The tone of the Undergraduate Student Government’s (USG) April 10 General Assembly (GA) meeting was set by a staged walkout in protest of an unarmed security guard being present in Adelbert Hall. Later on, the Assembly voted down on introducing a controversial resolution which has been widely debated throughout the campus community in recent weeks.
Second-year student and USG Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion Divya Manoharan felt the walkout was an important representation of her position’s duties. USG President Ivy Petsinger, 100 attendants is “the number at which the university would typically recommend a security officer for risk management purposes.”
Because the GA capacity was only 82 attendants, Manoharan, who requested a headcount, argued that the guard’s presence “further marginalized people of color.”
“I walked out because I felt uncomfortable with my existence, my opinions and my opportunity for dialogue being policed,” Manoharan said. “People of color have been constantly marginalized by excessive policing and there is absolutely no way to pretend that a dialogue can be had, especially a dialogue in which minority voices are heard, when the entire assembly is policed.”
After several others left the room in support of Manoharan, the Assembly moved into a gridlock and the guard was dismissed. Upon her return, the VP of Diversity & Inclusion went on to report her committee’s current initiatives.
She proceeded to read a letter written by various members of La Alianza, a CWRU Latinx organization, which advocated the proposal of Resolution 27-04.
Resolution 27-04 is the controversial bill co-authored by second-year student and USG Treasurer Tim O’Shea and third-year student and At Large Member Andrew Thompson. Inspired by the Student Sustainability Council’s (SSC) resolution to separate the university from holdings with companies that invest in fossil fuels, O’Shea and Thompson hold that Resolution 27-04 urges CWRU to “fully divest its assets” from companies involved with occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
It has yet to be introduced as legislation at a GA meeting, but has circulated throughout the campus community and online. In an email sent to the student body earlier in the day, it was indicated that the Executive Committee would recognize the Resolution as an open forum topic at April 10’s GA.
Excerpts from La Alianza’s letter included rhetoric which equated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a “continued genocide of a whole people, religion and culture,” and implied that the decision to push the bill off the table until the conclusion of the Jewish holiday of Passover was ironic, accusing Israel of “enslaving the millions of Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip
and West Bank.”
Manoharan’s decision to introduce the letter as a Diversity & Inclusion initiative as opposed to an open forum topic raised issue with other members of USG. As a result, the Assembly moved to vote in favor of a 30 second speaking limit for all further questions and discussions
Fourth-year student and Vice President of Student Life Ben Tooke voiced his concerns about proposing Resolution 27-04 as legislation.
“Regardless of the content of the resolution, I feel that allowing the legislation to be presented sets a dangerous precedent for USG,” he said. “The deceitful way in which the legislation was written forced it upon [GA] using intimidating social media posts, calling all of USG ‘racist’ and ‘imperialist,’ as well as bad faith from the authors who refused to honor a petition from students asking to delay the presentation of the resolution until after Passover.”
Manoharan, however, argued that withholding the Resolution from proposal was an act of discrimination.
“I think it’s shameful that a letter sent to the Executive Committee pertaining to matters that were potentially going to be discussed at the GA on [April 10] was not read out loud,” Manoharan said, “and even more shameful because it came from a group of underrepresented minorities who are already fighting to exist in most places on campus.”
USG representative Jonathan Stebbins, the author of the petition Tooke cited, agreed with Tooke, and took particular offense to the presentation of La Alianza’s letter, calling it “off-putting” and “one-sided.”
“The letter from La Alianza was frankly just incendiary, and I abhor any attempt to leverage minority status for political gain,” he said. “I take particular issue with the letter because it attempted to appropriate the holiday of Passover for political purposes. It made the claim that Passover is about oppression, and thus Jews or Israel, but honestly they never really made a strong distinction, were being hypocritical by attacking Gazan protesters.”
Stebbins continued, claiming that its content was one-sided.
“What [the letter failed] to mention is that those protesters are being incited by their terrorist government, and that the holiday of Passover is not even about oppression,” he said. “Passover says that Jews were slaves, now Jews are not slaves, but why not? I refuse to allow them to appropriate Passover as their social justice tool.”
After wrapping up committee initiatives, the GA continued, and third-year student Speaker Jacob Sandstrom moved to include Resolution 27-04 as an item of business, based on the Assembly’s response. From there, there would be a vote as to whether or not the Resolution would be introduced as legislation.
Noting that representatives from “all sides” were present at the GA, Manoharan described the meeting as USG’s “opportunity for dialogue and open forum,” to which Tooke brought up contrasting point.
“A resolution is USG’s strongest piece of legislation,” Tooke added. “They are the product of dialogue, townhalls, administrator meetings and student input; they are not the platforms with which to launch conversations.”
He went on to emphasize that USG is elected by roughly 30 percent of campus, and that it is “far from an electoral mandate.”
The vote commenced, and support of withholding the legislative proposal passed the 2/3 threshold. This decision effectively took Resolution 27-04 off the table for the rest of the USG session, which concludes at the end of the semester.
USG Vice President of Public Relations Tim Nicholas and first-year representative Jasmine Cuenca both expressed their disappointment.
Nicholas, who said he was not surprised the Resolution was not presented as legislation, “was repulsed” by the Assembly’s decision.
He added, “This vote means that not only did GA refuse to open a discussion on this legislation, but it forbade us from ever introducing this legislation during the remainder of the 27th [GA]; a disgusting denial of freedom of speech.”
Based on his work with public relations, Nicholas considered the presentation of the bill “relatively transparent,” adding, “Yes, [the authors] took five months to write the Resolution, but I fully understand why they chose to do so and respect their rights as representatives to draft legislation privately.”
Cuenca viewed the implications of the Resolution on a larger scale, and said, “Advocacy does not limit us to campus nor Cleveland concerns; being an advocate means calling for justice everywhere. Furthermore, I think limiting ourselves to campus concerns is shameful.”
Although she said USG is a platform to advocate for undergraduate students, Petsinger conveyed the sentiment that GA meetings are “not [a] conducive place for productive dialogue on this resolution at this time,” based on feedback and discussions among undergraduate students and many members in USG.
O’Shea, who referred to the current mindset of USG as “limited” and “problematic,” said he will not stop efforts at promoting conversations on the issue he wrote about.
He said, “As long as I am a student at CWRU, regardless of if I am re-elected to the USG or not, I will continue pushing for the goals of this resolution to adopted by the administration.”
Petsinger hopes to maintain a collaborative governing body, despite facing challenges in balancing dialogue with parliamentary procedures.
She said, “I believe USG’s primary obligation should be to promote an inclusive campus. While we cannot control what happens in the world around us, we should be doing everything in our power to make every single student on this campus feel safe, protected and included. This has taken on particular urgency with the way that the changing political climate has impacted members of [the CWRU] community.”