Accessibility, land acknowledgement and P&P: A look into ASWC’s spring initiatives

Jessie Brandt, Staff Reporter

ASWC’s prioritized actions of late include campus-wide accessibility projects, authoring an Indigenous Peoples acknowledgment, deliberating Power & Privilege recommendations and introducing a new acts and resolutions process. In emails to The Wire, ASWC officials gave context to measures and disclosed requests to the student body.    

One of the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) committee’s key projects is a “wheelchair ramp closet.” 

The initiative lets Whitman community members borrow portable ramps free of charge. With ramps, events can offer “the bare-minimum of physical accessibility,” sophomore Sueli Gwiazdowski, who spearheaded the project, said in an email to The Wire.

Gwiazdowski has worked on accessibility projects since coming to Whitman. As a Disabled FGWC student who transferred from Walla Walla Community College, Gwiazdowski said they initially weren’t aware of the employment possibilities in ASWC. Now as part of the D&I committee since January, they are finally being compensated for their work. 

Pushing for a Whitman-owned wheelchair-accessible van to bridge the transportation gap is another facet of Gwiazdowski’s work. 

“Non-disabled and non-wheelchair-using students have access to Whitman-owned transportation and programs, such as the soon-to-come bike share and a fleet of vehicles driven by security. Yet, wheelchair-using students are forced to use third-party paratransit when needing to reach the same destinations,” Gwiazdowski said. “Not only does this make it clear that wheelchair users are a second thought in Whitman’s transportation plans, but, in my experience, puts me in an extremely uncomfortable situation in which I am in a vehicle with a complete stranger, who is in charge of strapping me in.”

Gwiazdowski would like consistent and effective communication from the Whitman administration as well as questions on accessibility directed to experts like Director of Disability Support Services, Antonia Keithahn. Further, they urge students to get to work. 

“Importantly, the Whitman student body needs to rally around the accessibility projects in the works, show genuine and clear public support and offer their labor in order for these projects to be successful,” Gwiazdowski said. 

SAS 21.4, “An Act formalizing an official ‘Native Peoples Acknowledgement for ASWC,’” was voted in on March 14. An abbreviated version of the acknowledgment will be read at every Senate meeting and ASWC-sponsored event

Whitman adopted a three-sentence-long official land acknowledgment in October 2020. ASWC’s full statement is four paragraphs. 

“After the school had released the official land acknowledgment, we still felt that a lot of the reflection and research that should go into an acknowledgment was missing,” junior D&I Chair Nicole Song said in an email to The Wire. “We wanted to create a more comprehensive and detailed acknowledgment that focused on empowering indigenous peoples and promoting active engagement . . . We strongly believe that a land acknowledgment should be a living text that is constantly interacted with.

Song authored the act with junior Sustainability Committee Chair Sam Kinzel and first-year Student Outreach Senator Ruby Beard. 

To draft the acknowledgment language, team members first researched the historical context of the Walla Walla area and other schools’ acknowledgments. Next, they collaborated on an initial draft, garnering feedback from Whitman’s Indigenous People’s Education and Culture Club, ASWC’s Senate and the student body before revising it. 

The acknowledgment will be housed on ASWC’s website with links to a host of Indigenous-centered sources.

By the end of April, ASWC will vote to propose the rejection and approval of Power & Privilege (P&P) recommendations. If warranted, P&P bylaws will be adjusted. 

ASWC President Sneh Chachra ‘23 pulled together a team that will draw up the proposal.

“We will be discussing what would be the best choice for each recommendation deriving from feedback we have received so far and experiences present in the group,” Chachra said in an email to The Wire. “It is intentionally composed of folks that have either been part of the P&P recently or have had years of experience with P&P.”

President Chachra underlined more salient ASWC actions underway: opening up the Emergency Fund and Travel and Student Development Fund for students, allocating $6,000 for 25 previously uncompensated student representative positions, completing the bylaws by the Oversight Committee that restructured ASWC over the last two years, and electing and appointing the new Executive Council.

Finally, the Student Outreach Committee is revising a freshly-implemented acts and resolutions system. It’s meant to impart “tools for advocacy in the interest of the student body,” Chachra said, “to utilize in responding to the most pressing issues facing students like we did with the FSR.”