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ASWU funds closed Affinity Club events, Senate debates bill on antiracism plans

Chrissy Ewald

Staff Writer

The Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) passed an emergency measure to fund the closed events of cultural and religious clubs and debated two bills involving anti-racism plans and Senate questioning of university nominees. At the start of the Oct. 14 meeting, the Senate heard from Director of Bishop Wellness Center Don Thomson as a guest speaker before approving a Pro Temp and swearing in a new senator for the class of ‘23.

ASWU passed an emergency change to club funding precedent to allow religious and multicultural clubs to receive ASWU funding for food/items at closed events. The amendment specifies that “closed” means a multicultural or religious event “only open to any individual who identifies with the cultural/religious group that the club represents.” ASWU Treasurer Michael Burke (‘23) clarified that individuals do not need to be members of the club to attend these events. Funding requests for food/items at closed events are capped at $100 per semester per club, and are subject to approval by the ASWU finance committee. The change in funding precedent also removed a precedent that ASWU does not fund “any Greek events.”

Senator Kasey Englert (‘23) questioned the equity of making an exception only for certain kinds of clubs. Senator Athena Marvitz (‘22) said that supporting cultural and religious clubs that serve marginalized communities is “especially equitable,” because it combats historical wrongs against those communities. Senator Ainsley Moench (‘24) concurred, saying that “equity is not the same as equality.” The bill passed with Englert and Senator Kaleb Raever (‘23) abstaining. Moench criticized those abstaining for improper use of a mechanism meant for use in conflict-of-interest cases, which ASWU Treasurer Michael Burke (‘23) elaborated are cases like voting on your own nomination for a position, not cases where you are involved with or have strong opinions on an issue.

Senators debated two bills proposed by Senator Inéz Nieves (‘24), which will be put up for vote next week. Nieves is also an Opinions writer for the Collegian. The first bill amends the role of ASWU’s committee for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) to add the responsibility of writing criteria for evaluating student organizations’ required anti-racism plans and revising, updating and publishing that criteria annually.

Englert proposed to amend the bill to require that the EDI committee notify clubs when changes are made to the criteria. Nieves moved to amend the bill, which Marvitz seconded. Senators, and Director of Student Engagement and Leadership Lisa Holliday, discussed an appropriate timeline for evaluating compliance with the criteria. Holliday stressed the importance of preventing this from becoming an obstacle for clubs to get funding. Burke suggested the EDI committee could evaluate compliance before spring and fall pre-funding rounds, which is when the most money is awarded to student organizations. Spring pre-funding is for the following fall semester, and fall pre-funding is for the following spring semester. He suggested editing the bill outside the Senate session. Nieves said they will implement the changes suggested and urged other Senators to reach out to them to give recommendations or amendments to the bill.

The second bill would require students appointed to university committees by the ASWU president to attend an interview before the Senate prior to being put to the existing two-thirds approval vote. Nieves said they proposed this because of how important committees are to students’ college experience and ability to access resources, and they want the ASWU Senate to professionally and seriously assess whether candidates are qualified.

Englert wondered whether the interview would be a disincentive to students who are interested in serving on a committee. Marvitz said she thinks the existing apparatuses to approval are sufficient. Nieves responded that they want the approval process to be more professional and that anyone willing to dedicate time to a committee could make time to come before the Senate. The bill would allow nominees to miss the interview in cases of religious, medical, or other critical or extenuating circumstances. Senator Hollis Mantel (‘25) questioned whether a “debate” is the best way to vet and build relationships with committee appointees. “I fear it could scare away qualified candidates that don’t want to appear in front of the Senate and don’t necessarily want to put themselves up for debate,” she said. She proposed that committee heads might have to attend one or two ASWU meetings a year, or give a committee report once a semester. Senator Eliza Gonzalez (‘25) agreed with the committee report idea. Given existing review structures for appointees, ASWU President Giovanni Bautista (‘22) opposed adding a barrier to approval.

Nieves thanked the Senators for their feedback. “I put it up for debate because I wanted to hear what people have to say… If you have any other suggestions, please reach out to me so we can create an entirely new bill, if that’s what you guys want.” Nieves again urged other senators to reach out to them during this coming week to revise the bill before it is put to a vote next week.

Director of Bishop Wellness Center Don Thomson gave a presentation about Willamette becoming a [JED campus]. He described JED as a “premier college mental health program” that has been implemented at many Ivy League and University of California schools. A Board of Trustee funded the initiative, which Thomson said is Bishop’s top priority this year. The JED program is a four-year process. The work of this first year is to assess the current state of mental health on campus. Thomson said the goal of the program is to effect “meaningful, lasting, systemic change” on campus.

The Senate approved Marvitz as Pro Temp. Kaleb Raever was sworn in as Senator for the class of 2023. Each class announced officer assignments. Marvitz said she is trying to get more Senators for the class of 2022, of which she is currently the only representative. “Please tell your friends I need people to help me,” she said.

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