Anti-racism training, action plan now required of all student organizations
Updated: Oct 25, 2021
Correction run Oct. 11, Oct. 12 further clarifying a quote, the bill and ASWU bylaws.
The Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) passed an anti-racism bill for its affiliated student organizations on Oct. 1. The bill states that “anti-racism must be a core effort of every organization,” and requires affiliated organizations to attend an ASWU-organized training and submit an action plan on the issue annually. The bill will go into effect immediately.
ASWU President Claire Mathews-Lingen said the inspiration for the anti-racism action plan came from Willamette’s public checklist for creating accessible and inclusive meetings, classrooms and events. She said: “What we're going for is something like that. But we will try to create some sort of like guidance around, like what they can look like… I don't want to say it’ll be a template because we want clubs to do what makes sense for them.”
Each anti-racism training will be led by people from outside Willamette. Three students per organization are required to attend. Make-up sessions will be provided to students who are absent for “religious conflicts, emergency events, or other extenuating circumstances.” While ASWU’s current plan is to hold one training per year, this number may later be increased.
This year’s training, scheduled for Oct. 25, will be led by Jen Fry and Victoria Farris. Both Farris and Fry run businesses that consult with organizations on the topic of anti-racism. Mathews-Lingen said: “There were three other students and not all of us identify as white working on selecting these speakers, we all met with Victoria and Jen, and really liked their approach… They often work together. One of them identifies as white and the other identifies as black. So they kind of do an approach where they're both able to talk to students of different backgrounds in a pretty meaningful way.”
The bill and action plan guidelines will be sent over email to club leaders. There will also be further conversation about the bill at the anti-racism training on Oct. 25.
A second bill was passed simultaneously with the first, which created a “Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion,” not affiliated with the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). It will be formed entirely of students, not limited to members of ASWU. It currently has no members, but all empty seats will be filled this semester. This committee is responsible for coordinating and organizing future trainings, as well as reviewing and approving submitted organization anti-racism plans. It is also responsible for ensuring compliance with the bill.
If the committee finds an organization out of compliance with the bill, or failing to meet the goals established by its anti-racism plan, the following steps will be taken in escalating order: committee review of the organization, suspension of its officers and disaffiliation from ASWU. Any organization can choose not to consent to the above steps. However, ASWU reserves the power to disaffiliate any organization by a vote in the Senate. One effect of disaffiliation is loss of ASWU funding. Committee reviews vary in frequency and scope, but are designed to be two-way channels of communication between organization leadership and the committee.
“We don't really want a punitive bill,” ASWU Senator Zeke Druker (‘24), the author of the bill, said. “We want a bill that will help the students that are being affected by these issues… The idea is that it's a peer council. It's all students that are all expressing their concerns through a hopefully restorative process. It isn't to make people's lives harder, it's to facilitate dialogue and it's to make sure that these really serious concerns are being addressed.”
Mathews-Lingen added: “It's important to note that we [ASWU], in implementing this, we know that clubs, that many clubs have already taken the stuff on for themselves. We don't want to diminish the work that has already happened in so many organizations on campus… We are not in any means the first and we're not in any means the best at doing this, but we just see ASWU has an opportunity to kind of enforce and hold accountable clubs in a different way because of our structure.”
While the committee will be formed this semester, the formal process for selecting committee members won’t be put into place until next semester.
“We're hoping that it [the selection process] will be part of the class caucus rolls in ASWU, but that requires restructuring of the ASWU structure, which means that there needs to be a vote by the student body. So that can't happen until next semester when we hold elections,” Mathews-Lingen said.
Until ASWU restructuring happens, the committee will be made up by ASWU senator volunteers and ASWU-invited members of the student body at large. ASWU has invited student employees of the EDI office, among other students that have demonstrated interest in anti-racism work. Mathews-Lingen plans to talk to both Gordy Toyama, director of multicultural affairs, and Karen Wood, interim EDI vice president, for further ideas.
“For student leaders who are interested in being involved with this committee or looking at the proceedings, or if you just want to be involved with this new project that's essentially being started now, it'd be great to reach out to anyone in ASWU,” Druker said.
Mathews-Lingen was elected ASWU president this past spring, and she said she knew from the start that anti-racism work was something she wanted to focus on: “That [focus] comes from broad university conversations that have happened before, also the legacy of the last two students who held this role were women of color. I didn't want to let that conversation that they really pushed for drop in me taking on this role. A lot of this was also then propelled with more energy, I think in June with the uprisings across the country and kind of seeing Willamette students' response to that and the goal setting for the university that happened from that.”
Due to ASWU bylaws, Mathews-Lingen could not introduce the bill to the Senate herself. After discussing the basic idea with Lisa Landreman, vice president of student affairs, she presented the idea to ASWU and Druker volunteered to write it.
Druker worked on the bill with Chief Justice Sam Johnston, other class of 2024 senators and Mathews-Lingen. “There were a lot of different conversations that took place about [the bill]... We ultimately just decided that as much of this as possible should be left to this committee that will hopefully have a strong diversity of voices that aren't necessarily in the Senate,” Druker said.
Mathews-Lingen said that there is more ASWU anti-racism work to come: “I want to be clear that in implementing this bill in putting these things forward, we are not saying that we have it all done and we are beyond this work—we are trying to set up a system that gets everyone in it and makes us hold ourselves accountable, because we know that ASWU has a lot to reckon with and needs to do better in anti-racism work.”
ASWU will be attending all anti-racism trainings as a student organization. After attending this year’s training, they plan to create a list of action items for improvement. The ASWU restructuring taking place next semester will not only establish the committee selection process, but also create “a better representative structure,” Mathews-Lingen said.
“I think it's necessary and important for us to take on this work at all levels,” Mathews-Lingen said. “This isn't just work that can live in the EDI office, it needs to exist in every single club and organization across campus in its own way.”