The Great ASWUsignation: Everyone who left ASWU this year and why
Updated: Apr 9, 2022
ASWU turnovers 2021-2022
Dec. 9 2021: Kasey Englert (‘23) - removed
Dec. 9 2021: Kaleb Raever (‘23) - removed
Dec. 9 2021: Joseph Gomez (‘23) - quit before removal hearing
Jan. 27 2022: Ainsley Moench (‘24) - quit
Jan. 27 2022: Hannah Purdy (‘24) - quit
Jan. 27 2022: Kristell Mares de Juan (‘22) - other commitments
Jan. 27 2022: Jack Randall (‘23) - other commitments
Jan. 27 2022: Clara Nithiaparan (‘22)- didn’t run in special election at semester
March 3 2022: Cameron Cole (‘23) - quit
March 3 2022: Alexander Knorr (‘22) - quit
March 31 2022: Inéz Nieves (‘24) - quit
April 7 2022: Forrest Derr (‘24) - removed
In late March of last year, The Collegian published an [article] about low student engagement and empty seats in ASWU. During the 2020-2021 year, Senators Mira Karthik (‘24), Gretchen Jacobs (‘23) and Cleighton Roberts (‘23) quit mid-year, and Senator Zeke Druker (‘24) was removed for a student conduct violation. Now, a year later, ASWU faces a worse version of the same problem: over the course of the 2021-2022 academic year, three senators have been removed, one senator quit before he could be removed, five other senators have quit and the chief justice also quit. Two justices had to leave due to competing commitments, and an appointed senator did not seek special election to retain her seat.
So where does this leave ASWU’s roster? None of the classes have a full four senators; only six out of sixteen total senate seats are filled, and the number of senators drops off the sooner their graduation year. The freshman class of 2025 has three senators, after Hollis Mantle became a justice at the semester: Brice Hoerauf, Amanda Padgett and Eliza Gonzalez. The sophomore class of 2024 has one senator: Billie Henderson, who has been on the senate for less than a semester. The class of 2023 has one senator, Gus Gunter. The class of 2022 also has one senator, Athena Marvitz.
Last year, then-ASWU President Claire Mathews-Lingen (‘21) said she hoped reducing the number of senate seats from five to four per class, and increasing and clarifying senators’ responsibilities, might increase senators’ engagement in ASWU processes. This year, two out of three of this spring’s executive races were noncompetitive, senators are scrambling to leave the senate for the judicial branch, and the senate is less than half full. Restructuring clearly didn’t increase engagement in the way they had intended.
One way ASWU has succeeded in increasing engagement this year is in attracting more members of the public to meetings. Most meetings have one or two members of the public who speak during public comment, and at one [notable meeting] in October, over 120 students packed into Eaton 209 to give comment for nearly 40 minutes. However, at the next meeting, public attendance was back down to normal.
As with most local governments, most of the people who come to give comment are motivated by outrage or frustration, and come to voice their dissatisfaction with ASWU; for what it is doing, for what it isn’t doing, and for things that have nothing to do with it for which the speakers have no other outlet. It’s hard to tell whether everyone who has given unhappy comments have had their grievances addressed, but several people have come to multiple meetings over the course of the semester to talk about the same issue. Few people in ASWU seem happy with what it is and isn’t doing, either.
So why have nine people quit or been removed from ASWU in one school year, and who are they? Here’s a list, in chronological order. In the final senate meeting of Fall 2021, Kasey Englert (‘23) and Kaleb Raever (‘23) were both [removed] from the senate via a petition organized and signed by members of their class, which cited “repeatedly ignoring the wishes [of] their student constituents, the willful obstruction of equity policy within ASWU sessions, and continued bias against trans students on campus.” Joseph Gomez's (‘23) resignation was announced earlier that meeting, citing overwhelming negative feelings from participation in ASWU and describing ASWU as “in its twilight.” Gomez's letter also said he had been thinking of leaving ASWU for weeks. Gomez was included in the recall petition from his class, but his resignation meant he did not have to have a removal hearing or vote. Gomez, Englert, fellow senator Hannah Purdy (‘24) and then-Chief Justice Alexander Knorr (‘22) were all club officers of Willamette’s College Republicans.
