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How These Student Government Leaders have Adapted in the Face of COVID-19
The Budget Allocations Committee, colloquially known as “BAC,” distributes funds to student organizations. It is often referred to as one of LSA Student Government’s most constant and tangible impacts on students at the University of Michigan. The Committee is responsible for allocating over half of the government’s semesterly budget, which for the past year has been $35,000 each semester. For the past three years, the BAC Leadership Team, comprised of the Chair, Vice-Chair, and Treasurer, has sought to simplify and streamline the funding process through a series of Bylaw Amendments, email campaigns, and campus advertisements (such as Diag Boards). Most recently, the Committee Changed the format of the funding applications so that it is easier for applicants to complete and submit.
This year, the Committee encountered unprecedented challenges with the coronavirus pandemic. Typically, BAC often funded on-campus events that drew large amounts of LSA students. This year, the decline in in-person events adversely affected the Committee’s reach across campus because students no longer needed funds for the services BAC was able to financially support. This led the BAC Leadership Team to temporarily amend their funding criteria in the hopes of attracting more applicants while maintaining the University’s agenda of a socially distant semester. For the first time, BAC provided funding to virtual events and events that were aimed to increase and retain club membership. The Leadership Team decided that it was important to support internal club events to help mitigate the feeling of social isolation that many students have reported to LSA Student Government. Although this year, the Committee has received a record-low amount of applications (due to the pandemic), the BAC Leadership Team continued to advertise its services through on-campus advertisements and finance workshops held through the Center for Campus Involvement.
I had the opportunity to sit down, socially distanced, with this semester’s Chair, Cameron Rifkin, and Vice-Chair, Louis Orleans, and reflect upon their experience this semester during the pandemic:
How has funding student organizations changed since the pandemic?
Orleans: The pandemic has affected our ability to fund student organizations in a number of ways. Primarily, the pandemic has caused us to adapt our funding criteria to fit virtual events in place of in-person events. This has taken the form of accounting for costs we otherwise would not have deemed necessary in the past as now they are integral to the functioning of virtual events.
Rifkin added that because of the pandemic, the total number of applications has decreased.
What are you looking to accomplish in the remainder of the year?
Rifkin: For the remainder of the year I hope to continue promoting BAC in our advertising and get more organizations to apply for funding. My goal is to have 4-5 applicants a week. The main way to this is by increasing awareness of our funding opportunities.
Orleans: We’re hoping to allocate as much money as we possibly can, especially since we currently have a lot of money left to distribute.
Switching gears, we reflected upon Rifkin and Orleans’s personal experiences in LSA Student Government:
How has the Budget Allocations Committee impacted your experience on campus?
Rifkin: BAC has impacted my experience by giving me a better understanding of my campus and student life. Before I was a part of BAC, I had no idea that some of the organizations who come to us for funding existed. It has given me a better sense of how diverse our campus is and the importance of the organizations that we choose to fund because of how they positively impact their member's lives. BAC has given me the opportunity to meet and work with people from various backgrounds that I would have never met without BAC.
Orleans: BAC has impacted my experience in college by giving me the opportunity to get involved in a different way than I would have expected. I say this because typically we think of campus involvement as being part of a student org, but BAC gave me and others the opportunity to directly help other student orgs on campus. This is important to me because not only do we seek to fulfill our own mission, but we also get to help other student orgs on campus see their missions through as well. Also, BAC has helped me to develop myself professionally by taking on a leadership position as Vice-Chair and to learn more about LSA-SG all while finding a community on campus!
What led you to seek out a leadership position in LSA Student Government?
Rifkin: I chose to seek out a leadership role in LSA Student Government because I was inspired by the BAC leadership during my freshman year. The other committee members and BAC leaders showed me how important our work is in student government and how it directly affects student organizations. My goal is to advocate on behalf of student organizations that need funding and to make sure the funding process is accessible to students.
Orleans: I always wanted to get more involved on campus and after being an At-Large member on the Budget Allocations Committee for three semesters, I wanted to expand my role on the Committee. This led me to undertake the role of Vice-Chair on BAC as I wanted to be more directly involved in LSA Student Government and learn more about its processes all while helping student organizations on campus by allocating funding to them through BAC.
What’s your favorite memory of the Budget Allocations Committee?
Rifkin: My favorite BAC memory is when the Taekwondo Club at Michigan applied for funding but they asked for Gatorade which the Student Government does not typically fund unless it is integral to the event. The application prompted a hilarious debate within the committee since we argued with each other about how important the Gatorade was to the event.
Orleans: My favorite BAC memory was definitely getting nominated and elected to serve as Vice-Chair of the Committee as I really believe in the mission of BAC and wanted to take on a leadership position in it.
Rifkin and Orleans continue to promote student government funding opportunities across campus, and they are excited for the return of in-person events so that they can help sponsor student organizations and help students connect through a variety of events, such as culture shows, Taekwondo classes, Diag bagel breaks, and so much more.
If you are interested in connecting with Cameron Rifkin or Louis Orleans, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.