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Friday, January 22, 2021

Senate candidates voice their opinions on BSO demands

Candidates have similar views, but different ideas

A lone cyclist in Red Square
A cyclist makes their way through a deserted red square. Western plans to reopen campus in the fall, but the number of students who will return remains uncertain. // Photo by Nate Sanford.

By Nathan Schumock 

Black student needs were the focus of an online forum held from Oct. 20 to Oct. 22 for Student Senate candidates.

The forum, which was moderated by Associated Students Elections Coordinator Mario Alem, and featured about 26 candidates covered many topics. The majority of the discussion, however, focused on the list of demands from the Black Student Organization and how the senate candidates will address them. 

In June, the BSO issued 22 demands to Western Washington University and the AS. The short-term demands are time-sensitive and are expected to start immediately with the long-term demands following after. Failure to meet the demands by winter quarter of 2021 will result in the BSO breaking ties with the AS and the Ethnic Student Center. Additionally, AS President Abdul Malik Ford signed the demands and has put it at the forefront of his administration.

While many candidates have similar opinions, they differed on how to follow through.

Aidyn Stevens, a senate candidate for the College of Fine and Performing Arts, said the senate needs to hold Western’s Board of Trustees accountable to the demands and make sure that they are met without demanding more work from the BSO.

The Board of Trustees is the governing body that manages and regulates the decisions made at Western, such as setting the annual budget.

“We cannot ask BIPOC students and ask the BSO to cater to our needs and say, ‘Can you please educate us on how we can get this done?’” Stevens said.

In contrast, Nathan Sim, a candidate for an at-large senate position, said the BSO should be involved in the process the AS goes through to build trust between the organizations.        Sim proposed a senate position that would represent the interests of the minority organizations, the way that senators represent each of their colleges.

Jon Lozano, an advisor for the Krieger School of Arts at John Hopkins University, conducted a study on the connections between student governments and higher education governing boards. He reflected what Sim said about having a dedicated seat for minority groups.   “Underrepresented groups aren’t having their voices heard. Having dedicated seats is a good way to remedy that issue,” Lozano said.

Lozano emphasized that it is important to gather input from a variety of students from traditionally underrepresented groups. 

ACADEMIC ROADBLOCKS

Stephen Cooper, a senate candidate for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, wants to focus on eliminating the GPA requirement for majors, which is one of the demands the BSO made. Cooper said GPA requirements serve as an academic roadblock, especially for people who are doing their best but have other problems in their lives.

Cooper suggested going over the GPA problem with the deans of colleges and reevaluating major requirements.

BUDGET QUESTIONS

Aida Cardona, a senate candidate for the College of Business and Economics, approached the demands from a fiscal point of view.

“Words are one thing, actions are another, but funding is what really talks,” Cardona said. “I think the line items that they had identified for the budget cuts are totally reasonable and that it should not be too much of a challenge for the Senate to reallocate those funds.””

The budget changes proposed by the BSO include abolishing the AS employee development fund and reallocating it to help Black students on campus. The proposals also included defunding the Western police so Western can invest in Black mental health counselors.  

Cardona said the senate needs to level the playing field for the underrepresented students and prioritize non-majority voices.

The candidates echoed AS Senate Pro Tempore Sargun Handa’s similar views on the demands.

“We need actual, tangible change on this campus because no Black indigenous person of color can ever feel safe on Western’s campus until these BSO demands are fulfilled,” Handa said.

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