VSG Senate passes resolution requesting Vanderbilt reimburse undergraduates for housing and meal plans

The bill calls for pro rata reallocation of “reasonable and appropriate portions” of the meal plan fee, housing fee, student service fee and residential college experience fee.

The+March+18+Zoom+session+saw+19+votes+in+favor%2C+one+vote+abstaining+and+zero+votes+against+the+resolution.+Photo+courtesy+Claire+Barnett

Claire Barnett

The March 18 Zoom session saw 19 votes in favor, one vote abstaining and zero votes against the resolution. Photo courtesy Claire Barnett

Jessica M. Barker, Deputy News Editor

VSG Senators passed a resolution calling for Vanderbilt administrators to quickly reimburse students for unused services such as housing, meal plans, and residential college fees in light of university responses to COVID-19. 

Hank senator Bryce Collings, Peabody senator Kate Petosa, Lewis House senator Courtney Kim, A&S senator Will Fritzler and Deputy Speaker Robert Lusk sponsored the resolution, which later accumulated nine total co-sponsors. The senators say that the resolution was inspired by seeing other campuses, such as Emory University, promptly issue equitable reimbursements for unused on-campus resources and felt that it was logical for Vanderbilt to follow suit. 

The resolution sponsors included the meal plan fee, housing fee, student service fee, and residential college experience fee and excluded tuition because professors are still teaching classes online.

Sponsors also declined to include some fees such as the first-year experience fee because unlike other payments made to the university, much of this fee was already used within the first semester, so sponsors did not feel that it was fair to ask the university to reimburse funds that were likely already used.

“We thought that these were the clearest examples of [services] students have paid for but will no longer be receiving,” Lusk said.

The requested reimbursed funds would appear in the form of student account credits according to the language of the resolution, so that first-years, sophomores and juniors can use the money to pay for costs next year. Seniors would be able to withdraw the money remaining on their students accounts and take it out in the form of a check, according to the bill.

The resolution presented challenges in that resolution sponsors did not wish to negatively impact dining workers who were expecting to be paid. Further, sponsors struggled to think of ways to give money back to students who are on financial aid and don’t pay full-price room and board and other fees. 

Because of these complications, the sponsors declined to put dollar amounts on any of the lines within the resolution, instead favoring pro rata reimbursements. “Pro rata” is a legal term meaning proportional.

“A lot of things may be added on to this, and there will be a lot of questions on what can be added and still be what we think the student body would want to see from administration,” Collings said. 

The senators added that VSG wants to help students affected by unexpected travel expenses by using the remainder of their budget to mitigate student financial burdens

“We are looking at the idea of how can we best help students that had to go home on short notice, and those who couldn’t afford for the flights or had to pay for flights they really couldn’t afford,” Collings said. “We don’t know how that’s going to look exactly yet, but that’s going to be something similar to this where we call in administration to act on that.”