It’s been nearly a year since the Augustana Student Association (ASA) passed an amendment restricting ASA-approved organizations from sending mass emails to students, and ASA President Cole Tessendorf wants to make adjustments after seeing its impact.
“I think it’s really important to see when something is passed, instead of just changing it right away, to wait a semester and see how it is over time,” said Tessendorf.
And as he has observed the effects on students and organizations, Tessendorf noticed some gray areas that he’d like to clear up.
Tessendorf said that the amendment was not intended to include “all organizations” but rather those that are run by ASA or “ASA-approved.”
“So far, especially with an online semester, I think the overall concept of it is good, but I think there needs to be clarifications,” Tessendorf said. “I was just looking at the language, and it just says ‘all organizations’ and in another part of our constitution it says ‘ASA-approved student organizations.’”
Looking to January, Tessendorf said ASA will create task forces to look closer at issues like the email amendment.
“We’ll probably be meeting with [groups] like The Mirror and Viking Days just to clear up some inconsistencies and also hear from clubs about how they had issues emailing,” said Tessendorf.
History of the amendment
According to reporting by The Augustana Mirror, the amendment was proposed by ASA senator John Walker as he said it was a way to ensure student privacy.
During this time organizations such as Turning Point USA at Augustana University used mass emails as a way to promote club events and activities.
“Those who were in support of it felt that they didn’t sign up for that, so they didn’t feel that it was appropriate for that to show up in their in boxes,” said Tessendorf.
Tessendorf, a senator at the time, opposed the amendment as he found it a violation of free speech.
“On the other side, I’d rather get information than no information,” Tessendorf said.
Private institutions like Augustana have authority over restricting access to emails.
Blackburn previously told The Mirror that students who bypass emailing through Augustana Amail and Viking Central are breaking the Student Code of Conduct.
The code of conduct states that the university directory information is meant for internal use and not for commercial purposes.
The amendment to ASA’s by-laws passed 21-to-8 on Nov. 21, 2019. Clubs that decide to break the amendment risk a 15% reduction of the organization’s budget.
“What’s to note is we don’t penalize them unless a student complains,” said Tessendorf.
Ways in which clubs go about emailing now must be done with student consent and offer an unsubscribe option with each email.
Impact on the Viking Days Committee
Since the amendment passed, student organizations have had to adapt to the new restrictions.
In order to effectively promote Viking Days events to students, co-chairs of Viking Days public relations Anna Rose and Isabelle McElyea said they had to work with administration to bypass the amendment and be allowed to send mass emails.
“We knew that we could not send mass emails,” Rose said, “[but] we wanted some type of communication with the students.”
According to Rose, this process started this past summer when she and McElyea reached out to Dean of Students Mark Blackburn. After he allowed Viking Days to send out emails, the two went to Nancy Davidson, director of Advancement Operations, to work out the logistics.
Rose said that, while they had to overcome barriers, she still thought that the amendment was beneficial.
“Ultimately, [the amendment] is looking out for the student body,” Rose said. “However, it limits us to students who already know about our organization.”
McElyea said that as a student, she believed the amendment was justifiable. She also recognized the conflict that many students felt when the amendment was introduced.
“It’s hard to have that balance between having email communication with your members [and] blasting the entire student body with stuff that they don’t want,” McElyea said.
Impact on ASA Election Campaigns
While some organizations have successfully worked through the restrictions of the email amendment, other groups have faced backlash for their efforts.
During the Spring 2020 ASA elections, candidates sent out mass emails to students promoting their campaigns. Many students found these emails hypocritical, as some of the candidates initially supported the amendment in restricting the ability for organizations to send mass emails.
According to senior Hailey Nold, who ran for ASA President in the spring elections, the previous ASA administration specifically allowed candidates to send out mass emails. The justification came from specifics in the ASA constitution.
“ASA technically doesn’t apply because technically everyone is in ASA,” Tessendorf said.
The amendment says organizations can only send emails to members of the group, as well as those who have signed up to be on an organization’s mailing list. The ASA constitution states, “all enrolled students at Augustana University, full- and part-time, shall be members of the ASA.”
Nold said that candidates were permitted to send out mass emails as part of the student body because of that. However, she also noted that the confusion among students was justified.
“I believe that ASA should be held to the same standards as other student organizations,” Nold said.
Contacting the Community With the Amendment
“I’ve heard both positive and constructive feedback,” Blackburn said. “I think now with the amendment passing, folks are trying to figure out how best to connect with their peers.”
Blackburn says that the best way to do that is through Amail. To ease the transition into having more content in Amail, it has been split into two separate emails during the week as well as being made more concise.
“With the protocol we have in place, it’s on the student organizations to [get into Amail],” Blackburn said.
One of the concerns was that it would be a barrier for organizations to get engagement, according to Blackburn.
Opting in on Viking Central, signing up at an event and swiping a student ID card at an event are all ways to get onto an organization’s emailing list.
Aside from Amail and Viking Central, there is still social media and the timeless option of publicity posters.
Blackburn encouraged organizations to find other innovative ways to promote engagement since Augustana benefits from having an on-campus community as opposed to a remote one.