The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

SGA passes resolution calling for empathy in campus communications

Elizabeth Smith
SGA has passed a resolution addressing President Suresh Garimella’s response to campus conflicts.

On Feb. 27, SGA unanimously passed a resolution calling for increased empathy toward communities affected by campus conflicts in future communications from UVM President Suresh Garimella, said senior and SGA Senator Grace Poland, the sponsor of the resolution.

The resolution is in response to student dissatisfaction over Garimella’s communications after the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into UVM’s handling of complaints of antisemitic behavior in fall 2022 and after the shooting of three Palestinian college students in fall 2023, she said.

“I wanted this resolution to be a wake up call to best show how the student body feels,” she said. “A university should really care about students’ feelings and want to support them in the best way they possibly can.”

In public communications, Garimella focused on the harm to UVM’s reputation that the OCR investigation brought rather than expressing concern for the well-being of Jewish students, according to the resolution.

After the shooting of Palestinian college students near UVM, Garimella’s call to avoid speculation about the incident neglected issues of Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian rhetoric, according to the resolution.

“The UVM SGA does not stand by President Garimella’s responses, which have been deemed insufficient,” the resolution states.

Garimella’s responses to campus conflicts have had negative impacts on the student body, including lowered well-being and perceptions of safety among affected student groups, according to the resolution. 

The resolution does not effect concrete change, rather it acts as a statement expressing the feelings of SGA, which represents the student body, Poland said.

“There is always an opportunity to be more effective in our communications, and student voices are important and appreciated in helping us achieve that goal,” stated Adam White, executive director of University communications, in a March 29 email.

Poland is currently working with Provost Patricia Prelock on potential projects that create tangible change in the University’s communications, she said. These include involving input from trained communications staff and student affinity group representatives in the writing of public messages.

These people would be able to guide the writing of communications by sharing what specific communities would want to be said and by helping to avoid using harmful phrases and words, she said.

“University leadership values student input,” White stated. “The President and Provost have regular meetings with SGA and GSS leadership, and they place great value on those conversations as an opportunity to understand the perspectives of the students they represent.”

There are no concrete plans for implementing any of these ideas, and it is unclear what the finished product will look like, Poland said.

“University communications come from many offices—including the office of student affairs, the division of safety and compliance, the provost’s office, and the president’s office—and are carefully considered to best address the circumstances and include input from many contributors,” White stated.

Poland feels hopeful about the future after passing this resolution and hopes to see work on this issue continue, she said.

“I think it would be easy to have had this resolution be the ending point,” she said. “But to continue, it’s important to me to have this be the first step. This is a statement that SGA has put out, and then to act on that statement is what I think is most important.”

This resolution is not meant to intensely scrutinize Garimella, but was instead written to do what is best for the student body, she said.

“At the end of the day, I think we just want the University to be the best that it can be,” Poland said. “And [we’re] hoping that this resolution is one step forward for that.”

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