UPUA Adds Appointed Seats For Black, Latino, APIDA Caucuses

The University Park Undergraduate Association approved Wednesday the addition of three appointed seats to its Assembly structure, one for each of Penn State’s international/multicultural caucuses: Black Caucus, Latino Caucus, and Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Caucus.

The policy update relied on two separate votes — one for constitutional changes and one for bylaws changes. The constitutional changes passed with a vote of 39-1. Representative Zach Robinson was the sole “no” vote. The bylaws changes passed with a vote of 38-2.

Adopting the agenda, normally a quick and routine line item at UPUA’s weekly meetings, got heated as Robinson moved to table the consideration of the policy changes indefinitely. He asked those in the assembly to listen to his spiel with an open mind before forming their opinions.

“This is not a discussion of whether change is needed, this is just a discussion of how that change should take place,” Robinson said. “There are reasons I am voting against this tonight, against voting on it at all. We have not yet finished our review of the effectiveness of the current appointed seats. We have not examined the overlap between these new seats and the existing ones. We have not taken into account the possible future implications of this policy, and we are rushing to reach a solution even though our final decision will not be enacted until April.”

Robinson said he believes appointing representatives, whether from within UPUA or outside organizations, “flies in the face” of democratic representation. He added serving as a representative is an honor and a privilege, afforded to those who take the time to run and who are elected by the student body.

“If this were a resolution or a bill, I would not feel the need to speak; it would be an easy yes vote,” Robinson said. “But this is a change to the structure of our organization, and it carries with it many outcomes that we have not fully discussed. Again, even if we pass this right now and applaud our work once we have done so, nothing will happen until April. We have to make sure we do this right to ensure we need not have this discussion again in the future.”

Though he sits on the ad hoc committee, Robinson urged the assembly to be patient and allow a separate group to craft a future policy change with a clear goal in mind, “to bring about the change this organization needs and that the student body so desires.”

Despite Robinson’s impassioned monologue, the motion to table the policy change failed 37-3.

Open Student Forum lasted an hour, with numerous students from the three caucuses and other supporters explaining why it is so important for them to gain representation. Many criticized the current representatives who they had endorsed based on campaign promises to bring these seats to the Assembly.

Many challenged Robinson’s ideas, saying the policy changes had in fact come by due process and, though imperfect, were a step in the right direction. Speakers described how the caucuses had been waiting decades for representation, since long before UPUA’s inception. Others still accused UPUA of being a white supremacist organization.

Latino Caucus President Tomas Sanchez described his own experience in UPUA, when he was tokenized and expected to speak for the Latino community at Penn State despite being elected to represent the entire student body.

“This idea was brought by people who used to serve in UPUA,” he said.

Sanchez agreed with Robinson’s ideas that the UPUA elections process is broken, explaining how more diverse candidates in the past, specifically during elections for the 12th Assembly, were not elected because they were endorsed by the executive ticket that ultimately lost.

“I’m telling you as someone who served in UPUA, I’m not adding ineffective seats,” Sanchez said. He explained the process of writing the legislation and how he and other authors tried to attack the potential issues with the legislation.

The final vote was met with an ovation, later followed by a standing ovation from the Assembly to all those who attended the meeting and spoke at Open Student Forum.

The change will take effect for the 14th Assembly, so the caucuses have the next few months to figure out internal processes for how they’ll choose their appointees.

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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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