Update: A Message to the SU/ESF Community

We are looking for accountability from the administration. Last Tuesday, THE General Body reached out to Chancellor Syverud requesting a meeting with him and his executive team (The full text is at thegeneralbody.org). Despite having publicly stated that his administration is committed to working with us, they instead emailed saying we would be hearing from liaisons who have no relevant decision-making powers or accountability to the items the administration agreed to address last semester.

Most of the issues which led us to take action last fall have not been resolved. Unfortunately, even more issues have arisen since then, demonstrating that the administration has learned little from recent community outcry. They continue to make decisions which negatively affect the SU community, as evidenced by (in necessary abbreviation, as there are SO many issues we could mention):

  • The new health insurance mandate, which affects all undergraduate and graduate students, especially low-income students.Graduate TA/RA/GAs will pay more money for worse health care coverage.
  • The recently-proposed $495 million sports stadium, alongside claims that SU doesn’t have the money to hire additional counselors, staff at the LGBT Resource Center, or continue its original commitment to scholarship programs like POSSE.
  • No public budget proposal or timeline for implementing thedirectives of the Chancellor’s Workgroup on Sexual Violence Prevention, Education, and Advocacy.
  • Inconsistencies regarding cancellation of SU Study Abroad programs, in particular, Paris Noir.
  • The drugging of four SU Law students by a fellow law student(s), and these reported incidents’ mishandling by the administration, which has failed to provide timely and adequate information on student survivors’ rights under the Clery Act and Title IX. These reports have not yet been publicly addressed by the administration.
  • The lack of transparency and collaboration around the SU Mission/Vision Statement and Strategic Plan.

We’d like to continue working with all interested groups, including the Chancellor and his executive team, in creating the kind of university where all students, faculty, staff and community members are valued and respected–not in word, but in collaborative action. We again call on the Chancellor and his executive administration to meet with us to be accountable to items they said they would address, and come to agreements on those they ignored. Among other upcoming events, we are holding a Press Conference on Tuesday, April 7 and a rally on April 14th. Look for more information and get involved! We invite you to be part of this movement. Follow us on Twitter and check back on this blog for frequent updates.

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Message to SU Graduate Program Directors Regarding the Changes to Health Care

In light of the recent changes to graduate students’ health care, we, THE General Body, feel it is important to be transparent with current, potential, and incoming students about these changes. As it stands, the administration has, without consulting students, changed graduate teaching, research, and other assistants’ employee health coverage from the employee plans to the student plans. The administration has sent a message to incoming graduate students suggesting that the plan is an improvement. This is false; the new plan’s benefits are currently unknown and we cannot say whether they will be better than the employee plans. For those of us who were recruited on different terms, we are now seeing an unexpected increase in our expenses, an increase that will hit people with chronic health conditions, people who have children, and lower-income graduate students particularly hard. It also devalues the work of graduate employees.

We have seen the Associate Dean of the Graduate School’s April 3 letter to prospective students alerting them of these changes, but we are concerned that the letter is not transparent about the additional cost and hardship that will be incurred by students. The available information is vague and sometimes contradictory; we have attempted to get a sense of some of the costs that students will incur from this new plan:

  • Under this plan, graduate employees will be forced off of the employee plan and onto the student plan
  • International students report that the student plan will cost $700/year more per person and there will be benefit reductions
  • There is no vision or dental coverage in the new plan
  • The new plan costs $1890 a year for a current single student with no children. According to GSO members, the cost increase (including tax implications) is about $856 more per year
  • A TA with a spouse and two children on their insurance would pay up to $4,615 more for this plan
  • If we understand the university’s FAQ correctly, for new domestic students entering in Fall 2015 and voluntarily purchasing the Aetna plan, their sum will be $2,742.
  • The plan necessitates both co-pay and co-insurance  (a percentage of the procedure, test, etc. paid out of pocket). At the GSO meeting, one student said he needed 4 MRIs this year. This cost him $40 each in co-pay. With the new plan, he said it would cost him between $500-600 per MRI.

