First-year senator vacancy raises questions about ASOC policies

Raveena Dhiman (first year) discusses her resignation from the position of First Year Senator in the Academic Commons at Occidental College on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. Flora Villalobos/The Occidental

Raveena Dhiman (first year) resigned from her post as one of two first-year senators in the Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) Senate Oct. 22 due to a scheduling conflict between her varsity basketball practices and Senate meetings. Senate solicited applications for the vacant first-year senator seat Oct. 23. Senate received three applications, though ultimately decided Oct. 26 to appoint Theki Chang, the first-year student who received the third-most votes in September’s election. Chang did not apply for the position after Dhiman resigned. Although Chang accepted the position Oct. 28, he was then removed from his position Nov. 12 after a student raised concerns during Senate’s Nov. 5 meeting about the process used to fill the vacancy. Senate voted Nov. 12 to reevaluate the process and wait until January to hold elections to fill the vacancy.

Upon closing the application for the vacancy, Senate issued apologies to the three first years who had applied for the position.

Collin Nascimento (first year) said that he also submitted an application for the position. Senate maintains that Nascimento did not submit an application, and provided The Occidental with timestamps of the three Google Forms applications they said they received; Nascimento was not among those applicants. Nascimento provided The Occidental with screenshots of his web browser history that showed he had accessed the Google Form application and had drafted responses to the application questions. The screenshots did not show a date of submission.

Nascimento attended Senate’s Nov. 5 meeting and raised his concerns about the process used to fill the vacancy.

“At first, I was angry that my application had not been considered, and then I decided that I wasn’t going to pursue the position any longer,” Nascimento said. “That gave me more freedom to raise concerns in general without that conflict of interest.”

Nascimento said that he understood the process undertaken by Senate to be different than the process outlined in the ASOC Constitution.

“The constitution states that if there is a vacancy in the senator position, that they have to appoint somebody with the majority of approval of the Senate. That was the essential flaw; [it] was that they didn’t approve or discuss who they were appointing,” Nascimento said. “They’re a very busy group, but they didn’t inform the other first-year senator, they didn’t talk with each other about the decision, and I raised all those concerns.”

Article XI, Section 3 of the ASOC Constitution states that if there are fewer than 10 weeks remaining in a semester, the respective elected branch of ASOC can appoint a member of their choosing to a vacant position subject to majority approval in that body.

“The first day that Collin [Nascimento] came in and talked about the issue, ASOC was basically taken aback themselves because they didn’t expect someone to come in and give a complaint, and so they needed time, they said, to figure everything out,” Chang said. “Everyone left not really knowing what the final result would be, and it was just a very confusing time — at least, for me it was. I was like, ‘I’m off, I’m on again?’ I was just a little confused.”

Collin Nascimento (first year) discusses how he attended a Senate meeting and asked Senate to reopen the applications for first-year senator outside the Tiger Cooler at Occidental College on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Flora Villalobos/The Occidental

In light of Nascimento’s statement Nov. 5, Senate voted to revoke the appointment of Chang Nov. 12. Nascimento said he felt that Senate was very receptive to his concerns. Following the Nov. 12 meeting, Senate issued a statement to the Class of 2022 via email explaining their approach to the first-year senator vacancy, including a timeline of events.

During the Nov. 12 meeting, Senate voted to remove Chang and hold an election in January, and then voted afterward to amend its bylaws and clarify rules regarding appointment to Senate, terms of membership, removal, and attendance, according to that meeting’s minutes. The updated bylaws removed a section that established protocols for Senate special elections in the case of vacant seats, and removed a line that said that appointments to Senate could take place no later than the fourth week of the fall semester. The updated bylaws added that vacancies will be filled as outlined in the ASOC Constitution.

The vote on the bylaws came after a proposal for changes at Senate’s Nov. 5 meeting, according to that meeting’s minutes.

“It didn’t feel too good — I had a lot of emotional distress due to it. It’s something that you really wanted badly, and they asked you if you wanted to take it, and then I took it. And then all of a sudden, they take it away from you, and ask you to reapply and do another election,” Chang said.

Articles A and B in Section 6 of ASOC’s most recent bylaws state that elected and appointed officers shall attend all Senate meetings, and if an officer cannot attend a Senate meeting, that officer shall send a proxy to attend the meeting. Dhiman said that she thought she could have worked around the issue of not attending Senate meetings by still putting in the work and communicating with her co-senator to follow through with the plans they had already made.

“I mean, I was ready for it. I applied for a reason — to help the school out and make some good changes. But that whole plan got stopped because I wasn’t able to come to the meetings. There were definitely ways to work around that,” Dhiman said.

According to Dhiman, junior class senator JT Tinsley is also a student-athlete. Tinsley is on the football team, but his practices end right before the 8 p.m. Monday night Senate meetings, as opposed to women’s basketball practices which typically occur 6–9 p.m. and 7–10 p.m.

“It would be cool to have a policy where if your practices are at the same time as Senate, one can just go over the minutes and recap with their other co-senator, instead of just not being able to be on Senate,” Dhiman said.

Chang said that the process has left him unsure as to whether or not he will run again in the January election.

“This has been a big emotional toll on me and just a big stressful event in general. I sort of lost a lot of faith in the senatorial process and their election process,” Chang said.

Senate said in their Nov. 12 email statement to the first-year class that they had not intentionally made the process opaque. 

“Please note that Senate 2018–2019 is particularly focused on improving communication and transparency with the student body and will use circumstances like these as an incentive to continue to improve,” Senate said via email.

ASOC Senate collectively declined to comment and referred The Occidental to their Nov. 12 email.

This story was revised Nov. 28, 2018, at 5:44 p.m. to clarify that Senate disputes that Nascimento applied for the first-year senator vacancy. The revision also clarified what changes the Senate made to the bylaws Nov. 12. A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that the updated bylaws had added a section about involuntary removal of senators; that provision existed in old bylaws.