The foundation of the ASWC Senate Table shook last week when three ASWC Senators stepped down from their positions.
On Monday, February 27, ASWC Senators gathered into their usual seats inside the dimly-lit Villalobos Hall for their weekly meeting. Campus Relations Director Detrick Manning tweeted out updates on the meeting as normal via the official ASWC Twitter account (@aswc_senate). The meeting was called to order at 7:04 p.m, just three minutes later; senior and ASWC Vice President Sofia Dueñas stood up and announced her resignation, citing “the inefficient leadership of the Senate” as her reason, before walking out the door with a large group of her Ionian sisters.
Shortly after Dueñas made her exit, ASWC President Amer Rashid stepped into her role and continued through the day’s funding requests, which were subsequently moved up on the agenda. When it came time for Committee Reports, the Table moved to close the meeting to further discuss the resignation of the now former Vice President Dueñas. What followed was a closed session that lasted over two hours. As a result, members of the public were not given their typical time to speak.
Senior Maxwell Hoversten, who regularly attends ASWC meetings to provide public updates and has previously served on the Table, explained that this meeting was unlike any other meeting he had attended before. “I can’t speak for members of the public, but I was absolutely flabbergasted,” said Hoversten. “This was the first time I’ve ever seen Senate not get through the full agenda for a meeting.” The meeting was immediately adjourned after the closed session due to the fatigue of the Table members.
Later, Dueñas explained that the reason she stepped down from her position was because she felt the work Senate was doing was not up to par and that her efforts were being disregarded. “I felt that deliberate actions were taken to limit my success and hinder me from fulfilling my duties, which began to significantly impact my ability to perform as a student and as a student leader,” said Dueñas. “Trying to survive in such a poisonous scenario plagued by constant infighting was exhausting, and I realized that by staying in that role, I was not serving the student body nor the Senate effectively. My passion for improving the student body has not been quelled, and I look forward to spending the remainder of my time here at the college using other mechanisms to take part in such work.”
While many Senators understood why Dueñas resigned, some felt that she mishandled the situation. “I understand that she wasn’t happy, and of course your mental health, happiness, and schooling all come first,” sophomore Eryn Wells and Social Justice Coalition Representative said. “[However], when we take positions of leadership in a governing body, that comes with the understanding that we may be uncomfortable and that everything isn’t always going to flow smoothly. As Vice President, you are seen as a support figure to the rest of the governing body. Yes, I understand that she was unhappy and uncomfortable, but I do feel that her resigning wasn’t fair to the Table and ultimately [wasn’t fair] to our constituents.”
Dueñas’s resignation also led other members of Senate to question their own positions on the Table. Environmental Action Advocate junior Maddie McMurray announced that that Monday’s Senate meeting would be her last, and in the days following, Academic Affairs Council Representative junior Anders Blomso also resigned from his position. Rumors of others considering resignation have circulated throughout the week.
Blomso posted a statement on Facebook citing mental health as his reason for stepping down. “I write with no small amount of disappointment to inform you all of my resignation from the ASWC Senate,” stated Blomso. “While there have been moments that have been amongst the happiest of my life serving with you, on the whole, my commitment to the ASWC Senate has taken an enormous toll on my mental and emotional health.”
McMurray, on the other hand, explained that her resignation was premeditated. “It was my intention that my protégée would have time to sit on the Table and prepare for the upcoming semester and have time to ask me questions, essentially getting comfortable with the role,” said McMurray. “I stuck out the remainder of Fall semester essentially for former Vice President Dueñas. She was my main source of support when I encountered roadblocks, wanted to toss around ideas, and needed a minute to lean on a shoulder. Her resignation meant the end of my support system, and, frankly, [my] anchor on the executive cabinet.”
The resignations of these three Senators were not the first of this semester. At the first Senate meeting of the Spring semester, junior and former Treasurer Lorena Heymans stepped down from her position. Senior and former Secretary John Parviainen has since stepped up to fill the role of Treasurer. Nonetheless, there are still two vacancies on Executive Board. Even more, both Executive Board members who stepped down were the co-authors of last semester’s hotly-debated Funding Reallocation Bill, which slashed the operational funds of the school’s six Media Council organizations by a third.
Members of ASWC are not able to recall the last time that a Vice President resigned from their position mid-semester, but senior and ASWC President Amer Rashid expressed his optimism in building more cohesion on the table. “After in-depth conversations with the Table, I am not just confident but also reenergized and excited to continue serving the student body with what still remains the most efficient and effective Table to date,” stated Rashid.
Vice President and Assistant Dean of Students Joel Pérez, who serves as ASWC adviser, understands that the well-being of his students are a priority, and he continuously works to support them. “It’s unfortunate that this has happened,” said Pérez. “My hope is always that students can work out their differences, but ultimately, it’s up to them if they feel they can continue to serve in those leadership positions. My role is to support the students as much as possible in their decision-making.”
While the members of the Table carry a large responsibility to this campus, individual self-care is still an area of extreme importance, and this is a belief that is shared among ASWC Senators. “While the ASWC is undoubtedly grateful for the contributions of the members who have resigned, it is important these members do what they feel is best for themselves as we finish out the year,” said Rashid. “If something is negatively impacting you, it’s important to either eliminate it or do something differently,” said Wells. “The fact that she recognized that Senate wasn’t a positive aspect of her life anymore. I respect that decision.”
Blomso expressed his appreciation for all those who shared their concerns over social media and emphasized the importance of mental health. “Finally, to anyone who has or ever will suffer from mental illness, please know that you are in no way alone and that you are cared for and loved,” said Blomso. “[Mental illness] is something we have, up until this recent era, spent a small amount of time thinking about as a culture and society. I hope, moving forward, we might be more open and serious when we discuss mental illness and stress in relation to our youth.”