Over winter break, Ainsley Moench (‘24) and Purdy quit ASWU. Moench was taking on a new opportunity elsewhere and felt she could no longer perform her role in ASWU fully. Purdy cited her own wellbeing and divisions caused by the College Republicans’ disaffiliation and ensuing fallout. Purdy was also facing a recall campaign, though it did not reach the required 50 signatures before she resigned.
At the start of spring semester, Justices Kristell Mares de Juan (‘22) and Jack Randall (‘23) were both unable to continue with ASWU, Mares de Juan for study abroad and Randall because of a conflicting class schedule. Clara Nithiaparan (‘22), who was appointed and so had to seek special election for the spring semester did not, leaving Marvitz as the only senator for the class of 2022. Hollis Mantle (‘25) and Colby Alexander (‘24) resigned as senators to become justices.
In March, Alexander Knorr (‘22) stepped down as chief justice and Cameron Cole (‘23) stepped down as a senator. Knorr cited ongoing health problems and Justice Alexander was appointed chief justice to fill the role, and his former position as justice is now occupied by Ian Lynch (‘23). Cole’s resignation left Gus Gunter as the only senator for the class of ‘23.
On March 31 2022, Inéz Nieves (‘24), who has been one of ASWU’s most active and vocal members since their freshman year, resigned. Nieves [spoke out] against the “bloated” bureaucratic structure and procedures of ASWU, against the mistreatment of senators within ASWU, including transphobia and bias based on ethnicity and religion, and called for ASWU to be completely overhauled. They thanked the executive branch, judicial, and the classes of 2022, 2023 and 2025. Nieves quoted former senator Andrea Griffin (‘23) in saying “you can do something that’s meaningful and valuable without it having to be some sort of petition or call to the Willamette administration.”
The most recent senator to leave the senate was Forrest Derr (‘24), who was removed April 7, 2022, due to multiple Senate meeting absences. Derr said ASWU is “where student activism comes to die”; one of Derr’s recent projects, the Student Labor Initiative, was killed by administration as it was outside ASWU’s power. Derr criticized what they saw as decision making being made “in the shadows” and what they called ASWU’s “degeneration to governance by a vague, undemocratic notion of rule by precedent.” They said ASWU is neither entertaining, educational, nor extracurricular, and attributed that to a “genius ploy created by admin to kill student activism.” “Admin loves nothing more than dragging things out for as long as possible, creating infinite rungs in a ladder of change” that takes so long students either forget about the problem or, if they’re directly affected by it, they graduate. Derr said ASWU is a screen created to shield administration from criticism. Derr said they are “done associating with the Associated Students,” and chose not to represent themself at their removal hearing. They were removed unanimously. Senator Gunter said he is “one more way too long speech away from putting a time limit on speeches, you are all on notice… I am going to begin grading people.” Several members of the senate, executive and judicial spoke affirmatively for the value of the work done by their colleagues.
Derr’s removal brings the grand total of people who have left ASWU this year to twelve. Only six of sixteen senate seats are currently filled. It remains to be seen whether the upcoming senate elections will be competitive, and if the climate of ASWU will become less noxious with a new group of people.
With so many positions open on the senate for next year, the people who run will, if elected, have an extraordinary opportunity to determine what ASWU is going to be like going forward. Assuming candidates take seriously the importance of not antagonizing their colleagues, respecting the wishes of their constituents, and keeping the goals and limitations of student government in mind, it’s possible for the culture of ASWU to become more sustainable for its members. Whether that happens depends on whether people are willing to participate by running for office and voting, or whether they give up on ASWU as a lost cause and consign it to dysfunction.