A.S. Council Brief: EDI, the Separation of Senate and Executive Bodies, and the Budget

This is the A.S. Council Brief for Week 3 and 4 of Spring Quarter 2021.

At Associated Students’ Week 3 council meeting on Wednesday, April 14, senators discussed the upcoming class of 2021 graduation and proposed revisions of the principles for UC San Diego’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Additionally, senators reviewed the A.S. Budget Reallocation and proposed amendments to the A.S. Constitution.

A.S. President Kimberly Giangtran announced that there would be an option for students to attend graduation in person. Each graduate will be allowed two guests, and every attendee will be required to either be fully vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test from 24–72 hours in advance. 

Beginning the council meeting, Senior Diversity Officer from the EDI Office, Glynda Davis, presented the revision process of EDI’s preamble and principles. Davis explained that the principles, first written in the mid-1990s, no longer resonated as well as they once had, 20 years later as the conversation around diversity in America has grown and changed with the times. In 2018, EDI began its revitalization process with a campus wide survey gathering feedback from the EDI advisory council, and starting a strategic planning process. 

EDI received feedback from over 600 students, faculty and staff. Davis explained that the revision process has produced a new, more concise set of principles, reducing it from a set of nine to seven that is easier to understand and uses more relevant language. 

Davis provided examples of this language, including phrases like ‘civility and decency’, ‘climate of care’, ‘right to dignity’, and many more. 

The new document is closed as of now, but it will soon roll out to members of the UCSD campus when finalized and will undergo a campaign process of events and activities designed to elevate the new principles. Students can expect a campus wide announcement and visuals that will be displayed throughout the campus in offices and other spaces around the campus.

Following Davis’ presentation, President Giangtran introduced a proposal for the reallocation of the $1 million A.S. Budget. She proposed that the budget be split into five sections:

  • $450,000 given to the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRSSA) grants;
  • $250,000 given to the International Students and Programs Office (ISPO) for academics, basic needs, health and wellness, travel, summer transition, graduating seniors, and administrative purposes; 
  • $125,000 to the Asian Pacific Islander Middle Eastern Desi American (APIMEDA) Center in order to create a physical space for the group in the original Student Center; 
  • $100,000 to graduating seniors’ emergency subsidized housing for this summer; and 
  • $75,000 to the experience of current freshmen, incoming sophomores, in order to facilitate the creation of services, programs and events current freshmen missed out on due to the pandemic.

In a straw poll conducted by President Giangtran to gage interest and support for the budget, the majority of council members voted in favor of each proposed sectional budget allocation. 

Next, a proposed alteration of the A.S. constitution to include a Senate Leadership position for the next term was debated. Though the specifics of the position had yet to be determined, the idea entailed that the senators would have their own leading position that would oversee their productivity and create a position between senators and executive members.   

Senator Mihir Pandya, one of the four sponsors of this proposal, argued that independence between the A.S. executive and senatorial branches would be achieved by giving the senators their own leadership position.

“In the middle of the last term there was some animosity between executive officers and members of the senate in the past,” Pandya said. “There was a conclusion that senators wanted a little more independence from exec, with respect to conducting their own week to week affairs. So that means having these meetings as a space for senators only. And then in that space to have a leader selected first among their peers … The senate would gather and pick a leader to help guide them, advise, and conduct some oversight and accountability and kind of devolve some of those responsibilities from exec back into senate.” 

Pandya went on to explain that creating a separation and distinction between the two bodies was the idea.

“This is just a very clean break,” Pandya said. 

Another sponsor, Senator Tommy Jung, added that the new leadership position would also provide needed internal support for senators, especially new senators who may find the transition into the bureaucracy of the A.S. Council rather difficult.

“I do think that there is a need for advising… There is a general lack of community/connection that senators have felt to the body and having a point person that they can talk to, that they can relate to and they can feel like they’re getting support from I think could change a lot of that,” Jung said.

The language of the constitutional revision has not been drafted, but the sponsors urged their fellow council members to vote yes during the meeting to begin establishing a framework and continue the conversation. 

An open roll call vote was held on the topic of the new position, allowing senators who were not present at the meeting two days to send in their votes. Subsequently, the majority voted in favor of the new position, with the expectation that future meetings will involve further discussion of specific details. 

Week 4

At the A.S. Week 4 meeting on April 21, the council had announcements for upcoming events, a discussion regarding Fall Quarter instruction, and a detailed debate over the possible creation of a new Senatorial Leader position within the senate body of A.S.

