Funding Poll, Revisited

Controversy and Contention Over Allocation of SB Funds

In a school known for intense discourse, Funding Poll has become one of many battlegrounds for Reed students who want to have their voices heard. With Funding Poll wrapped up for 2018, it’s time to take a look back on the points of contention that dotted this year’s battle for student body funding.

For those new to Reed’s method of student body funding, Funding Poll is the method by which Reed students decide which clubs get money from student body funds. Each club creates an entry for the poll, and over the span of a few days every student is able to vote on these clubs. After the voting has finished, each club receives a final tally of how many points they got, and the 40 clubs with the highest point totals get first crack at petitioning student government for their funding.

For each club, students can select “approve,” giving the club +2 points, “no opinion,” for 0 points, or “disapprove,” bringing the club’s point total down by 1 point. On top of that, each student has the option to “top 6” (for +8 points) or “deep 6” (for -4 points) a club, but they can only choose either of these options six times total.

One issue surrounding funding poll is the deep-sixing of groups focused on supporting students of color, low-SES students, and other marginalized groups. The Low-SES/First-Gen Student Group received 1 deep 6, the Students of Color Union received 2, the Students of Color Community received 4, and Receipts, the new student publication centering the voices of students of color, received 9. Additionally, the Queer Student Union received 2, the LatinX Student Union received 1, and the Gender Minority Fitness Club received 3.

This is not an isolated phenomenon, but the latest in a series of Funding Polls in which groups that support student identities have received a small but alarmingly consistent amount of deep 6 votes, representative of persistent prejudice and discriminatory behavior in the Reed community. Savannah Hugueley, signator of the Low-SES/First-Gen Student Group, told the Quest, “With the Low-SES and First-Gen Group specifically, we are doing the work of supporting students through small scholarships, connection to resources, and support-network creation. Each semester, we receive a couple of deep six votes. For any identity group, even one deep-six vote would feel significant because, to me, it shows a disregard for the ways that our college is lacking support for students who need it to make it through college.”

This is also part of the reason for the recent advent of identity funding through the same Student Body funds that support Funding Poll. Hugueley added, “Identity groups on campus are vital in filling the institutional gaps that disproportionately impact marginalized students on-campus, and within academia in general…I, along with various other identity group signators, have expressed how grateful we are for Senate’s creation of the identity fund to help support the consistent needs of a large portion of students on our campus.”

Additionally, for possibly the first time in the history of Funding Poll, one student organization received a negative score this year: the Thinkery. With a final tally of 93 deep-sixes, the club, which describes itself as “a student organization at Reed College dedicated to critical and open discussion,” emerged with a whopping -155 points.

“It’s pretty much what we expected,” said Henry Blanchette, the club’s signator. “We are well aware of how the Reed campus feels about us…we were pleasantly surprised with the amount of support we got, actually.”

The club, which was formed in the wake of Reedies Against Racism’s Hum 110 protests last year, markets itself as creating a space for free and open discussions on campus. Aditya Hariharan, another member of Thinkery’s leadership, was quick to point out that the Thinkery does not espouse any sort of political view. “It’s antithetical to our goal to propagate a particular ideology,” he said, emphasizing that “there’s no promotion of views” by the Thinkery as an organization.

Others, however, were not so sure about that characterization. James Stewart, a freshman, had heard that the club was founded as a response to Reedies Against Racism, and that they had invited conservative speaker Jason Riley to campus last year. “There’s no such thing as being unbiased,” he said. “Presenting this doctrine of fairness can lead to positions where certain people have more power…allowing people to spout whatever they want, unchallenged, can be pretty harmful.”

Stewart, like many other Reedies, was suspicious of the group’s vague Funding Poll description, which simply read “[w]e would like funding to buy snacks and printed materials for meetings.” When asked about this description, Henry took the blame: “I was confused because this is my first time being a signator, and I put a description of the club in the description section only.”

“I don’t think I buy that,” Stewart said when asked if he thought the description was just a mistake. “All the other descriptions offered a description of the club.” As the results show, James was not the only Reedie who was suspicious because of the combination of a nondescript name with a vague club description. He joined 92 others in giving the club a “deep 6” ranking, plummeting it further down the funding ladder than any other organization.

The Thinkery was not the only controversial student organization on this year’s poll. Weapons of Mass Distraction (WMD), Reed’s fire spinning troupe, received over thirty deep-sixes this year, after accusations of cultural appropriation prompted an ongoing discussion about the group’s role on the Reed campus.

Fire spinning, the central element of WMD’s performances, is a cultural practice commonly associated with Polynesian cultures. As one Reedie wrote in a Facebook comment, “it’s not only disrespectful to see the ppl whose community colonized (and continues to colonize) my island and who OUTLAWED these cultural practices treat it as a hobby/game but it is frankly, laughable.” As a result, WMD received over thirty deep-sixes this year, and the organization fell short of the support needed to reach the coveted Top 40.

With Funding Poll becoming a battleground for some of Reed’s most contentious issues and a window into the hidden biases that exist privately on Reed campus, some freshmen felt overwhelmed by the choices they were being asked to make. Stewart, with regards to the many controversies surrounding the Poll this year, said “a lot of things haven’t really been articulated. It can be really disorienting, as a freshman, to come into the middle of all these things.”

Despite this criticism, Stewart was happy with the poll as a whole. “It’s very democratic in terms of how we distribute funding…it’s better than just having all that funding locked away and distributed by board members. I like that we as a campus get to decide what we want to be funded and what we don’t want to be funded.”

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