Letter to the Editor: ASWU, A Plea for Help
Submitted by Colby Alexander
Current ASWU Justice, former ASWU senator
This is not exactly a letter to the editor, rather it is a letter to the Willamette student body at large.
I’ve been cognizant of ASWU having major problems for almost as long as I’ve been at this school. My first semester at Willamette I almost ran for ASWU Senate, but I was disorganized, concerned about COVID, and generally nervous to be in a new place, so I missed the deadline to run. I went a whole semester hearing through the grapevine about conflicts that happened in ASWU. All the while, I didn’t really know what exactly ASWU existed to accomplish.
In spring semester last year, I started playing catch up. I desperately wanted to be more involved on campus in general. I ran in the ASWU Senate special election. I lost fair and square. My opponent at the time had a better platform, and being an incumbent had an impressive track record. I, On the other hand, had no solid policy platform to run on because I was utterly clueless as to what ASWU could do. I began trying to follow more closely to what ASWU did, I proxied a couple meetings, and ultimately got appointed to serve the remainder of the semester. When I ran in the regular senate election that spring, I did manage to win a seat. This was in no small part because there were four seats and four people running. The night I learned that I would become a senator I began strongly contemplating what the problem with ASWU was and how to fix it.
The conclusion I came to was that ASWU was failing to communicate well enough with the student body. I brainstormed ideas of how to fix that, and that was when the idea of the ASWU Press Secretary came to me. I spent summer break drafting the Press Secretary Amendment, and then spent the fall trying to get it passed. I was prepared to present the amendment at the first senate meeting of the semester, but circumstances arose such that it was stalled, and then needed to be changed before passing. What did end up passing was not too far off from my initial vision of it from last summer, however at this point in time I am less confident that it will be able to solve the problems ASWU is facing.
This brings us to today. I am not going to go into detail explaining what the current drama in ASWU is, as Justice Mantle already did a great job explaining it in her letter. I also do not intend to refute that letter. My hope is to build off of it and provide my insight toward solutions.
As someone who’s transitioned from being blissfully unaware about the proceedings in ASWU to being deeply involved, I have had a lot of different perspectives on ASWU, and I have heard from a myriad of people who have had more differing perspectives on ASWU. Ultimately, I think it’s safe to say that no one is happy with what ASWU has done. For one reason or another everyone has either been burned by ASWU or is completely apathetic to it.
But why is this the case? A student government is such a mutable thing. Every year it consists of nearly completely different people, with completely different aspirations and goals. So why does shared animosity toward this organization persist semester after semester, year after year? I cannot answer this concretely. It seems though that there is a trend of people disliking ASWU, and thereby not wanting to get involved with ASWU. This leads to only the (for lack of a better word) loudest people wanting to get involved with ASWU. It consists mostly of people who aren’t afraid to create controversy, or at the very least aren’t afraid to deal with it. ASWU should be a democracy, but in practice it has become a strange variation of an oligarchy. When I tell people that there is an open senate seat in their class the most common response I get is, “I don’t want to get involved in all that drama.” Which is a very fair reason to not want to get involved. I do not want this to be the case, though. I don’t want the student government to be viewed as a pit of toxicity and drama. I want ASWU to be better.
I believe that there are people at Willamette who share my sentiment. This is a campus of activists, artists, and generally some of the most passionate people I have met in my life. This is a school of people who want things to be better. That being said, here is my call to action to the student body. To everyone who dislikes what ASWU is currently doing, you have the power to change it. What ASWU does is completely contingent upon who is in ASWU. At the time of writing this, every class has at least one open seat, that seat is your opportunity to make ASWU better. If you get involved, and bring new perspectives, you will be astounded by the capacity you will have to do good. If you dislike what current senators are doing, then run against them and vote them out. ASWU will function best when elections are competitive, and when there is a wide variety of voices involved. This is a plea for your help.
Colby S. Alexander, ASWU Justice