According to an e-mail from GSO President Patrick Neary sent April 3, 2015, the agreement has already been signed with AETNA. The GSO has publicly censured the administration for this unilateral decision, and this Wednesday, graduate students and faculty allies will be meeting to discuss unionizing in response. THE General Body is also organizing meetings and actions in response.

As graduate director, you could potentially make a public impact by voicing your opposition to this undemocratic, nontransparent change, which clearly does not have student interests in mind. It’s clear that the administration wants to make it more difficult for students who do not have a significant financial safety net to attend graduate school. As you know, this seriously compromises the diversity and strength of our programs, and potential to recruit students. Along with graduate students in other departments, we urge you to speak out against this blatant injustice by making a public statement, urging the department to make a public statement, and supporting the GSO’s censure of the administration.

In addition to taking a public stand on this issue by writing a statement of support, we ask that you alert your department’s current and prospective students to these changes immediately. You can assure the prospective students that we will be working to support graduate students’ rights to quality healthcare and sustainable financial security.

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GSO Censures the Administration for Changes to Health Care Plan

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April 2, 2015
Graduate Student Organization
216 Bowne Hall

Dear Chancellor Syverud:
On April 1st, 2015 the Senate of the Graduate Student Organization voted unanimously to censure the university leadership for its actions surrounding the recently announced changes to student health insurance. The Senate is appalled at the lack of transparency leading up to this decision, particularly the lack of announcements to those it would impact as the requirements and plans were being constructed.

Additionally, the Senate is outraged that this decision process, one that materially affects students in a substantial manner, did not involve students prior to when a final decision was reached. The GSO insists the University include students in university policymaking, particularly when it impacts students to a large degree.

The Senate calls for all graduate teaching, research, and other assistants employed by the University to remain eligible for the employee health insurance plans, as they have been in this and past years. We censure the university leadership for moving to take this benefit away from all graduate assistants. The GSO is committed to maintaining employee insurance plan eligibility for all these students, regardless of degree type or other categorization. Graduate teaching, research, and other assistants are core to the
instructional and research mission at Syracuse University, comprising up to one-third of the full-time equivalent instructional personnel. The university devalues and demeans the work these students perform by not recognizing them as eligible for employee health benefits. The current plan also presents severe cost increases and an unacceptably unclear benefits picture if it were to go forward, including questions about dental coverage and a total lack of vision coverage. The university needs to send a clear message that it will not diminish the insurance benefits to these students.

The Senate is alarmed at the substantial confusion and cost increases for international students that the new health insurance requirement has created and censures the university leadership for its role in creating this confusion and cost increase. Students across the university are still awaiting a complete plan description, full justifications for the move away from the HTH insurance plans, and a full explanation of the necessity to raise costs for most international students by approximately $700 annually. International students require further information concerning how the new Aetna Student Health Plan will interface with their requirements as international students studying in the US. The GSO insists this information be made public and no further actions are to be taken to implement this plan without GSO Senate input.
Graduate Student Organization Senate

PDF of letter available here.

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Good News, But More Work to Do: A TGB Update

We have exciting news and a lot more work to do. First, our next meeting is this Thursday April 2 at 8:30 p.m. in Hall of Languages 500. Please join us as we continue to gather momentum and take action as we near the end of this semester. Your thoughts will be helpful! We need to continue to work to apply pressure in many ways so that we can continue to work in solidarity to get real, collaborative change at SU.

Things to celebrate:

1. Thanks to dedicated student activism, especially with a combination of Divest-SU/ESF and THE General Body, SU officially announced it is divesting from direct investments in fossil fuel. The New York Times and Democracy Now! picked the story up. Obviously, a lot more needs to happen to stop/slow climate change, and the university is still invested in mutual funds which invest in fossil fuel, and still maintains a fairly environmentally unsustainable infrastructure, but it still shows that activism works.
2. We have also noticed that the Chancellor seems to be making tiny steps towards at least talking a good talk about ending sexual assault, relationship violence, and gender-based violence at SU. This is directly related to our hard work, though we need to see A LOT more REAL change, and REAL MONEY going into this. Take Back the Night was incredible this year, as always, but a reminder of how widespread rape and sexual assault are, at SU/ESF, and elsewhere.
3. The ADA Coordinator Hiring Committee is making progress and interviewing final candidates, however, there is some dissent and problems about how this committee has proceeded.
4. The GSO has asked Chancellor Syverud to do an actual, not just a pretend, investigation of how his administration and DPS treated TGB during the sit-in.

