ASWU discusses and votes on trans solidarity bills and press secretary amendment
Disclaimer: Two ASWU senators, Inéz Nieves and Clara Nithiaparan, are also writers for The Collegian.
Kathleen Forrest Editor-in-Chief
The Nov. 18 senate meeting of the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) was highly attended by members of the student body, many attending due to legislation in support of transgender students, including a statement that had failed the [previous week]. The ASWU Statement on Transgender Awareness Week failed again, but the Resolution for Trans Solidarity Action passed. The Amendment to create a [Press Secretary position] on ASWU’s executive board also passed. Updates to finance precedents were tabled at Treasurer Michael Burke’s (‘23) request. A statement on inclusion was also tabled for the following week. The Statement on Transgender Awareness Week can be viewed [here], and the Resolution for Trans Solidarity Action can be viewed [here].
The meeting was called to order at 7:07 p.m. by ASWU Vice President Angel Park (‘22) who read a brief statement regarding rules for the meeting. Park stated that due to the [overwhelming attendance] at the Oct. 21 meeting, they were going to be strict about room capacity, with students free to switch spots as long as they provided their name at the door for contact tracing. Public comment was going to be kept between 45 minutes to an hour max with two minutes of speaking time for each recognition. Park made it clear no hate speech, harassment or bad behavior would be allowed, saying it was her job to keep decorum so work could get done. While there were various points in which the crowd pressed against these points, Park did ultimately maintain these rules.
The meeting proceeded with roll call and the approval of the agenda. All senators were present, with Remy Gottschling (‘24) serving as a proxy for Senator Ainsley Moench (‘24). Senator Colby Alexander (‘24) moved to move a series of bills up the agenda, to come directly after public comment, including: the Resolution for Trans Solidarity Action, the ASWU Statement on Transgender Awareness Week, and the Equity and Transparency bill. Alexander was informed that the Equity and Transparency bill had been tabled until the week after break, but all other items were approved to move up on the agenda.
The ASWU Statement on Transgender Awareness Week had been voted on in a [previous meeting], but was reintroduced along with the Resolution for Trans Solidarity Action. While a statement requires unanimous support, a resolution does not. Much of the discussion focused on the events of the previous meeting, with discussion of the statement and the resolution being very much intermingled.
The floor was then opened for public comment. Gus Gunter (‘23) spoke first, saying his attendance was due to concern for what was happening in ASWU and that recent proceedings have shown disregard to concerns of importance to the student body. Gunter then raised larger concerns regarding ASWUs approval and thus their efficacy as a student government. "ASWU is a deeply unpopular organization anyway... if we did approval ratings I think they would be in the toilet," said Gunter. Zeke Druker (‘24), a [former ASWU senator], spoke as a trans student on campus and said that, "transphobia has invaded our campus”. They called on the senate to defend trans rights on campus, especially in light of what they perceived as the university administration failing to do so. Billie Henderson, another trans student said that the statement not passing was 'disgusting' to them, and addressed the four senators who voted against the statement, saying, "your transphobia will be exposed, and everyone will know how bigoted you are for your actions.” Sally Wooster (‘24) shared her disappointment with the statement's failure to pass saying, "I don't expect too much from our administration, but I expect a whole lot more from our students." She cited her experience working in the Office of Admissions, saying that she often advertises the student culture, but now feels doubtful about how good it truly is.
Other students spoke throughout public comment, many identifying themselves with their first name or not at all. The common threads were a tension between whether or not it was ‘just a statement’ and therefore bureaucratically frustrating that it could not pass, versus it being ‘much more than a statement’ and the failure to pass being emblematic of greater transphobic issues on campus and in the world. Students speaking for the public in this section, as well as when time was yielded to them during other discussion, raised the notion multiple times that the job of senators was to represent the students, not to vote their own conscience. There was also confusion expressed by multiple parties as to the reasoning behind voting against the statement.
Discussion for the Resolution for Trans Solidarity was opened, with Senator Inéz Nieves (’24) speaking first. They cited their experience as a trans person and their frustration but said they were “here, queer and not going anywhere” regardless of ASWU not passing “a single goddamn statement about transphobia.” Nieves called upon the senators to “prove to everyone in this room that you stand by the trans students on campus, by me” but said that regardless of how others voted “I’m going to be at this meeting every week and you’re going to hear my voice at every single meeting.”
