Letter to the editor: A call for horizontal leadership from ASOC DEB & ASOC RESF

Dear Oxy Students,

With the ASOC elections ongoing, the Diversity and Equity Board (DEB) and Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund (RESF) have considered endorsing candidates. However, as branches of student government, DEB and RESF do not endorse individuals — we endorse policies. As per our missions, we are dedicated to upholding the values of diversity, equity, sustainability and environmental justice throughout the various institutions of Occidental College. This includes the Associated Students of Occidental College as a body. We seek to disperse power to the students — to ensure that their voices are backed by action.

However, the current structure of power in ASOC does not allow for this. The current model, which places Senate at the top of a hierarchy, creates a flow of power which is funded by student body fees but is fundamentally independent from student demands. In fact, Senate has had singular knowledge of and control over hundreds of thousands of dollars of student fees stored in liquid savings accounts. Senate not only has no intention of dispersing these funds equitably back into the student body, but in Spring 2018, while sitting atop this money, successfully petitioned and passed a student body fee increase. The current structure of ASOC, which sanctions a lack of transparency and communication amongst branches and the student body, is unjust, politically alienating and places the responsibility for justice work on students who have no guarantee that their time and effort will ever result in substantive change.

Therefore, the Diversity and Equity Board and the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund must endorse a platform that calls for horizontal leadership. Shared governance, as promoted by the current ASOC President, is not a model that relies on the virtue of individuals selected to utilize the powers of their positions for good, nor is it a model that assumes individuals are able to create substantive change. Shared governance operates on the assumption that without actual decision-making power, groups are essentially disenfranchised because power only lies within the existing structures; these structures are designed to maintain the status quo, not to overturn it.

In the past year, after the initial calls for shared governance gained popularity, we have witnessed a slew of so-called “attempts” at shared governance. These include the additions of students to hiring committees, town halls and lunches with administrators, and the attendance of various Oxy administrative staff at student governance meetings. DEB and RESF warn against accepting these actions as a form of shared governance — all of these mediums for input do not ensure that student voices have power; rather, they assume that when spoken to, administrators will listen. There is no structure in place to ensure that student demands are followed, only that they will be followed if those in power choose to follow. For example, the students that have been appointed to the Presidential Search Committee are permitted to advise the Board of Trustees, but have not been allotted a vote on the selection of the next president. In addition, it remains unclear what, if any, involvement students will have in the hiring of the next Chief Diversity Officer. This is an injustice — regardless of what students demand, administrators have the final say. This is not accountability. This is not transparency. This is not shared governance or horizontal leadership.

Because this is the model of power within Occidental College’s administration, it is the model of power predominant in ASOC. The structure of ASOC Senate has perpetuated the marginalization of students already in the periphery without carrying on the legacy of those who led the Occupation of 2015 because of a commitment to bureaucracy and not to justice. Since the Occupation, DEB and RESF have worked diligently to build relationships with administration and support student organizing across campus. This has allowed us to hold the administration accountable to our missions as we increase transparency across our branches. Upholding horizontal leadership within ASOC inherently makes it easier for any student to become involved with initiatives, while furthering the values of equity and sustainability.

Over the past year, DEB and RESF have supported events, open to any and all willing student participants, to further disperse power to those we must represent. However, the work and causes of justice remain on the shoulders of those most marginalized and least supported by the institution of Occidental. Therefore, we, the Diversity and Equity Board and Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund, endorse and support any and all calls for actual horizontal leadership with a vote and a say — both within Occidental as a whole and within its student government. We maintain that instituting horizontal leadership within ASOC would energize a great amount of untapped potential in our student government. However, we also assert that this is merely the first step. We urge all members of the Associated Students of Occidental College to critically engage with the concepts of justice and equity when casting their ballots in this election; with this, we can move forward into the next academic year in true solidarity.

Calling for Change, Clarity, and Thought,

The Diversity and Equity Board and the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund

Associated Students of Occidental College