A petition has been signed by 716 people to challenge the board’s response
By Ryan Morris
What doors are open to student leaders at Western Washington University? The Associated Students president receives a guaranteed seat at Board of Trustees meetings. Sargun Handa, the leader of the AS’ legislative body, is petitioning for a recurring invitation of her own.
Handa’s job description, approved by the Associated Students Executive Board, requires her to attend Board of Trustees meetings, but the trustees’ agendas only provide a recurring speaking opportunity to the AS President. A recurring invitation would allow Handa an opportunity to speak throughout Board of Trustees meetings.
“Although Western may say they are taking steps to invite me to certain conversations, what they’ve explicitly said is [that] I will not get a recurring invitation,” Handa said.
Handa said she first contacted Chief of Staff and Secretary to the Board of Trustees Paul Dunn on Aug. 19. She has been invited to public forums where all students are invited to speak for two minutes, which is three minutes less than AS President Abdul Malik Ford receives as a recurring guest and leader of the student government’s co-equal executive branch, she said.
In a statement to The Western Front, the Board of Trustees noted that no previous AS Senate Pro Tempores have given separate reports to the board. Traditionally, the AS President gives the report on behalf of both branches of the Associated Students. The board also includes a seat for a student trustee with full membership and voting rights, as a form of student representation. Hunter Stuehm was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to serve a second, one-year term as the student trustee through the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
Handa said the board is not adequately representing students by excluding a woman of color representative. Not only does she represent the majority of Western students as a woman, she is one of 4,623 students of color at Western according to the Board of Trustees’ enrollment presentation. While Ford is a student of color, he does not bring a woman’s voice to the table. Stuehm, the only voting student on the board, is neither a woman nor a student of color.
A recurring invitation would ensure there is always a student government voice present. Ford missed the Oct. 9 Board of Trustees meeting, which he said was due to personal crises. If Handa had a seat at the table, she could have given the AS report in Ford’s place.
“The Board of Trustees is obligated to recognize the Student Senate and the AS Executive Board as equal branches, and have the co-leaders of the AS at their meetings,” Handa said. “They’ve been putting their personal beliefs and feelings at the forefront of this conflict.”
The Board of Trustees’ bylaws were last updated on June 15, 2018, before the AS Senate Pro Tempore position was reinstated as an office equal to the AS President, she said.
Handa is working to build support from stakeholders on campus and said she has met with the counseling center, Western President Sabah Randhawa, students and other AS members. She said she will continue fighting for a recurring invitation and gathering support for a petition which had 716 signatures as of Oct. 30.
“I’m putting everything on the line just to get my spot at the table,” Handa said.
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