Senator Moench's proxy read a prepared statement from Moench, citing the conception that it was 'just a statement' and saying that it has been 'fixed' to have real impact. They also emphasized that implementation was not ASWU's concern, but the university administration's instead. Alexander gave a brief overview of the summary, saying that it contained a list of demands that ASWU President Giovanni Bautista (‘22) would deliver to the university administration, and would create a Trans Advocacy Committee. Senator Athena Marvitz (‘22) spoke, "I'm not trans but that shouldn't matter," and said that students have an obligation to take care of each other. "I hope that these actions can provide some of that support," said Marvitz. Senator Clara Nithiaparan (‘22) spoke, citing her experience witnessing transphobia and 'lack of human respect' in her home country of Sri Lanka, as well as her time studying abroad in Japan. Nithiaparan drew it into the larger, global context of social movements through social media. "This will make a huge difference... in achieving human rights."
Senator Hannah Purdy (‘24), one of the senators who had voted no on the previous statement, explained that she had done so due to the tone of the statement. "I read this as also sending a very disrespectful tone to the admin and I cannot sign my name to it," she said, and raised concerns about the potential impact on working with the university in the future.
Senator Moench's proxy responded claiming that, "the administration does not care about having a diplomatic relationship with ASWU" and raised concerns that "tone policing" was impacting already marginalized students. These sentiments were echoed by several other senators throughout the discussion.
Senator Purdy, Senator Kaleb Raever (‘23) and Senator Englert, spoke in order, saying that they had tried to make suggestions and edits to the statement that would have led to them voting in favor of it, but they were rejected. “Compromise in many cases was not tolerated,” said Raever, adding that while he condemns transphobia and “all forms of bullying and harassment” he did not want to put his name to the statement. Later, Purdy added that the changes weren’t to lessen the demands but to “clarify the meaning” and give “an end goal or objective.”
Senator Nieves spoke, specifically taking issue with the discourse regarding the tone of the proposed statement, saying “I’m not going to take a kind tone on whether or not trans students will be respected… I’m not getting on my knees and begging, I’m demanding it.” Nieves said that the wording and demands of the statement came from multiple ‘trans stakeholders on campus’ from organizations to individual students, and was thus a well informed statement. Nieves also addressed the proposed edits made on the statement by the four opposed senators saying, “Multiple of those comments were plain petty… many of those comments were just blatantly transphobic.”
Senator Moench's proxy relayed that they had adopted all changes that did not fundamentally change the meaning of the bill, and reiterated that "the resolution was built off of specific student demands" from trans students, and said that the wording suggestions would have "taken all the specifics about trans students on campus away." Senator Englert said that, "many of our edits were not changing the wording," and added, "I would hope that we wouldn't be resorting to saying things that are not true about our peers.
There was some more back and forth regarding the specific wording and whether or not the edits were made in good faith or if they were substantive.
Discussion was eventually closed and the vote progressed, the resolution passed with 10 ayes, and four nays. Resolutions require a majority to pass.
Discussion on the ASWU Statement on Transgender Awareness Week was opened, with Senator Mantle speaking first. She addressed the four senators who had previously voted against the statement, and expressed she felt empathy towards them when it comes to being a political minority and feeling ostracized as a result. However, she said that empathy stopped when they did not pass the statement. Mantle reiterated the point that their job was to represent their constituents and their identities. Mantle also raised a point of previous contention surrounding the four senators' affiliation with College Republicans and the recent speaker who led to their disaffiliation from the university. She said that they should not allow disagreements over word choice to result in the statement failing, and called upon them to step up for their community. “I consider some of you friends and I hope that we’ll still be friends outside of this,” said Mantle.
Senator Englert spoke, saying that the statement had the ‘same problems’ it did last session when it was voted down.
Senator Nieves spoke next, with a sentiment that much of the room seemed to share, saying, “I’m tired. I’m tired of being angry. I’m tired of this meeting.” The issue of word choice was revisited with Nieves saying simply, “Cut the pedantic bullshit.” Nieves closed asking the four senators to compromise with the other senators and with the larger student body.
