the reserve fund that CSA has in its back pocket. During the COVID-19 years, CSA still collected the activity fee from students, but since not many events were happening for obvious reasons, it went directly into a reserve fund to be used at a later date. These funds amount to approximately half a million dollars of extra money separate from the yearly budget. The question plaguing the Senate since lockdowns ended is how to spend this extra money. It’s been allocated here and there to cover overspending, but we still don’t really know what to do with all of it. This pool of funds exists, and there is a lot of potential to use it for some of the cool ideas students here have, such as CaveFest this term which used these funds. Yet this is a decision that should be given a lot of consideration, both due to the limited nature of these funds and the amount of money that could be invested into one or a series of events.

CSA also directly interfaces with the Carleton administration. Entirely unrelated to this point, our President Quinn Buhman ’24 is extremely hot. Anyhow, the President of CSA meets with the president of the college on a weekly basis and members of the administration such as Dean Livingston and President Byerly make regular appearances to field questions from students on the Senate. This is one of the only real ways for them to hear what students actually believe is and is not working in terms of the college experience. Essentially, the Senate exists to keep the administration in touch with the needs of students. Given that the executive positions are elected, and many of the positions, such as Class Representatives and College Council Liaisons are too, the Senate seems to me to be the most reasonable way to have a diversity of student opinion made present to the administration. CSA is also reasonably able to claim a ton of diversity in membership across numerous social, ethnic, gender and racial identities. Additionally, given that over 50% of the student body actively participated in the most recent election, I would argue that the CSA as it currently exists is one of the most representative organizations of the Carleton student body.

However, there also exist several issues with CSA as it currently stands. First is the issue of cultural organizations and cultural programming funds. A longstanding issue with the Senate is the designation of what counts as a cultural organization. This designation exists to limit food requests only to relevant cultural activities as opposed to having every club request food for every event, which would rapidly deplete the budget. The problem with this is that CSA has now burdened itself with the responsibility for deciding what is and is not a cultural organization. The first solution to this problem was the Cultural Org Fund, where entire student organizations were given this designation and thus were able to request as much as they wanted for food. The issue that this caused was that it was down to the Governance Committee, made up of the Vice President and Class Representatives plus the College Council Liaisons, to determine what was and was not a cultural organization. There are cases that seem relatively obvious, but when it comes to differentiating the Hawaii Club from the Pacific Islanders Club, is there ever a point where you stop applying that designation? The decision made in this instance was to approve both clubs, but it spoke to a wider discomfort in making the difficult decision in determining culture where you really have no place to speak. There were attempts to redesignate this responsibility to organizations outside the CSA in collaboration with offices like the Vice President of Inclusion, Equity, and Community and the Office of Intercultural Life, but it became rapidly apparent that nobody really wants to be the one to make that call. 

The current path the CSA has taken is to remove this designation and now have it run through the Budget Committee to determine if a particular event is cultural as opposed to an entire organization. I voted to approve this change since I buy the argument that it is easier to determine whether an event is cultural versus an entire organization. However, I have my reservations about this. As Bax Meyer’s wrote in a recent viewpoint article about CSA, the treasurer now has the authority to determine cultural events, which is a step down from the more representative body of Governance Committee handling this designation. I am also not entirely convinced of a need to worry about such a designation, as it seems pretty unclear which events that happened previously will no longer be eligible for funding. It is an uncomfortable issue that nobody really wants to take responsibility for, but it is important to constantly re-evaluate what decisions we make and how those decisions impact the organizations that make the campus actually fun and interesting.

The second issue is actual communication with the student body. Many people I have asked about these issues have no knowledge of them at all. Information about how CSA works seems to be limited to sitting senators and maybe the leaders of club organizations; there is not nearly enough being done to reach out to the wider student body. Tacking on the Constitution to the electoral ballot is not nearly enough to explain why those changes were necessary. CSA then becomes either a shadowy cabal in the background of student life, only brought to light when it fails, or just a money bag for student organizations to take from for their events. Neither of these are beneficial to either the student body or to the CSA itself, and recognizing everything that CSA does and is responsible for is the first step in holding CSA to account when it does fail. I don’t have a good solution to this problem. Maybe tabling in Sayles would help or posters around campus with information might be the way to go. All I know is that while this information gap exists, it means that CSA is less able to actually help students by doing their job.

At the end of this, there are many more functions that the CSA performs that I either do not have the space to write about or have slipped my mind and even more issues that I could have written about. I want this to be a starting point for further conversations into getting students more involved in the whole process for CSA and asking questions regarding why things are the way they are. CSA should not exist solely for the people who care enough to read all the minutes and go to all the meetings, but for the entire student population, the people we profess to represent in the first place.

Rahim Hamid is a class of ’26 representative on the CSA Senate.

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About the Contributor
Rahim Hamid, Viewpoint Editor
I write, I debate, I bike, I lie, I true, I draw and program and dance and all the rest. Say hi and don’t be a stranger! Rahim is a sophomore and previously wrote for the Viewpoint Section.

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