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Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

ASWC Referendum Process Offers Potential, Needs Refinement

Illustration by MaryAnne Bowen.

Deep within Associated Students of Whitman College legislation, there is a bylaw that describes the process of “unique direct democracy power,” or a process by which students can pass official legislation without ASWC’s direct involvement. The referendum process offers the possibility of legislation created and passed by non-ASWC students, but because there is no precedent for the process, ASWC is working to clarify and refine the bylaws.

Junior Harrison Wills recently drafted two legislative actions through this referendum process, causing ASWC to examine the rules of the referendum.  The first referendum calls for a student-elected position in the ASWC executive council who would serve as a student representative to the Board of Trustees. The second referendum would create a student director of sustainability, who would also be elected by the student body.

The referendum process allows for any student to write and pass ASWC legislation with the support of a large number of the student community in the form of signatures. Referendums allow for direct participatory democracy among the student body.

“I think it gives everyday citizens, and in this case, everyday students outside of the ASWC structure a channel to advocate and ask broader questions and open up the discussion to the broader community, rather than just having the elected officials make decisions,” said Wills.

Wills is the first person in at least six years, and likely longer, to draft a referendum at Whitman. The bylaw detailing referendums was discovered by senior senators Kayvon Behroozian and Sean Mulloy and brought up during the senate meeting on Feb. 23.

“Knowing that there’s this referendum process is really important, because even if you go through the resolution and nothing changes, and the student senate maybe is kind of sitting on it or waiting, or maybe they pass it and still nothing changes, it creates a broader discourse,” said Wills.

Wills collected the required number of signatures to pass the referendums, but when he met with ASWC leaders, including ASWC Oversight Chair Audrey Vaughan, it became clear that the referendum process wasn’t completely fleshed out.

“[Sean, senior Senator Jane Carmody and I] drafted legislation to make the referendum process a thing. It was in there, but there was no threshold for signatures, or how to turn it in or deadlines,” said Behroozian.

“It really wasn’t clear as to what percentage of the students needed to vote for the referendum, the difference between a bylaw change or an amendment or an act. So there wasn’t a lot of language there,” said Wills.

Even while the details are being ironed out, Wills’s early drafts of legislation have forced ASWC to examine the referendum process and make sure that it is operational and fair.

“What [Harrison] did, was in using our process showed that our process still had flaws in it. Because it was the first time ever that ASWC has ever done something like this,” said Behroozian.

Currently, the student-elected director of sustainability referendum outlines a sustainability position that would interact with Director of Sustainability Tristan Sewell and possibly with the City of Walla Walla Sustainability Committee. The student representative to the Board of Trustees would present the student perspective to the board.

“For the student trustee position, [it] is sort of like a democracy health check up. We’re figuring out what the students want, as a broad democratic opportunity to make political statements and advocacy statements,” said Wills.

The student representative on the Board of Trustees is a position that ASWC has been pushing for nearly a decade now.

“I think if that resolution passes, the one that Harrison writes, it will give a lot more legitimacy to the argument that ASWC’s been giving for the past ten years. I’m really excited, and hope that turn out is a lot,” said Behroozian.

With the changes that are being made, the referendum process provides an exciting prospect of student involvement in the creation of ASWC legislation.

“I think it has the potential to be pretty symbolically powerful. There was some debate as to what sort of threshold we wanted in terms of voter turnout. It was set pretty low in the original, and we upped it more to increase the legitimacy of the referendum if it were to pass. So I think it is pretty powerful, if you can organize that many students to sign up and vote for something,” said Mulloy.


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