Discussion was eventually closed, and the vote progressed, with 10 ayes, 3 nays, and one abstention. Since a statement requires unanimous consent the vote failed. Following this, much of the public that had come for the meeting left with murmurs of disappointment and discontent.
A five minute recess was called at 8:20 p.m., and the meeting eventually returned at 8:27 p.m. due to one member of ASWU going to get a cookie.
The meeting proceeded with officer reports, starting with President Bautista said he wanted to thank the public for coming out although “it looks like most of the public has left.” Bautista said that he had met with his counterpart at PNCA, looking into ways to transfer students from the Salem campus to the PNCA campus to more easily take classes between the two. He also said that they had discussed possible Earth Day programming with PNCA and the Willamette Events Board, and the ongoing search for a new dean of students at PNCA being narrowed to 14 candidates.
Treasurer Burke went next, talking about the resolution regarding updated funding precedents, asking the senate to table it for the next meeting to give people time to review and comment, and him time to collect feedback and finish some things on it. Park’s report centered around asking the senators to fill out a ‘reflection document’ to give feedback on their experience in ASWU. Chief Justice Alexander Knorr (‘22) was out sick so the judicial report was given by Justice Jack Randall (‘23). He said that multiple justices have been sick and they were just starting to get back to ‘full capacity’.
During Senate reports, Marvitz also thanked the public for their attendance before providing updates on the planning of the senior event. Marvitz had previously told the senate she was attempting to send out a survey regarding preferences for the senior event which was being reviewed. Marvitz now reported that the survey request had been denied, but was assured there will be time to get feedback from the senior class. Nieves then thanked the senators who voted for the resolution and statement before addressing the administration staff who were in the crowd. Nieves thanked them for coming before asking for more engagement: “I want there to be real dialogue here. I don’t want to make a statement or or put up flyers just to get your attention. We want to have a relationship with you. We don’t want to have to demand everytime we need something.”
The senate moved to discuss the amendment to create a [Press Secretary] position with tired “ayes.” Senator Alexander, the author of the amendment, went over the changes he had made since the discussion during the [previous meeting] to address the concerns that other senators brought up. The changes included defining press conferences, making it clear other members of ASWU must remain reachable to the student body and stating that the Press Secretary would work with the other executive officers to ensure ASWU would be accessible. Senator Englert brought up concerns about it being a weekly newsletter the Press Secretary would send out, saying he heard talk of changing it to biweekly. Alexander proposed changing it to read “fortnightly” instead of biweekly, saying it is less open to interpretation. The amendment was changed to require a Press Secretary to send out a fortnightly newsletter, along with some minor language fixes. Senator Nieves raised concerns about the press conferences being accessible, inquiring who the accessibility contact would be. After some back and forth it was decided that the Press Secretary, with support from ASWU’s executive team, with some potential for an accessibility expert being added later. The amendment was eventually passed with a unanimous vote, although it will now have to go to the student body as a referendum in order to be adopted since it is a change to ASWU’s constitution.
‘New Business’ included the Finance Precedent and the ASWU Statement on Inclusion, both of which were tabled for the meeting after break. The Finance Precedent did get discussed despite the actual vote being moved to the next meeting. A few senators spoke, thanking Treasurer Burke for his work on it and expressing that they were pleased with the precedents. Burke said that he would send the updated precedents out to club leaders for feedback.
The final piece of the meeting was ‘For the Good of the Order’. Senator Nieves went first, wishing their fellow students a good fall break and offering up birthday cake from their birthday on Tuesday, “including those who voted no.” Nieves also thanked Andrea Hugmeyer for her work on Trans Awareness Week. Moench’s proxy read a statement from the senator apologizing for missing the meeting citing a cold as the cause. She thanked Gottschling for proxying for her, and extended her apologies and sympathies to her trans peers for what they’ve experienced, but thanked all that showed up to the meeting. Senator Nieves spoke again, saying that Trans Awareness Week is primarily about education, and directed people to resources at the Gender Resource and Advocacy Center, saying that all are welcome to ask questions. Senator Alexander spoke next, thanking the public and expressing disappointment for the statement not passing, but saying they were glad for the other resolution and press secretary amendment passing. Senator Mantle spoke last, acknowledging the difficult and emotionally taxing discussions and calling upon everyone to take care of themselves. The meeting adjourned shortly after 9:10 p.m.