And yet…

Think of all the things the Chancellor is NOT addressing. We have noted again and again, for instance, that he continues to ignore anything to do specifically with students, faculty and staff of color, and/or GLBTQI students.

Next Steps/ACTION:

Yesterday, we contacted the Chancellor to request he meet in a public, open manner, with THE General Body, to continue the dialog and work the administration has claimed to want to work on (see our letter here). We have yet to hear a reply of any kind. 

When (if) we do secure a meeting time with the Chancellor and his administration, we will send a call-out email and post on the blog so we can have as many people there as possible. There will likely be other actions this semester, too!

In TGB structural news:

We have begun a “steering committee” to try to keep things as democratic as possible, while keeping a clearer sense of ‘power’ and communication. This steering committee will rotate out who wants to be on it. There’s definitely more room for those who might want to be part of it! Come to a meeting, or email THEgeneralbody@gmail.com, if you want to be on this more nuts and bolts sort of planning work.

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THE General Body Requests a Meeting with Chancellor Syverud

Yesterday, March 31, THE General Body contacted Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud to request he and other decision-making administrators meet in a public, open manner, with THE General Body, to continue the dialog and work the administration has stated it wants to work on. We have yet to hear a reply. Here is the letter:
THE General Body Requests a Meeting with Chancellor Syverud, April 7, 7pm

Dear Chancellor Syverud,

THE General Body, an organization comprised of students, faculty and staff, has had no direct communication with you since the sit-in ended in November. On November 20, 2014, the day the sit-in ended, you delivered a statement saying, “I want the University community to know I remain fully committed to continuing these conversations and working to make Syracuse University the kind of campus where everyone feels welcome and respected.” While your administration has met separately with the group Divest-SU/ESF, and while you have stated your intention to continue these conversations, you have not reached out to THE General Body, the group who researched, articulated, and presented to you numerous interconnected crucial concerns and solutions.

These concerns are each so critical that you stated during your sole negotiation meeting with THE General Body, “’they’re all important” and choosing among them “feels like asking somebody to choose between their children.” Furthermore, the endorsement and support of many of THE General Body’s core grievances and solutions by the University Senate, Graduate Student Organization, and Student Association illustrate that these are not only reasonable and necessary but that they have broad support within our campus community.

As a demonstration of your expressed desire to work with students and resolve these important issues, we request that you and your executive team meet with student representatives from THE General Body at an open and public meeting on April 7 from 7-9 pm in a location like Hendricks Chapel, Gifford or Shemin Auditorium in order to address the items your administration has agreed to do, to see your progress, and to work on agreements on the crucial items which your final response did not address, including commitments to support current and future students of color and the need for additional mental health service providers.

In your response to the GSO Resolution Regarding University Interactions with THE General Body, you stated: “As we move on in the spring semester I look forward to continued dialog with all interested students on issues that impact our campus community and the world in which we live… Although our work in addressing the grievances and demands of the protestors is unfinished, I do believe we will find common ground and expect the University will be a better place for it.” And while the recent Q&A with Dean Bea González notes that administration has been in conversation with THE General Body, there has been no communication with THE General Body itself on critical, unresolved issues after the sit-in. Among other items, we want to make sure that crucial student needs and grievances will play a central role in the university’s new Fast Forward plan. Having attended forums, been on Fast Forward committees, and reviewed the plan thus far, students, faculty and staff are deeply concerned that the administration is not prioritizing diversity, safety, community engagement and transparency. We see a university moving toward more corporate training and funding and away from education that addresses society’s most pressing issues.

Many of the issues which led us to take action have yet to be resolved. Unfortunately, even more issues have arisen since the sit-in during the fall. To us, this demonstrates that the administration is continuing to make decisions that negatively affect the SU community:

  • The recently-proposed $495 million sports stadium, alongside claims that the university does not have the money to hire additional counselors or to continue its original commitment to scholarship programs like POSSE. Meanwhile, SU administration has not provided a public budget proposal for a center which will properly address sexual assault prevention and survivor support.

