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The Associated Students of Whittier College Senate elections have finally ended, and we now know our student government representatives going into the Fall semester. However, there have been some concerns over the diversity and fairness of these most recent elections.
For those who don’t know, there was only one candidate running for each position, from the lowest-ranking Representative to the President of the Senate. Essentially, there was no actual election because there was no choice — nothing to be voted on. With communication being harder due to the pandemic, it’s understandable that student engagement and participation would be lower than normal, but this ‘election’ outcome is unacceptable, to say the least. If nothing else, it shows the still-too-high barriers put in place discouraging many from running for office, and that the almost non-existent modes of communication and transparency have left many students out of the loop in the Senate’s work and representation during the pandemic.
Some of the most knowledgeable people on this topic, of course, would be former members of the ASWC Senate. Speaking with former Representative and fourth-year Lizzy Green, she claimed that communication between the student government and body was virtually non-existent this year. While acknowledging the pandemic’s toll, she equated the Senate’s efforts to connect to students to nothing, and that communication overall was at an all-time low when compared to her time in office.
Another former Representative, third-year Kanoa Lindwe, had a lot more to say on the subject. While he was farther removed from his time active in the student government, he served for a much longer period — two years, in fact — and called for many reforms that he said could have been implemented while he was still there. One of the biggest reforms he wished to see was the doubling or at least addition of Representatives for certain positions, saying, “I feel as [though] these positions should have multiple Senators: Student Rep, ISC, possibly Campus Relations, [and] Residential Rep.” The logic here is that having at least two people serving the same constituents forces an increase in the number of ASWC members, encourages collaboration, and brings new perspectives that couldn’t be there under only one set of eyes. Lindwe admits, though, that some things may have changed since he left office a year ago, and that he is no longer the most informed on current issues, so these reform ideas remain valid.
Finally, Lindwe wanted all positions filled regardless of the situation, and noted that it would be acceptable to waive some of the requirements to run for office. This is one of the only reforms the Senate has already implemented; they waived the rule regarding petitioning signatures to get on the ballot due to the virtual nature of Whittier College this year.
Angel Tobar, Brotherhood Program Leadership Coordinator, spoke the strongest on this issue, basically calling for a complete overhaul of the ASWC infrastructure. In a short yet powerful statement, it’d be a disservice for me not to include his entire statement here:
“This past year has revealed that we need to come together as a community more than ever. It has also demonstrated the importance of voicing our concerns and taking action! I love seeing that fellow POETS are voicing their concerns because it offers Whittier College an opportunity to make changes that will ultimately benefit the student body. I believe that Whittier College could take a huge step forward if we were to remodel the representation that ASWC has for the overall POET community. Although they offer many resources for folx to share their opinions on the matters being discussed, it would be great to see ASWC actually expand their representatives for each position. We could gain more perspectives towards how to better assist students for the upcoming school year and beyond. Universities across the nation are learning about the importance for the voices of students to be heard! It would be amazing to see similar approaches being implemented into Whittier College.”
Tobar has also independently called for the expansion of Senate positions for the same reasons as Lindwe, and that student engagement must be made an immediate priority.
When asked about these pressing issues, First-year Class Council Senate Representative Natasha Waldorf remained hopeful, saying that it’s saddening but unsurprising that turnout and engagement is so low, as the student body remains so isolated from each other. She agreed that this fully uncontested election wasn’t democratic, but held hope that it would still accurately represent the students come fall. She also hopes that the positions left unfilled will see an increase in candidates as the world, and campus, reopens. Her biggest concern was that of her peers, the Class of ‘24. When contemplating how this year’s first-years will view future elections, she said, “I foresee that this will leave a lasting impression [that] the Senate’s work is fairly unimportant, resulting in a lack of participation from my class. Without students from [all Classes] contributing to the Senate, whether it be on the table or on any of the committees or councils, decision-making will not be as representative as the entire student body.” Waldorf had no opinion on the proposed reforms to open up some positions, but felt upbeat on the idea and that it could remain on the table, all while praising Secretary Lauren Beasley, who spearheaded the efforts in waiving signature petitioning and making online campaigning easier to encourage more to run for office.
As for myself, I lean significantly towards Tobar’s proposal. Any barriers preventing students from running for a position they’re eligible for is inherently undemocratic. Given the student body’s pessimistic attitude toward the Senate even before the pandemic, it’s clear that more students need to be and feel involved as soon as possible, both for campus morale and better decision-making.
I, however, would also go a step further. In a conversation with alumni Dan Strauss, former ASWC President and current member of the Seattle city council, he was surprised there were even restrictions on running for E-board/Cabinet positions (President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer). He explained that, during his time at Whittier in the mid-2000s, those restrictions didn’t exist whatsoever, and any WC student could run for any position they wanted. Rules stating those running for Cabinet are only eligible if they are current Senate members didn’t exist, and the only restriction on eligibility would be if the role clearly was for a specific demographic, such as the Non-traditional Student Rep. and the Residential Rep., preventing non-transfers and commuters from running, respectively. He had no idea why these rules regarding the ‘big four’ of the Senate were made, and, frankly, I’m with him. As far as I’m aware, those eligibility rules for the Cabinet are still in place, and are innately elitist and undemocratic by barring any non-student government official from running. If we want a truly representative, equal, and democratic student government, restrictions like that need to go as well. The tone seems positive for the fall, and, as students, we can only hope that, as the campus reopens, the Senate finally does, too.
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Associated Students of Whittier College (ASWC) / Engage