The Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) hosted a virtual town hall meeting Feb. 4 to discuss the constitutional amendment proposed and passed by the student body in Spring 2020. The constitution was last amended May 2020, introducing an ASOC executive committee, restructuring the student body fee and implementing a new Senate structure which covers various student services and shared equity, according to Senate Advisor Marcus Rodriguez.
The amendment will be voted on in a special election, which started 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, March 2, and will close at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 5, according to an email from ASOC President Kitty Lu (senior). ASOC ratified the amendment Feb. 8 with a vote of eight to one with two members abstaining, according to ASOC Senator Sophiya Rafi (sophomore).
According to ASOC Vice President of Policies Ellie Findell, the two abstaining Senate members, Collin Mazeika (senior) and Jesus Gonzalez-Saucedo (senior), both recused themselves from voting since they would be unaffected by the change as graduating seniors. The two senior senators stepped down from their positions prior to the Feb. 22 ASOC Senate meeting, according to ASOC Senator Odelia Zuckerman (junior).
The current fee structure allows the Senate branch of ASOC to collect a greater proportion of fees and retain a greater portion of control than the other three branches of ASOC — the Diversity and Equity Board (DEB), Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund (RESF) and Honor Board, according to Rodriguez’s email.
Rodriguez said the main purpose of the new structure is to allow for an equitable collection of all the fees received by all four branches of ASOC, as well as to promote shared governance.
According to Lu, a significant emphasis is also placed on the new body of the executive committee which will have two members per branch alongside the ASOC President and Vice President.
“This body will make decisions for all branches while being part of all branches,” Lu said. “The amendment’s emphasis on shared governance will promote equity and justice not just between the branches of ASOC but between students at Occidental as a whole.”
According to Rafi, a system of checks and balances will also be implemented as a result of the amendment.
“The other three branches will now have as much control as we do in terms of the collection and use of fees, and this in the long run will also help focus on environmental and social justice causes that are important to the members of the Oxy community,” Rafi said.
Rodriguez said via email that, although he recognizes some of the challenges the new constitutional amendment will create, he is hopeful it will enable students to govern effectively.
“As the organization evolves, it may be challenging to find consistency and congruence across all branches in regards to funding models and financial controls,” Rodriguez said. “However, I believe our student leaders are more than capable of continuing the hard work of assessing and amending their governing documents.”
According to Findell, while the constitutional amendment was supported by almost all of the Senate, the few concerns that did arise were regarding transparency issues. Findell said they have been working to rectify the concerns previously raised by increasing transparency surrounding the amendment.
“I think a lot of pushback has just been worried — not a lot of pushback, but at least from a couple senators or a couple members of Senate — has been worrying about if we’re being totally transparent and what students are still thinking about the amendment and how it was first passed,” Findell said. “They really want to make sure that this is as transparent as possible.”
According to Zuckerman, the way the amendment was proposed last year garnered significant transparency concerns and was one reason she chose not to support it. Zuckerman said when students went to vote on the proposed change in MyOxy — the web service that facilitates student elections — the ballot measure contained a “too-long, didn’t read” (TL;DR), and told students to simply “vote YES!”.
“I’m not sure that many people would have voted if it didn’t say anything, but also I think it just literally told people how to vote, which I think is really bad because it’s just putting the perspective that, ‘This is good,’ into people’s heads,” Zuckerman said. “I think that it’s kind of taking away any objectivity that was even possible to exist in voting in the first place.”
According to ASOC Senator Eduardo Garcia* (junior), while he had concerns about transparency regarding last spring’s election, members of ASOC have agreed to publicize amendments more neutrally.
“An agreement that we all came to is that on the public ASOC Instagram and socials and communications, the language has to be very neutral,” Garcia said.
Garcia said that while the amendment’s introduction was not ideal, he is confident it will improve ASOC’s structural functions and allow a more equal distribution of power across Senate, DEB, Honor Board and RESF.
“Through conversations that I had with the folks that wrote the amendment I felt pretty confident that it’s the best amendment that we can put forward right now,” Garcia said. “Am I fully 100 percent happy with it? I don’t think so. But it’s the best that we could do right now.”
Rodriguez said when ASOC was first established, it only consisted of the Senate branch. Even now, it is the ASOC president’s responsibility to reside and act as the senate chair, according to Rodriguez’s email. Rodriguez said the Senate is also responsible for collecting and distributing funds for ASOC Student Services, company operations, capital improvements and personnel expenses.
“Understandably, the Senate fee and subsequent savings far exceeds those of the other branches which may have created an unintended power dynamic in ASOC,” Rodriguez said. “The creation of the Executive Committee, and subsequent edits to the ASOC Constitution, should serve to course correct so that each branch is interconnected in a meaningful way and incorporated into the major decision-making process.”
Lu said the new constitutional amendment will go a long way toward promoting and furthering the idea of shared governance.
“The goal of this amendment is to recognize a culture shift between the four branches of ASOC, perhaps not in my time at Oxy, but definitely in the future,” Lu said.
*Eduardo Garcia works as a Spanish translator for The Occidental.