  • Reports of four SU Law students drugged by a fellow law student(s), an issue that has not yet been publicly addressed by your administration.

  • The new health insurance mandate, which affects all undergraduate and graduate students, and will disproportionately affect low-income students, and graduate TA/RA/GAs appear to be getting a far worse deal than they currently have.

  • The inconsistencies regarding cancellation of SU Study Abroad programs, in particular, the cancellation of, and scholarships for, Paris Noir.

  • The lack of transparency around the SU Mission/Vision Statement.

These are but a few of the campus community’s concerns about the university’s priorities. These incidents indicate the need for continued work towards creating a transparent, inclusive, and democratic campus community.

We are eager to hear where you’ve made progress on meeting the needs of the student population and campus, and to move forward on the needs that your administration did not adequately address in previous communication. We’d like to continue creating the kind of university where all students, faculty, staff and community members are valued and respected.

Please let us know as soon as possible whether you can make this meeting. If April 7 is not an option, we look forward to scheduling another meeting time in the near future, ideally during evening hours when more students can attend.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

THE General Body

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Update from the GSO’s Request for Investigation About Administrative Actions Toward TGB

On March 26th, 2015, Patrick Neary, the GSO president, sent this letter to the Chancellor regarding his inadequate response to the GSO’s official request for an investigation about administrative actions toward THE General Body:

On February 18, 2015 your response to GSO Senate Resolution 15.13, calling for an investigation of administrative actions toward the General Body, was put before the GSO Senate for discussion. The GSO Senate would like to thank you for your response to this resolution, which was both extensive and thoughtful. We appreciate the time you have taken to respond to our concerns, and understand your letter as a token of your commitment to cooperating with the democratic institutions of our university.

With that understanding in place, there was some debate among the GSO Senate regarding your response. Extensive as your letter is, there are a few lingering concerns that the senate would like to bring to your attention. In general, we had hoped to see more insight from students who were involved in the sit in. Our expectation was that your investigation might have sought out their testimony and incorporated it into your findings more clearly. Moreover, we note that you have asserted that DPS and your administrative team were acting in the interest of student safety. While student safety is indeed an important goal, it is not clear that it is an end that justifies the means. This is especially true when some of the means, like photographing sleeping protestors, undermine the rights and dignity of our students, making them worry for their own privacy and safety at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them. Finally, there have been troubling reports of students being likened to violent criminals in administrative training. If this is true, it would have troubling implications regarding our university’s commitment to free speech, a value which is foundational to shared democratic governance and academic freedom.

Informed by this debate, the GSO Senators unanimously resolved to draft this letter to you, respectfully requesting that you take further action. In our original resolution, we asked that you arrange an open forum where the university community can discuss the concerns outlined in the resolution with you. We ask that you please move forward with this open forum, selecting a time in coordination with the GSO. We also ask that you reopen your investigation into your administrative team’s response to the student protests. We ask that this investigation be conducted by a team that includes volunteer representatives of the undergraduate, graduate, and faculty bodies in addition to representatives from the administration to ensure a balanced approach. This team should provide a written report addressing concerns about the conduct of the administration and DPS in the handling of the protest.

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An Update on the Unjust Arrest of Reverend Dexter

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Right now, Reverend L. Micah Dexter is sitting behind bars at the Onondaga County “Justice” Center. Last week he was convicted of “obstructing governmental administration” by an all-white jury after the police and district attorney’s office railroaded him in court. Rev. Dexter and his wife Alisha were beaten by police officers at their home Jan. 4, 2014 (you can read more background here). His wife, Alisha, was convicted of “resisting arrest,” and she was released on her own recognizance, and is currently caring for their children.

All inmates at the jail have to receive a tuberculosis test. Rev. Dexter was not offered this test and, as a result, he was denied visitation rights for several days. Finally, on Wednesday, he was able to receive the test.

