New ASWC Constitution on the Ballot

On Sunday, April 8th and Monday, April 9th, Whitman students will have the opportunity to approve a constitution expected to clarify and enhance the relationship between them and the student governing body.

 

The new constitution is the latest in a line of actions ASWC has undertaken to restructure itself, following the recent adoption of a multiple-vice president model, legislation altering the relationships between ASWC Senators and clubs, and the institution of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. The document, which has been made available for students to read here, was created in response to confusing and contradictory language in the previous constitution that was seen as hampering ASWC’s ability to perform its duties.

 

“[ASWC has] gone through a few different constitutions,” ASWC President AnnaMarie McCorvie stated. “The most recent constitution was rewritten about maybe six years ago, but a lot of it was copy-and-pasted from the constitution before it. So it had a lot of inconsistencies in language and in rules; it contradicted itself a few times, and it certainly contradicted our by-laws.”

 

McCorvie also noted that the current constitution is also badly formatted, making it literally difficult to read, which only increased the problems.

 

McCorvie and Gautum Produturi subsequently devised a new governing document, intended to be shorter, streamlined and more understandable compared to prior constitutions, as well as a better statement of ASWC’s priorities as a representative body. The document was then revised by a specially formed Strategic Planning Committee, before then being presented to the full Senate on April 1st.

 

“The biggest change is it’s readable now, which seems silly, but it’s so important to us,” McCorvie said. “It also has our values laid out in it, values like advocacy and empowerment and inclusivity and equity – these things that we think of [as] essential to our work but were written down nowhere.”

 

“It also has language about keeping the student fee as low as possible while still… funding clubs and WEB and stuff like that,” McCorvie added. “So I think it does some really good work of solidifying some of the stuff we’re already doing.”

 

McCorvie expects that this constitution will prove to be a positive, long-lasting change for ASWC, and noted that she and the Strategic Planning Committee emphasized the notion of longevity in creating the new document. The new constitution clearly and cleanly presents the various components of ASWC while remaining broad enough to both facilitate internal restructuring and respond to external change.

 

The vote on the new constitution by the General Assembly (a.k.a. the student body) represents a unique opportunity for students to influence ASWC beyond the selection of new leaders.

 

“If you are someone who thinks that ASWC is sometimes inefficient, or bureaucratic, this is something you should be voting yes for,” McCorvie stated. “[I]t’ll make us more efficient at spending our money, it’ll make us more efficient as a Senate body having meetings, and it also is just part of a larger project to make ASWC more accessible.”

 

The document, which has already passed the Senate in a vote of 19-0-0, requires a two-thirds vote of twenty percent of the student body to be ratified.

 

“[R]epresentative democracy is tough, and it’s weird, and it’s confusing,” McCorvie noted. “[B]ut this is one of those times where you [the student body] do have direct power, so I would encourage people to utilize it.”

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.

Unpacked

Shortly following the election of this year’s first-year Senators, ASWC hosted a weekend retreat at the Johnston Wilderness Center, during which a number of goals for 2017-2018 were discussed. One of the most popular ideas brought up was to change ASWC’s payment system from a bi-annual stipend to an hourly minimum wage.

 

Could such a change be on the horizon? ASWC Finance Chair Chris Meabe thinks so, and is in the midst of developing an implementation plan that, if funds allow, could see some ASWC officers receiving a minimum wage as soon as next year. The change, Meabe observed, could help propel a substantial shift in ASWC’s socioeconomic makeup, as it would make ASWC a viable option for students who need a more substantial source of income than it currently offers.

 

“Minimum wage isn’t a lot of money,” Meabe said, “but we could at least be competing with other organizations, both on and off of campus, that do pay a minimum wage and allow those students… whose voices need to be heard… to represent themselves in their student government.”

 

However, Meabe took care to note that a switch to a minimum wage is not certain. Though the will is there, as is the know-how, it is unclear at present if there will be enough funding to make the shift feasible. If there are, the change would be rolled out over a period of several years. There is also some internal debate in the Finance Committee over whether certain positions, such as Executive Council members, should remain stipended, due to the difficulty in tracking the hours performed by these positions.

 

“[It’s] going to be determined by how budgeting looks in March [2018],” Meabe said.

 

The Finance Committee is tackling a number of significant issues that will impact campus during the 2017-2018 year, such as designing an improved system of distributing funds to clubs on campus, as well as introducing legislation to ensure smarter usage of the ASWC Endowment Fund. Meabe is confident they will be up to the task.

 

“I have an awesome committee,” Meabe said. “[T]he people around me continue to challenge me with these incredible brilliant ideas that I don’t know how best to support, and that’s an awesome kind of challenge to have.”

Unpacked

ASWC has taken a big step toward a sustainable renewable energy policy for Whitman, passing a resolution that would encourage the campus to add solar panels to new campus roof installations.

 

Passed on October 29th, the resolution stipulates that any time a roof on campus is renovated, or a new roof is constructed, the college must consider a bid to install a solar panel on the roof. Additionally, the school would be required to identify three existing roofs that would be ideal for solar panels and consider bids on them as well. The resolution aims to decrease the amount of on-campus carbon emissions stemming from the campus’ reliance on fossil fuels.

 

According to ASWC Sustainability Chair Genean Wrisley, “Walla Walla is actually a good location for solar, which surprises some people because it’s cloudy a lot. But during the summer… [the panels] generate a lot of electricity. So it’s… pretty good, easy and cheap, and rooftop solar is just, like, really accessible.”

