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UPUA Zeroes In On Ad Hoc Committee, Representation

The University Park Undergraduate Association held a Committee of the Whole session Wednesday night at the end of its regular agenda, discussing the trajectory of its ad hoc committee and the potential to add voting seats for Penn State’s three international/multicultural caucuses.

Long before Committee of the Whole began, ten students spoke at Open Student Forum advocating to add the caucus seats. Ten may not seem like a lot on a campus with more than 40,000 undergraduates, but this is the highest turnout I’ve seen in nearly three years of UPUA meetings. In addition to these ten students, a couple dozen more showed up to support their efforts and to hear the Assembly’s discussion, effectively making it standing room only for the duration of the meeting.

A representative from S.M.A.R.T. said UPUA won’t be welcome at the organization’s recruitment events like Spend a Fall Day and Achievers’ Weekend until the situation is reconciled. Outreach Chair Beryl Bannerman laster said UPUA was already scheduled to present at Spend a Fall Day, but that engagement was canceled.

Another speaker also said that (now former) UPUA Outreach Director Luis Campos resigned from his position due to the issues of representation with the Latino community. UPUA is now accepting applications for someone to fill the position. Campos did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his resignation.

Latino Caucus President Tomas Sanchez, who also sits on the ad hoc committee, called for representatives who don’t sit on the committee to start speaking up on the issue important to their constituents — especially those that Latino Caucus had endorsed.

“We know you’re there and you stand with us. We know you don’t have the ability to speak in ad hoc committee. We know this discussion is being kept away from the majority of you,” Sanchez said. “We understand you may be limited, but now’s the time to start speaking up.”

In what I’d consider an unexpected series of events, each of UPUA’s committee chairs used their designated speaking time to explain why they hadn’t spoken up in the previous week’s meeting about the ad hoc committee or about caucus seats in general.

“If anyone knows me, you know…I have very, very strong opinions and I will absolutely be sharing them when the time comes,” Governmental Affairs Chair Jake Griggs said. Other chairs emphasized their commitment to bettering student life for every student at Penn State.

To kick off the Committee of the Whole session, Heaton, UPUA Speaker Bhavin Shah, and Student Life Chair Tyler Akers — who all sit on the ad hoc committee — presented about the committee and its objectives, explaining that they were trying to be as transparent as possible with the rest of the Assembly and the entire student body.

After the presentation, Representative Seun Babalola opened discussion by addressing three main issues he said he’d heard with adding caucus seats tot he Assembly. Babalola said that giving each caucus a liaison rather than an actual seat is “settling” because they wouldn’t have a vote. He also assured critics that each organization would bring forth the best possible representative for its community, and said anyone on the committee with a personal bias should take it up with the caucuses or Greek councils themselves.

Akers then spoke to address any bias, as previous comments seemed to be subliminally directed at his seat on the ad hoc committee. He basically said that in his current view, he believes UPUA should either take away all “special interest” seats or expand these seats to every community on campus (like the Muslim Student Association, Queer and Trans People of Color, etc.) However, he’s not so sure the Assembly is in a position to take on a few dozen additional voting seats.

Representative Tom Sarabok said this is the slippery slope fallacy (it’s called a fallacy for a reason). Others still advocated for creating a process by which future organizations could apply to be granted a voting seat within the Assembly should the need arise. It’s worth noting here that UPUA’s Judicial Board is tasked with reviewing any constitutional or bylaws amendments for fairness and equity, so this seemed like a better conversation for that body than the Assembly itself.

Representative David Weiss later argued Tomas Sanchez, who represents the caucuses on the ad hoc committee, also has an inherent bias toward giving voting seats to the caucuses, no matter the purpose of the committee and the question it’s trying to answer. But he claimed he was “just playing devil’s advocate.”

“It saddens me to know that we have to go through this in general,” Outreach Chair Beryl Bannerman said. “I wish that the caucuses or these special interest seats already had that voice in the room…Think about the effect that implementing these seats has on the marginalized communities and the effect Outreach has in the future.”

Though she’s a member of UPUA’s Steering Committee, Bannerman wasn’t present at the meeting when the committee confirmed Heaton’s appointments to the ad hoc committee. Academic Affairs Chair Chelsey Wood later clarified that the committee is tasked at confirming whether appointees are qualified, not whether they believe they’re the best individual for the position.

Throughout the night, numerous members of the Assembly emphasized that UPUA is at the end of the day an advocacy organization and doesn’t have any “real” power — so why shouldn’t more students be able to advocate for themselves?

Both Griggs and Cutler asked the Assembly what their opinions would be on granting each caucus a liaison position in the interim. This was described as a “band-aid solution” for the remainder of the 13th Assembly, until UPUA acted on any recommendation offered by the ad hoc committee. In theory, it wouldn’t change anything about the future of the ad hoc committee and the work it’s doing, but Bannerman expressed concern that a temporary fix would slow down the committee.

It was telling that some members of the assembly somehow couldn’t grasp that any constitutional or bylaw changes they passed would not take effect until the 14th Assembly, regardless of when they were passed. I understand the frustration with bureaucracy, but also see the issue with changing the structure of our student government in the middle of the year. Shah explained any changes will go into effect for the 14th Assembly “regardless of personal feelings.”

Representatives also criticized the structure of the ad hoc committee, which was set by the 12th Assembly resolution that provided for its creation. Most thought the caucuses should have more representation on the committee, rather than just one seat for all three caucuses.

Heaton explained he is the tiebreaker on a committee of  three UPUA representatives and three organization representatives (one caucus and two Greek life). Representative Jake Springer said that notion was laughable, as Heaton has had an active role in the committee, serves as a tiebreaker, and is one of the people in charge of writing any policy changes based on the committee’s recommendation.

Klipstein suggested looking at avenues to add more seats to the ad hoc committee or amend the original resolution that was passed by the 12th Assembly. “It’s not a conversation that can be held to seven people,” he said.

Oh, and in other news, the Assembly unanimously confirmed Nicole Jara Andrade, who spoke at last week’s student forum and serves on the executive board of Latino Caucus, as an at-large representative. She was then sworn in alongside Andrea Jakubowski, the new Panhel representative.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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