Over the last week he has been able to make phone calls. He wants everyone to know that he is in good health and spirits. He continues to remain defiant in the face of injustice.

As it stands, we are still unsure when exactly his sentencing hearing will be, but it will take place either April 13 or 14. Rev. Dexter and his supporters are asking for a public presence at the sentencing.

We are also in the process of organizing a demonstration in support of Alisha and Rev. Dexter. This will take place prior to his sentencing.

A member of THE General Body will be visiting Rev. Dexter on Monday, and will have another update at that time.

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Share Your Mental Health Experience

The Daily Orange is looking to cover stories on mental health and mental health services on campus and we need your help! If anyone would like to share their experiences, email syractiveminds@gmail.com. Your experience can remain anonymous if you’d like. Remember that your story is the best weapon you have against the stigma and disparity in mental health services on campus! This is our chance to get the administration to listen. Feel free to reach out to Active Minds at Syracuse University with any questions.

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#WakeUpSULaw: THE General Body Calls on SU Law to Stop Victim-Blaming & Push for Better Services

wakeupsulaw

Last semester, four female SU law students were drugged at house parties–likely by a fellow law student. One student has come forward to file a formal complaint and circulated this petition to hold SU Law accountable and draw attention to critical gaps in services on campus: #WakeUpSULaw: Adequately Address this Student Safety Issue. The petition identifies several important needs:

1) For the Dean of Law to address the student body about the attacks

2) For SU Law to counter victim-blaming by shifting its focus to the perpetrator(s)

3) For SU Law to make information about campus services available to law students.

THE General Body stands in solidarity with #WakeUpSULaw and calls on SU Law–and the SU campus more broadly–to implement these recommendations immediately. The law school’s desire to keep this issue “in-house” speaks to a nationwide trend towards silencing survivors of gender-based violence for the sake of avoiding negative PR.

SU Law School Needs to Take these Attacks Seriously

Syracuse University College of Law is actively trying to distance itself from these attacks by reducing the number of attacks and describing them as off campus instead of emphasizing how the perpetrator(s) is likely in our classrooms. In an Above the Law article on the SU law school druggings, Assistant Dean Tomas Gonzalez is quoted as saying:

This is an active investigation so we are limited in what we can provide. What I can tell you is about two weeks ago we did received a report from a law student concerning possible drink tampering at a house party several miles off-campus during the end of fall semester. The College of Law actively encouraged the student to report this incident to the police and she did. The incident is currently under investigation. To date, this is the only student from which we have received a report.

While only one student has filed a police report, SU law is and has been aware of all four druggings.

Furthermore, Gonzalez attempts to minimize the university connection by emphasizing that the one drugging he is willing to acknowledge occurred “several miles off-campus.”  SU–in accordance with the federal Jeanne Clery Act–is required to disclose information about crime in and around campuses, and the SU campus community often receives “off-campus burglary” notifications via e-mail. However, there have been no notifications about on- or off-campus druggings and assaults that (as in this case) occurred a mere 1.1 to 1.4 miles from campus at house parties thrown for and by SU law students, and are likely to suggest SU law students as perpetrators. One of the survivors stated, “While all three parties [where survivors were drugged] had a few non-law students in attendance–random relatives, significant others or friends–none of the same non-law students were at the other two parties. Our house parties mostly consist of SU law students.”

SU Law School Needs to Stop Victim-Blaming

Although SU Law held a forum in response to these attacks on students, the forum reproduced the victim-blaming rhetoric that maintains a culture of silence and allows assault to continue, particularly against women. While a Vera House spokesperson–along with several people who made interventions during the audience Q&A–attempted to shift the focus to working to combat rape culture and hold perpetrators accountable, the forum overwhelmingly maintained a focus on victim responsibility. This raises major concerns for the campus community.

