Senate, Honor Board discuss next steps for DEBI

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Eight Honor Board members, seven ASOC senators and approximately 50 students packed the Studenmund Room March 25 to discuss the Diversity and Equity Board Initiative (DEBI), which Honor Board has voted down twice in the last two months. At the meeting, members of the Diversity and Equity Committee of Senate presented a third proposal for DEBI in hopes of motivating an Honor Board vote.

Honor Board Juror Malena Ernani (sophomore) attempted to clarify Honor Board’s intentions for the meeting with a preliminary statement.

“We are here so that we can find a way to not only make sure that the Diversity and Equity Board becomes a new part of the Occidental governance structure, but also so that we can reify procedural standards that will guarantee that any other student organization wishing to go through the same path will find the bureaucratic process to go over more smoothly,” Ernani said. “I have faith that we can work together to get DEB established in a logical, constitutional fashion.”

Because it is a constitutional amendment, establishing DEB requires three major votes: a Senate vote, an Honor Board vote on the student body fee increase and a student body vote on the rest of the initiative. The initiative unanimously passed Senate Nov. 17, and the student body vote will begin March 30. Regardless of the student body vote outcome, however, student body fees cannot be raised to fund the initiative without the approval of Honor Board.

The Honor Board’s power to review student body fee increases is a new one, written into the ASOC constitution in 2013, after the constitutional amendment establishing Sustainability Fund. This section of the constitution has never been tested before, and Honor Board asked students for patience in determining the correct procedures for wielding this new power.

“The parameters of this job—the parameters of exactly what we’re supposed to do—are not in the constitution or the bylaws. This is a huge gray area,” Honor Board Chair Siri Guntupalli said in a previous interview with The Weekly. “We are trying to set a process in place and it is a very steep learning curve trying to figure out where exactly our jurisdiction lies.”

Senior Senator Kerry Sakimoto, however, argued that Honor Board already set a process for adjudicating constitutional amendments with their “no” votes on the previous two DEBI proposals.

“The amendment that we are bringing forward today … is the third amendment we’re bringing in,” Sakimoto said. “So even though we don’t have processes and procedures right now, Honor Board was able to reach a conclusion on the last two amendments. I’m not even sure what exactly the criteria is that were used to assess those amendments.”

Following those previous two votes, Honor Board jurors suggested instituting a trial period for DEB, during which the board could establish concrete bylaws and membership before drawing funds from student body fees. They brought forward the Senate savings account as a possible source for this trial period funding.

“We’re not suggesting that DEB be funded by Senate for the rest of its existence,” Honor Board Juror Kara Alam (sophomore) said in a previous interview with The Weekly. “We’re suggesting that DEB be funded by Senate until DEB is established and then can ask for its own money.”

ASOC Chief of Staff Jarron Williams (first-year), however, testified that the details of the Senate savings account were still unclear, and suggested it be taken off the table as a funding option. Sakimoto agreed, saying that it was not Honor Board’s role to determine where DEB funding should originate.

“The savings account was not presented to you in the constitutional amendment. Senate as a whole did not approach you with that directly,” Sakimoto said. “To me this seems like an overstep of constitutional boundaries if you’re basically dictating what Senate can do with their money.”

The current DEB proposal, brought forward by the Diversity and Equity Committee at Wednesday’s meeting, addresses Honor Board’s idea of a trial period by suggesting a two-pronged fee increase: fees would increase to $7 per student for the first two years of DEB’s existence, and would automatically increase to $10 per student after that. The committee believes that the two-year point would be a time for students to reflect on whether DEB had served its stated purpose. If community members believed DEB was not functioning properly, they could amend that portion of the Constitution through a student body vote.

Discussion on funding options stretched past the meeting’s hour-long time slot. As students began to drift out of the room, the conversation became more pointed.

“The answers you’ve given [in this meeting] have not changed,” Yemmi Belachew (senior) said to the Honor Board members present. “The question is, when is the next vote?”

Sophomore Senator Adrian Adams requested that Honor Board vote on the proposal within the coming week. He also requested that the Honor Board meetings be made open, and that records of how each Honor Board member voted be made public. These sentiments were met with approval by the majority of students present, but Honor Board did not commit to opening their votes to the public.

“Deliberation and voting on any issue that Honor Board has to address is best done in a space where we don’t feel the pressure of the student body, because Honor Board members are there to defend the constitutionality of anything, and whether or not it is fair and just to the student body, which doesn’t always align with their personal beliefs,” Alam said.

At press time, Honor Board members had not set a date for the vote or decided if that vote would be open, but agreed that they would look at the new DEB proposal before their next meeting April 4.