 

Currently, Whitman relies on RECs (Renewable Energy Credits) to decrease the impact of its emissions. These credits fund wind farms in other areas, but don’t affect the campus’ actual use of fossil fuels. The ASWC resolution puts a bit more onus on Whitman to take the initiative in decreasing its own environmental impact.

 

The campus seems likely to respond well to ASWC’s resolution, and Wrisley is hopeful. Even before the resolution was passed, Whitman’s new residence hall was to be constructed with rooftop solar panels installed. But the resolution does not require the campus to accept solar panels, only consider them.

 

“[I]t’s up to them to take the next step,” Wrisley said. “Hopefully, slowly, implementation will happen, but… it’s kind of hard to say or know.”

Act SAS17.1: Continuing ASWC’s Efforts Toward Diversity and Inclusion

At the most recent Senate meeting, an act to make the position of Diversity and Inclusion Director a permanent facet of the ASWC Executive Council was ratified. Considering that this position was created just this year (in Fall 2016, by sitting ASWC president Arthur Shemitz), this is significant. Cherokee Washington, who currently holds the position, had this to say about the ratification: “creating this position and making it permanent in the same year is a testament to ASWC’s dedication to listening to the student body’s needs”.

Cherokee described the position as, “ASWC’s way of telling the administration that diversity and inclusion is an exigency that needs immediate attention and cannot be ignored anymore”. She added that, “There are many things [the administration] can do to encourage more diversity. More scholarships, becoming a school member of the POSSE foundation, recruiting students from more regions outside of the Northwest and California, actively listening and reacting to student needs more effectively and timely, providing students of color with more representation within the faculty, providing students of color with more mentors, and better tending to the needs of students of color who are already at Whitman”. She hopes that these goals can be accomplished in the near future.

Cherokee also hopes that, through encouragement by this position, social justice issues at Whitman will be better addressed on a more basic, student-to-student level through open discussion and thoughtful action. Several students have already expressed interest in helping her with this, many of which are people of color or are from underrepresented backgrounds.

On a more personal note, she added that, “I’m big on ‘flipping the boat’ instead of rocking it, therefore I’ve tried to bring a fire and intensity that’s allowed us to be civilly radical in communicating issues or demands with the administration”. Considering that the Strategic Planning Committee has stated that diversity is a priority for the school, such ambitions will likely be realized.

ASWC Office Hours

Starting this semester, the ASWC Executive Council will institute weekly open office hours in order to better communicate with the Whitman community.

Each week will have a different theme, which will correspond with a topic that comes up during Senate or a prevalent issue on campus. Inquiries need not address the theme.

ASWC president Arthur Shemitz had this to say about office hours:

“This is a great opportunity to check in about getting a club started at Whitman, accessing funds, advocating for change, or just finding out about how to get more involved in ASWC. We would love to see lots of folks coming by and talking about what’s on their mind!”.

Office hours will be held at 12 pm every Monday in the ASWC office (Reid 210).

Resolution SRF16.1: A Step Forward in Title IX Advocacy

At the most recent Senate meeting on November 13th, legislation was presented by co-authors Molly Unsworth ’18 and Kyle Fix ’19 to senators regarding recent violations to the college’s Title IX policy. Specifically, it advocates for mandatory notation on the transcript of “any student that chooses to withdraw while allegations of intimate partner violence, stalking, and/or sexual violence are pending”. Essentially, a notation would inform a school to which a violator is applying/transferring that he/she has been accused of such a violation. This resolution is in response to the recent uptick of incident reports of Title IX violations since 2012; in that year (2012-2013), there were 9 reports, while there were 32 reports in the 2014-2015 school year, according to the college’s Annual Title IX Report. Since 2012, the school has dismissed four students and suspended one after they were found responsible for violating Title IX. This resolution also addresses a larger, national trend of accused violators withdrawing from their respective college while still under investigation, stopping them from receiving all of the proper documentation which may help prevent them from committing violations at other schools. Unsworth and Fix cited the case of a student who withdrew from his previous school after being accused of sexual assault (thus avoiding notation, so the school to which he was transferring was unaware of the circumstances) and is now under investigation at his current school for sexually assaulting another female student.

The co-authors described the problem more generally as, “In current practices, there is a huge concern about getting predators or offenders off campuses, but no sense of follow through on the behaviors they have shown, or any care about the impact they can potentially have at future institutions”.

After some discussion, Senate resolved to pass the resolution by acclimation, which is a rare occurrence. ASWC President Arthur Schemitz noted, “Acclimation is the strongest expression of support that the Senate may give to a resolution. It is more powerful than just a unanimous vote as it expresses our deep commitment to and belief in the importance of the content of a resolution. We use acclimation sparingly, so that it can be applied only to the most significant resolutions that we want to lend our full and entire support behind”. Regarding this, Unsworth commented, “I was genuinely shocked. I had anticipated a lot more push-back from the senate, and the fact that so many people not only supported it, but wanted to give it the honor of passing it by acclimation, was such an incredible moment for both of us”.

Colleges similar to Whitman (Occidental, Emerson) have enacted similar policies to this one, and Unsworth and Fix hope that Whitman’s adoption of this policy will encourage other schools to follow suit, eventually creating a national standard.

An assault survivor herself, Unsworth is passionate about this sort of legislation and change, and is excited that the resolution was passed. However, she still sees much more that needs to be done regarding not only policies, but practices. For instance, she would like to see “further opportunities extended to the student body from the Dean of Students office that invite students to participate in critical dialogues surrounding the prevalence of sexual violence on this campus”. Still more, she hopes that the school will actually make efforts to act on those dialogues, rather than “the same conversations happening over and over again, with no results”.

The resolution still has to be approved by the administration, and may or may not be enacted by the end of this year.