At the forum, a “What Would You Do?” video about date-rape drugging was shown as a way of encouraging students to intervene if they see someone putting drugs in another person’s drink. Unfortunately, the video puts the onus of responsibility on the victim rather than targeting the perpetrator. In the video, a man and woman (played by actors) are out on a first date and he drugs her drink. When he leaves to go to the restroom, the couple sitting next to them asks the woman to get another drink, saying “I wouldn’t drink that if I were you.” At no point do they tell her that it’s been drugged. At no point is there a focus on the issue of how to make sure that people don’t get drugged, not just how to deal with it when it happens. Furthermore, the video makes the argument that if you’re dressed in a “skimpy” dress, people are less likely to intervene if they see someone putting drugs in your drink–that there will be “not as much sympathy” for a date-rape victim who looks like she’s “been there, done that.”

A DPS officer presented a series of slides emphasizing the precautions that potential-victims should take, rather than making a commitment to fight rape culture. The slides in this officer’s presentation–which were labeled “Prevention”–covered the following:

  • Reporting suspicious activity to local law enforcement, supervisors, co-workers, professors, or administrators
  • Being aware of your surroundings & personal items
  • Prevent attacks by avoiding sharing drinks, watching for tampering, and not drinking anything that tastes funny

Truly working to prevent assault would mean a concrete commitment to justice for those who were attacked, finding the perpetrator(s), and actively working to dismantle rape culture. These slides–like the video–hold victims and onlookers accountable for assault and leave perpetrators completely out of the picture.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the forum was the reaction of others in attendance. During the Q&A, one person remarked that “The person writing the article about these assaults is creating a circus. We don’t even know these allegations are true.” After the forum was over, other attendees high-fived her. Hostile comments like these discredit and disparage those who are speaking out. In response, another person in attendance at the forum remarked afterward that “it is disconcerting to see a woman doubt and dismiss another woman’s experience of being drugged, particularly given the fact that these attacks are usually gender-based.”

In response to these troubling dynamics, law professor Paula Johnson drew attention to the forum’s focus on victims and re-focused the room on the need to target perpetrators: “I wonder, what would the difference be had the presentation begun with a focus on what was wrongful behavior and whatever its variation–opposite gender, same gender.” A representative from Vera House also encouraged those present to focus on prevention; several attendees followed up by stating that we need to “create the expectation in society that drugging people against their will is absolutely unacceptable” and to take these criminal acts seriously, treating them “with open hostility [and] shame.” While these comments helped to reframe the forum, the law school, DPS, and students need to take responsibility for reproducing the rhetoric of victim-blaming.

What Should the SU Campus Community Know?

  1. DPS may do investigations of incidents like this, but criminal investigations are ultimately done by local police departments.
  2. There is 24 hour help available through Vera House and the Counseling Center (including people to escort you to the hospital).
  3. Crouse Hospital does not test for date-rape drugs. However, a rape kit does include this test. The Vera House representative at the law school forum clarified that if you wish, you can ask for only the drug test portion of the rape kit (and will not be required to do a physical exam). Some date-rape drugs leave the system quickly, so get tested as soon as you can.
  4. If you have a drug test done at the Counseling Center, it is for your information only and cannot be used in criminal proceedings. If you get a test done at the hospital, then it can be used in criminal proceedings. At the law school forum, the Vera House representative also clarified that you can get this test done before you decide whether you want to file a report with DPS or the police.
  5. Ending assault necessitates a culture change. Join those speaking up in support of victims, against those who would victim-blame, and for services and investigations that support victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.

We call on law school Dean Hannah Arterian to issue a statement to SU College of Law expressing concern about the four students who were drugged and pledging to commit to a thorough investigation, ensuring that the SU campus community will be a safe place for everyone.

Please support SU Law Students and hold the law school accountable by signing the #WakeUpSULaw petition. If you are an SU alumni, the parent of an SU student, or a concerned community member, call the Dean’s Office (315-443-2524) to voice your concern.

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Next Meeting of THE General Body

THE General Body would like to thank everyone for attending the Teach in to Act Out event this past weekend, and a special thank you to our incredible speakers, performers, and moderators! We felt very encouraged by the dialogue that took place and feel more prepared than ever to move into phase two of THE General Body.

Our next meeting will be Thursday, February 5 at 8:30 p.m. in Hall of Languages room 202. All are welcome, both TGB members old and new, or anyone just interested in learning more.

We hope to see you there! Contact THEgeneralbody@gmail.com with any questions.

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