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SU allocates $245K for Trending Topics speakers

| Editor-in-Chief

Student Union’s Treasury allocated $245,000 to bring in seven speakers for next year’s Trending Topics, its speaker series, in a special session Saturday.

Treasury funded proposals to bring in actress and immigration reform advocate Diane Guerrero, physicist and author Michio Kaku, journalist and LGBTQIA* activist Masha Gessen, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, author and civil rights activist Angela Davis, Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad and actress and diversity in media advocate Constance Wu.

Student groups can submit appeals for Trending Topics funds, but ultimately securing the speakers and promoting the events is the job of Student Union.

Last year, SU opted to revamp its speaker series, pushing the timeline up to April from the fall of the following academic year. While last year SU had $125,000 in funding for Trending Topics, this year the governing body had the option to allocate up to $250,000 in funds.

“We do not have to use the money. And I would definitely caution [Treasury] against funding things just to use up all the money,” junior Keaton Schifer, speaker of the Treasury, said during Saturday’s session.

Kaku was the most expensive speaker funded, with $56,000 allotted to bring him in, while Gessen was the least expensive speaker funded at $20,000, marking a change from last year’s speaker series, for which the lowest-priced speaker was St. Louis Poet Laureate Michael Castro, brought in for under $1,000.

More expensive appeals—including those for scientist Bill Nye ($77,000), actor Mark Ruffalo ($67,000) and former NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ($70,500)—were not funded.

In determining which speakers to bring in, Treasury representatives weighed factors including price, a diversity of interests and a speaker’s relevance to the Washington University community.

“I think it’s important to look at the speaker and not just the price point,” freshman Treasury representative and activities committee chair Alia Nahra said.

“There are so many niches we cannot fill with this much money,” sophomore Treasury representative and budget committee chair Katie Wood said. “I do feel like there are different speakers with different points from different groups.”

According to senior Vikram Biswas, former SU vice president of finance, the increased budget allows SU to bring in more well-known speakers for this year’s Trending Topics compared with those in last year’s series.

“We now have the capacity to bring those high-profile speakers to campus, and we didn’t before. We now have a cool chance for Student Union to maximize and optimize student activities fees,” he said in February following the general budget session when the increased funds were approved.

Some Treasury representatives, however, felt that the speakers chosen didn’t have widespread name recognition despite the increased budget, whereas the speakers SU chose not to fund did.

“I expected there to be some big names on [the final list] that had mass appeal,” freshman Treasury representative Haris Khan said.

“We don’t really have one huge speaker, which is a little disappointing to me,” Wood added.

Nonetheless, Treasury as a whole expressed satisfaction with the final list of speakers and with the procedure for choosing them.

“I love the discussion that we had; I feel like it was really well-intentioned,” freshman Treasury representative Vienna Cordova said. “I think we picked really awesome great people, and I feel really good about it.”