Purdue Student Government passed a bill Wednesday evening approving an $18,000 expenditure to host a Korean cooking demonstration and conversation with Joanna Lee Molinaro, better known on TikTok as “The Korean Vegan.”
PSG’s remaining Mental Health Action Week budget will be reallocated to cover $4,500, Chief of Staff Vince Rehfeldt explained. $5,000 will come from the cabinet discretionary fund and the remaining costs will be covered by the presidential discretionary fund, which is allocated at the beginning of each year when the budget is approved.
Molinaro will visit the Asian American and Asian Resource and Cultural Center to host a lunch and “fireside chat” with students next Thursday. She will then go to the Marriott Hall to put on a Korean food cooking demonstration and hold a discussion about Asian culture, PSG President and bill author Shannon Kang said.
The visit is part of PSG’s celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander month, which is usually celebrated in May, but Purdue students won’t be on campus then, Kang said.
“Last year we saw pretty hateful things, and that has not stopped,” Kang said. “Celebrating (Asian culture) on campus as the first Asian president is extremely important to me.
“This event is targeted at our students to make sure that they feel their Asian voices are being heard and also being represented. When they come out of the university, these are the students that are gonna have to leave their mark on our society as Asian leaders.”
The Marriott Hall event is limited to 100 students. The AAARCC event will be a smaller venue and attendance is through RSVP, but Kang said more students will be allowed to mingle outside the center. Video of both events can be sent to Purdue students who aren’t in attendance.
Some senators took issue with how few students will be allowed to attend.
“If there’s only 100 seats and our big thing is that thing is for those cultural centers for the month, does that mean those people of those cultural centers are going to have priority over the RSVPs?” Senator Sydney Terrell asked. “How does that work in telling all the undergrad students that we’re hosting this event to raise awareness for this month for underrepresented minorities?”
Wyrick said the amount of people who can go shouldn’t affect PSG’s decision.
“When you’re deciding between voting or not voting based on 100 students that this means a big deal to, versus 500 students,” Wyrick said, “if this doesn’t pass, those 100 students don’t have that experience.”
She said the events will be advertised directly to the AAARCC and other cultural centers, but the RSVPs will be available to all students at the same time.
Kang said the fireside chat is designed for students who are looking for a more intimate engagement with Molinaro — typically students who frequent the AAARCC.
“Those students have built a community there, and the fact that those students can bring the Korean Vegan into their space would be so impactful for them,” she said.
Terrell also raised an issue of cost versus return, comparing this visit to Meena Harris’ visit to Purdue last year.
“It is going to be impactful,” she asked. “What happens if we get roasted? If it’s not received well for the second time, how are we going to justify 18-grand?”
PSG spent roughly $25,000 to host Harris in March 2021.
Senator Elli Didonna said PSG received negative backlash for how much it spent to host the event and was accused of profiting off the speaker’s connection to U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.
“People told us they did not like when we brought in that speaker for that amount of money, so that made me extra conscious about doing something like that again.”
Wyrick said the two speakers are incomparable.
“Meena Harris was a whole different ball game,” she said. “She came with her own political connotations. I think it’s an apples to oranges situation.”
Midway through discussion, Kang told the senators that she had already signed a contract for the event, but the documents haven’t yet been finalized by the Business Office for Student Organizations.
Senator Lilli Sydney asked why the senate had just now been presented with the deal if a contract was already signed, calling the action unconstitutional.
“I don’t even know how to begin to express my disappointment in the decision to sign a contract without senate approval for these funds.
“When were these conversations started?”
Wyrick responded by saying that Kang has mentioned her intention for Molinaro to come to Purdue in multiple executive reports.
“We can easily go back in the agenda minutes and meeting minutes and you’d see that,” Wyrick said. “It’s not a new concept.”
She conceded that the topic should have been discussed more broadly within PSG, but she said that tight schedules and fast timelines forced them to move forward.
Rehfeldt explained that once the contract is processed through BOSO, the decision is finalized.
“What’s probably gonna happen, even if you say ‘no,’ is it’s signed (and) it’s processed,” he said. “It’s probably gonna happen.”
The bill received seven votes in favor and four votes against. Eleven senators abstained from voting.
“I love the advocacy that the bill was proceeding,” Terrell said. “I just have concerns about the number of people we are going to reach. I was concerned about the amount of time we had to fill those seats. Certainly we wouldn’t spend $18,000 and then have seats open. That would be disrespectful.
“I’m glad there will be a speaker. I just wish we could have done it in a more encompassing way to get more advocacy, more notice and more people involved.”
Terrell said that in the past, PSG has had group discussions of budgets before they are finalized to achieve a consensus.
“Our hand was almost forced in this,” she said, contrasting the two experiences. “As a voting body, we were metaphorically backed into a corner.”
Still though, the sentiment received support from the majority of the room.
“I don’t care about the facts or precedents it would set,” Senator Garrett Price said. “I will be danged if my last session in the senate is spent blocking a minority rights activist from coming just because it’s a small number of students.”
Expansion of military absence policy
Earlier in the meeting, PSG unanimously passed a resolution expanding the military-required absence policy for students from 15 days per school year to 15 per semester.
President Wyrick said the proposed change would be “more reflective of the experience active duty and reserve students actually have.”
“I really love that we’re going out with a bang with this policy.” she said. “Unfortunately I don’t think we’re gonna be able to get it on the university senate docket for this semester, but I can promise you, I will make sure it (is on the docket in the fall).”
Six different senators added themselves as sponsors to the bill, which already had eight sponsors listed.
“As a member of the military currently,” said Brookelyn Abshire, who served as a proxy in Wednesday’s meeting for senator. “I really appreciate this because that has been a massive source of stress for me for the past year. So, thank you.”
Abshire said she is in the International Guard.
“In my job specifically, I have to go through a lot of training. It’s nice to know that the university has my back.”
The bill passed unanimously.
PSG ended its meeting by voting to appoint junior Abidemi Aregbe to deputy chief of staff.
“We all know (Aregbe),” Wyrick said. “We all know the hard work he’s put in all year. I can’t speak higher to (his) work ethic.”
The appointment passed unanimously.