ASWU's new exec: Paving the way for a peaceful and efficient year
Many Willamette students have a very negative view of the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU), Willamette’s student government and the main funding body for student activities and organizations. This is largely caused by issues and conflicts that ASWU experienced in recent years, including major disagreements between members, mass resignations and removals, and calls for ASWU’s former president to resign in the spring of 2023 within a week of taking office following his predecessor's mid semester resignation.
As last year’s executive members of ASWU have either graduated or decided not to run for reelection, new members have been sworn in to serve for the 2023-2024 school year. These members include President Mira Karthik (‘24), Vice President Chris Olivia (‘24), Treasurer Milo Greenberg (‘24) and Press Secretary Sophia Bergstrom (‘26).
Karthik, a write-in candidate elected as president in the spring, stated that she accepted the position because she believed she could “hold the role in a meaningful way and also be someone that genuinely represents the students at the school.” Karthik’s experience in ASWU was serving a semester and a half as a senator during her first year, which was deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. “ASWU was extremely dysfunctional. When I was holding that position, it was really hard for me to want to stay on,” she stated. After deciding not to run for reelection, Karthik got involved in other leadership opportunities, most notably serving as chair of the Community Action Fund for Equity and Sustainability (CAFES) for a year and a half, as well as a Resident Advisor.
Chris Olivia was elected as vice president in the spring. He stated that he decided to run, encouraged by Karthik, during a moment of conflict and inefficiency in the last months of the school year. He has no previous experience in ASWU and had never considered running for elected office until now. He shared that he ran to gain valuable leadership experience and because he shares values and goals with the rest of the executive team.
Along with them is Milo Greenberg, the new treasurer of ASWU. His previous experience includes serving as treasurer of the Jewish Student Union for a year and a half. Like Karthik, he was elected as a write-in candidate, and he stated that he accepted his position to “help improve campus and make this a positive environment for all students,” as well as to work with a team of very helpful professionals.
The new executive team agrees that restoring trust in student government is key to successful functioning, which requires honesty and transparency from ASWU and its members. Olivia stated that ASWU will attempt to be more open to the public by hosting events for students to meet their members of ASWU, holding office hours in the Bistro and arranging meetings with students to hear their concerns.
“ASWU is reflecting fear and other very real emotions,” Karthik explained. “Our executive team is working very diligently and intentionally to try to address a lot of the roots of mistrust that students have when it comes to ASWU.” She also shared the importance of making meaningful changes that will benefit future generations of students, not only those who are currently enrolled.
An important issue that ASWU has faced for years is the inability to fill senate seats and have competitive elections. Currently, there is one vacant seat for the class of 2024 and two for the class of 2025, though this is already a significant improvement from last year. In the 2022-2023 school year all senate elections were uncontested, and this year only the election to represent the class of 2027 was competitive.
Karthik stated that a priority for filling senate seats is fixing ASWU’s root problems and making it a productive space so that students gain interest in becoming and remaining part of the team throughout their time at Willamette. One example of this is eliminating Robert’s Rules of Order, which, according to Karthik, are a “barrier of access for students [who] don't have the time or capacity to learn how to operate them.” Olivia will also work to reach out and inform students on the workings of ASWU in order to incentivize them to get involved in the senate. Karthik, Olivia, and Greenberg seem optimistic about filling senate seats and increasing efficiency and democratic decision making in ASWU this year.
Another problem that ASWU has experienced recently is funding inefficiency and a low budget. Greenberg stated that one important solution is getting “more members of the senate involved in how we spend our money.” In previous years most members of the senate didn’t make budget decisions or receive information on how ASWU spent its money, as this was largely the responsibility of the treasurer and members of the ASWU Finance Board.
Karthik, Olivia and Greenberg have also shared their hopes for new campus improvement projects, which are initiatives funded by ASWU and organized by senators that benefit students and promote accessibility, equality, sustainability and community service. “By the end of the semester, senators are expected to have a tangible idea and or project available and delivered,” Karthik mentioned. Students are encouraged to get in contact with their senators to suggest new initiatives.
Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Engagement and Leadership Lisa Holliday serves as ASWU’s advisor alongside Coordinator of Student Engagement Quinn Nottage. Holliday’s responsibilities as an advisor include meeting with and supporting executive officers, training members, and providing guidance on university policy and the history of ASWU, among others. Holliday explained that the student body recently passed a new referendum with constitutional amendments that bring important changes to how ASWU is structured and operated. “The main change was the removal of the chief justice position and instead having the role of a parliamentarian,” she stated. Other constitutional changes include new rules on write-in candidates, runoff elections and the inability to amend GPA requirements to hold ASWU office.
Students remain hopeful yet vigilant as the new executive team starts carrying out new changes and passing student legislation. As the year advances new bills will be enacted and new campus improvement projects will be introduced. It is left to time to decide whether issues will be resolved, and whether this school year will see the efficient and peaceful ASWU that the new executive members and the student body hope for.