At Wednesday's Duke Student Government Senate meeting, the Senate discussed an appeal from the Jewish Student Union to request funding for its Tu B’Shevat Celebration in full, as the Student Organization Financing Committee only granted $89 of the requested $237. SOFC provided funding for all categories—except for the materials “critical for the event.”

The holiday celebrates “the birthday of the trees,” and JSU will be “making and decorating potted plants, eating fruit grown on trees, and learning about the holiday,” according to a brief description of its funding request. 

The items excluded by SOFC included pebble bags, plants and mason jars, while requests for various fruits and paint pens were fulfilled. In the event’s budget description, it states that “all” materials enumerated in the request “are absolutely essential for the event to take place.”

Sophomore Elliott Davis, head organizer of JSU’s Tu B’Shevat event, wrote an appeal on behalf of JSU to President Pro Tempore Jackson Dellinger, a junior.

“As a potted plant-making event, I do not understand why no funds were provided to purchase the plants or pots. Being conscious of budget, we found airplants that allow us to use pebbles instead of expensive soil, along with using mason jars instead of purchasing pots designed for plants,” Davis wrote. “Celebrating Tu B'shevat aligns with JSU's mission, and the Religious Programming Committee decided making potted plants is an interactive and meaningful way to engage with the values of the holiday."

Dellinger said that he thought Davis provided a “pretty compelling argument” as for why the excluded materials should be considered essential for the activity. 

In prior SOFC discussions, the excluded materials had been classified as giveaways, which is why they did not grant funding in full. SOFC chair Luke Farrell, a junior, clarified that SOFC had classified potted plants as such in particular because they would be “taken home” and not donated.

However, the Financial Oversight and Appeals Committee interpreted that the giveaway discussion should be focused on the “spiritual effect of planting” and not the act of taking the plant home. In fact, Farrell said that SOFC was favorable to the appeal. 

He added that the discussion in Senate contextualized funding for religious events.

“This is an important legislative conversation to have because of religious ambiguity,” he said. “Whether or not the Catholic Center’s Easter celebration was inclusive, while something like planting a tree for a religious ceremony and whether that activity is inclusive.”

When senior Kevin Mutchnick questioned the funding of speaker events sponsored by religious organizations, Farrell explained that such events do not consist of an exclusive nature—the discussion of concepts involving Catholicism, Judaism and other religions does not exclude participants. He noted that a formal distinction could eventually be transformed into a bylaw.

“SOFC has taken informal action–not a formal bylaw change,” Farrell said. “SOFC funds spiritually inclusive events–not exclusive.”

Although the event was funded in full, it did not pass unanimously. That sole dissenter was first-year Joseph Touma, senator for services and sustainability, who said that he was in a “unique position” as a member of SOFC and the Senate and was “not convinced” that the initially denied items were not giveaways.

“Thinking back to our deliberations at SOFC, I really supported our rationale at that time, and there was no evidence today that convinced me otherwise,” he said. “In the end, I think we need to have a serious conversation about these types of events because it’s not only JSU—it’s the Catholic Center, Muslim Students Association and other student organizations. I think it’s really important to have clear guidelines when it comes to religious events and I strongly stand by that decision.”

In other business:

The Senate nominated five new at-large Senators. Sophomore Sarah Ali, senator for equity and outreach, said that she would focus on dealing with mental health issues amongst minority students. Another new senator of the same committee–Esperanza Hernandez, a first-year, said that her tenure would hone in on increasing resources for undocumented students on-campus. First-year Raksha Doddabele, senator for services and sustainability, said that she is concerned with environmental awareness education and making landscape service more sustainable. Junior Kayla Thompson, senator for campus and life, emphasized her excitement to work more closely with the housing model.

President Riyanka Ganguly, a senior, said that this year was the “best round of at large applicants we’ve had.” She described applicants as “phenomenal” and “top notch." But, as Ganguly prefaced, her address came with “good and bad news.” She described the point of needing to have new at-large Senators when others begin to have attendance issues and emphasized that the Senators elected in the fall semester were there “completely of privilege.”

“If you are a person who has not been dedicated, now is the time to find a reason that is believable as to why that is the case,” Ganguly said.

Sophomore Avery Boltwood, senator for campus life, announced that he started a coalition of low-income and first-generation students who serve in DSG to deliberate on how policy affects this demographic.

The Senate unanimously chartered CommuniTEA—a new student group instructed by Chinese tea masters for members who are interested in learning about the art of making tea. Because the organization already has significant first-year involvement, the group has “prospect for the future,” Farrell said. He also noted that the group requested to be chartered because of the cost of tea sets. 

Define American—a new student group that works with undocumented students—was also unanimously recognized.

“Currently, we don’t have any group that fills this void on campus. Make sure if you’re doing any work on campus with undocumented students to rope them in,” Farrell said.

Additionally, two events were unanimously funded–$2,875 for an annual event sponsored in part by the Freeman Center and $4,725 for a speaker event sponsored by The Archive involving poet Warsan Shire.

The Senate also unanimously passed a budgetary statute to allocate $1,250 to K-ville Wellness Kits through its collaboration with the Wellness Center, Student Health and CAPS. The items include sleeping masks and kits, shipping costs, packaging and bags and wellness “postcard” guides. If funds remain, they will be shifted to the DSG surplus. In the future, the statute detailed that the pilot DSG partnership with the Wellness Center might be institutionalized as a line item in the Line Monitor budget.