ASWC Adopts New Multiple-Vice President Model

Over the past few weeks, a number of ASWC Executive Council positions have gained some additional prestige – and responsibilities – as the Senate voted to elevate them from ordinary committee chair positions to co-Vice Presidents of the governing body.

 

Alongside the pre-existing Vice President position, now renamed Vice President of Legislative Affairs, three new positions – Vice President of Finance, Vice President of Nominations & Appointments and Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion – have now been formed from the former Finance Chair, Nominations Chair and Diversity & Inclusion Director positions. Alongside the departure of the WEB Chair from the Executive Council, this change represents a major step in the current body’s initiative to restructure themselves and their relationships with campus and trustees.

 

Vice President of Legislative Affairs Emily Bowen, who prior to the change had served as ASWC’s sole Vice President, expressed enthusiasm for the new model, noting that the move had been inspired by student governments of similar colleges and several Whitman clubs.

 

“I think [the new model] serves to do a lot of things,” Bowen said, “firstly taking the burden off of one person to fulfil the duties of the vice president, and secondly, sort of raising other positions up to… the same level.”

 

Bowen does not see her role as the chair of Legislative Affairs (formerly Student Affairs) as more important than being the chair of other ASWC committees, such as Finance, and felt attaching the role and responsibilities of a vice president to that position felt arbitrary. Those responsibilities included accompanying the President to all Board of Trustees meetings, hosting all ASWC Town Halls and presiding over Senate if the President is unable to do so. With the new model, said duties are now diffused over the heads of several committees; more ASWC members will be able to attend Board of Trustees meetings, while each Vice President will get to host their own Town Hall.

 

“I’m really excited for the opportunity to have more involvement with ASWC and the Board of Trustees, cause currently it’s kind of limited in that there are only two people going to these… meetings every year,” Bowen said. “I think the Board of Trustees are always looking for more engagement with students in any way that they can, and being able to have more people interact with the Board of Trustees will allow them to learn even more about our student body and issues of importance on campus.”

 

Additionally, Bowen hopes that the new Vice President positions will encourage more students to participate in the upcoming ASWC elections; while the positions are largely the same as they were prior to the name change, the significance attached to the title “Vice President” could be an encouraging factor.

 

“I think that it’s gonna be a good change,” Bowen said. “I think [the changes] will hopefully contribute to an ASWC model that… puts a lot of importance in these different areas… that are important to the way that the student government is able to work.”

 

Diversity Director Voting Rights Sparks Controversy

On November 12th, a typically smooth meeting of the ASWC Senate was interrupted by a fierce debate over a proposal to make the Diversity and Inclusion Director, Meg Rierson, a voting member of the body.

 

The Executive Council position, which was formalized in Spring 2017, has been expanding in scope in recent months, with Rierson assembling a committee to support her work as Director. The new amendment, composed by Rierson with help from President AnnaMarie McCorvie, would have changed the position from an appointed one to an elected one; as with other elected Executive Council positions (such as the Finance Chair), the next Diversity Director would be elected in April by the entire student body, and would thus be granted voting power in Senate meetings.

 

In the deliberations, most Senators agreed with the logic of giving the Diversity Director voting power. However, controversy arose over the prospect of when the change should occur. Had the amendment passed, Rierson would have been extended voting rights without a direct vote of the student body. The result was a dramatic debate that left the Senate deeply divided.

 

On one side of the debate, questions were raised as to the ethicality of giving voting rights to an unelected member of the body. Senator Sophie Grossman described the amendment as “twisting [ASWC’s] own by-laws,” while Senator Ari Louise saw it as “self-serving.” Many Senators argued for changing the amendment into an act, which would have prevented the position’s voting power from being enacted until the next election, or holding an (unprecedented) referendum to legitimize Rierson’s authority.

 

On the other side, there were concerns that denying Rierson a vote constituted a deprivation of minority representation. As Diversity Director, Rierson’s duty is to voice the interests of underrepresented members of the student body, and many at the meeting criticized the amendment’s opponents as prioritizing technicalities over students’ rights. The idea of changing the amendment to an act, or holding a referendum, was perceived as an unreasonable delay. WEB Director Tehani Louis-Perkins criticized the opposing Senators as “all talk, no bite” and claimed “at the end of the day, we [minority students] are still gonna be underrepresented.”