Senator Yarenni Medina announced that A.S. Transfer Senators, the UCSD All Campus Transfer Association (ACTA), and the College Councils are working on a virtual graduation cap decoration and graduation ceremony for transfer students. The Grad Cap Decoration will be held on May 20, from 7–9 pm PST while the Grad Ceremony will be held on May 27, from 7–9 pm PST.

Senator Abby Rollison announced that she is working with the A.S. Office of Food and Housing, Student Legal Services, and the Hub to create a workshop to educate students on off campus housing for next year. Student Legal Services and the Hub Basic Needs Center will give presentations on what first-time renters need to know and other information about first-time housing. The workshop will take place during Week 7 of this quarter.

A.S. Vice President Hannah Kreitman also announced more details about the $100,000 of the A.S. budget that is set to be used for graduating seniors’ emergency housing over the summer. The portion of the budget will be able to pay for 1,960 rooms for one night, as each room is priced at $51 per night. The money will be divided up by how many students apply and for how many nights they will need to stay. It will be need-based.

Senator Corliss Lam stated that in a recent International Student Advisory Council meeting, she and others decided a conversation with faculty needs to be had about remote options for Fall Quarter.

“From the Chancellor’s message, a lot of people are assuming that everything is going to be in-person and that no accommodations are going to be made, which is problematic because they did say that accommodations would be made, especially for international students who can’t come back,” Lam said.

President Kimberly Giangtran continued this conversation by stating that most classes during Fall Quarter are going to be in-person, however, campus administration is looking for ways to accomodate for students who cannot be present in-person at San Diego. Giangtran further clarified that though the administration has said they are working on these accommodations, there has yet to be a tangible plan that has been set forth.

Two-thirds of the Week 4 council meeting was taken over by an open forum about the new Senate Leadership Position. To remedy the tensions between the executive and senatorial bodies of A.S., presented in previous terms, the SLP would make the senate entirely independent from the executive. Instead of allowing the executive body to oversee the senate body, the SLP would be a part of the senate body and would be the designated oversight position. The position is also meant to be a sort of helper to senators, especially incoming senators who may need help becoming comfortable with the bureaucratic nature of the A.S. council. 

“It’s inevitable there will be some sort of power dynamic between whether it be the exec and senate or senate leader and the rest of senate. That’s going to always exist and to some extent we accept that it should,” Senator Mihir Pandya, one of the four sponsors of the new position, said. “What we’re trying to address is we want to shift that dynamic from exec to senate, to into senate.”

Senator Pandya’s idea of a power shift faced opposition, however.

“I think if we start treating ourselves like a student government, spending so much time on this ‘power dynamic’ and all of this and thinking it’s a structural issue, it minimizes our reputation and really trivializes the reason we exist… We should spend more time considering how we can work as one association to benefit our student body,” Associate Vice-President of Health and Wellness, Isaac Lara said in disagreement. 

Many, including Lara, believed that the idea of a Senate Leader would be beneficial if used as an advisory position, not an oversight position.

“I think having a Senate Leader would be helpful in that regard where you’re just fielding questions that are more procedural. I am not 100 percent liking the idea of this weird separation thing,” Senator Nicole Thompson said.

Others believed that the creation of this position was unnecessary as the problem the sponsors were attempting to resolve, the tensions between executive and senate positions of last year, could not be solved by a further separation of bodies.

“With the creation of this position to fix the power dynamic or to rid the senate of this ‘animosity’, this honestly sounds like the most cowardly move that any senator could possibly make,” Senator Adrian Blackshire argued. “Rather than trying to fix whatever minor communication or any kind of small problem or slippery slope that caused that animosity within senate, you are trying to create this stupid wedge between execs so that they don’t have to be involved and you can just do whatever you want, and I’m not okay with that… And if they’re going to be acting like this honestly I don’t think this should be a thing and I don’t think you should really be here if that’s how you feel.” 

Others opposed the new position because they simply did not understand what problem was supposed to be solved by creating the Senate Leader.

“When Senator Bradt mentioned at the beginning of the meeting that there is no problem we are trying to solve, I realized that my anxiety about the Senate Lead Position is the fact that we are trying to put a solution forward without trying to find a problem first,” Co-sponsor of the position and Senator Tommy Jung said.

After a concluding statement by Senator William Wei, who summated that the position would be valuable if strictly used as an advisory position that was given little power, the nearly 60-minute open forum closed and effectively ended the council meeting. Discussion over the new position will continue throughout the next weeks of the term.

A.S. Council meetings take place every Wednesday and are open to students. Students can participate in these meetings by joining their Zoom link or tuning in on Facebook Live.

Artwork courtesy of Yui Kita for The UCSD Guardian.

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