 

The amendment ultimately failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority, leaving the future of the Diversity and Inclusion Director position uncertain. McCorvie, who elaborated further in a Whitman Wire op-ed, expressed deep concerns about the divisiveness of the debate, offering senators time outside of Senate to discuss their feelings on the issue.

 

“We will argue until we can agree on what it means to be a senator,” McCorvie wrote.

New Legislation for Senator-Club Relations Passed

 

On February 11th, ASWC, in a 13-3 vote (with 3 abstentions due to absence), passed a by-law amendment that will result in sweeping changes in the way the body and its senators interact with other student organizations.

 

The amendment was the brainchild of Club Director Brian Wu, spurred by concerns over the Senate-Club relationship model that had been in effect at the time. Wu, who had served as president of the Badminton Club and co-president of China @ Whitman the previous year, recognized the importance of rectifying issues that were negatively affecting all parties.

 

“ASWC is a student organization, and a very good way to receive feedback from the student body is through clubs, because we have over 60 [ASWC-sponsored] clubs on campus and many many students are involved in these clubs,” Wu said. “I believe a good, healthy club-ASWC relationship can help the student body to learn more about ASWC, and that’s a lot of… what we want to do, to try to achieve as the governmental student body.”

 

In the model previously in place, ASWC senators were each assigned to a number of different clubs. Senators were then required to reach out in person to club leaders, and subsequently attend several meetings of each club. Senators would then frequently survey club leaders and collect feedback forms at the end of the semester, which the Club Director would use to assess the clubs’ needs.

 

The problem in this model, according to Wu, lay in its inefficiencies – senators’ abilities were stretched too thinly, while many clubs were not in significant need of ASWC’s resources beyond funding.

 

“[T]hat sparked the idea of changing the system… to a more efficient one,” Wu said, “in which clubs that do need help will have the resources, but the clubs that do not actively seek help and resources will not be forced to seek help from ASWC.”

 

Under the new system, the importance of in-person check-ins between senators and club leaders has been diminished, and senator-club relationships will now begin with small check-in surveys sent by the senators. Based on the information provided by the surveys, Wu suggests, senators will be able to deploy themselves more judiciously according to the needs of different clubs. Additional surveys, created by the Club Director, will come attached with detailed lists of ASWC resources, to ensure club leaders have awareness of what ASWC has to offer them.

 

Wu noted that the new model should take effect within a few weeks of the amendment’s passage.

ASWC Welcomes New Senator and Executive Council Members

ASWC’s most recent Senate session, held on January 28th, marked a shakeup for the body as some new voting members made their debut appearances. Ryan Garrett and Jayden Dirk joined the Executive Council, becoming the new Sustainability Director and Oversight Chair, respectively, while junior Brahm Coler took over for outgoing senator Bryn Louise.

Coler, a BBMB major, has a significant amount of experience in the extracurricular department. He currently serves as the co-president of Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE); additionally, he works as a sexual assault prevention intern, working with Barbara Maxwell. With ASWC, Coler saw an opportunity to parlay some of that experience into real campus changes.

“I think there was this great potential to be able to make a difference in small ways, to change very realistic things on campus,” Coler said.

Coler is beginning his Senate tenure with a project on addressing campus lighting issues, meeting with representatives of Whitman Security and the Physical Plant to discuss locations where lighting could be installed, improved or be made more efficient. He also hopes to tackle the issue of campus bike theft, potentially by replacing the current bike racks with more secure alternatives, as well as issues related to on-campus activism related to sexual assault and harassment.

“[T]o me, [it] kind of feels like there’s these big waves of activism for a month or so at a time, and then people kind of get used to things again… and the energy kind of dies,” Coler said. “[I want to know] how we can get a more active, constant, consistent atmosphere of passion and awareness about these issues.”

Through the previous semester, Coler kept in contact with his predecessor Louise on ASWC issues, and hopes to keep continuity with their initiatives, such as a gender-neutral residence hall. Additionally, Coler has begun meeting with the junior Senate delegation, and is excited for the projects being developed.

“It seems like people are there to genuinely help make Whitman a better place, and it’s a good group of people,” Coler said. “I’ll be curious to see what we’re able to accomplish in the next semester.”

Coler may only be on Senate for one semester this school year, but that won’t stop him – and other Senators – from doing their best to turn small goals into big outcomes.