Grace Reeder

In the latest fight for student rights on campus, Whittier College President Sharon Herzberger appeared at Associated Students of Whittier College (ASWC) Senate’s meeting to give the first signature approving the Student Bill of Rights. 

The Student Bill of Rights was drafted by third-year Campus Relations Director Eryn Wells and former ASWC President Amer Rashid during the 2016-17 school year. “[The bill will be] a legally binding document that students can refer to when they feel their rights are being jeopardized,” said former ASWC President Rashid in fall 2016. Now awaiting signatures from administrators, faculty members, and ASWC members, it is only a matter of time before the bill can be officially implemented as policy, and will be Whittier College’s first Student Bill of Rights.

“The main thing I want to address is to have a document that clearly outlines the rights of students, which are assumed or given by the school,” said Wells. “I feel like it’s important to have a document that is easily understandable for every student to read in the event that they get in trouble or are not clear about a policy. The whole point of it is to be sure that everybody is on the same page about what their rights are as a student at Whittier College.”

Mirroring the United States Bill of Rights, Whittier’s Student Bill of Rights covers many essentialrights such as the right to the freedom of opinion and expression; the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through media; the right to peaceably assemble, protest, and petition their grievances; the right to the freedom of a critical and informing press; and the right to protection from arbitrary interference with privacy.

“The right to timely notification to changes to graduation requirements was one thing that particularly stood out to me,” said Herzberger. “From what I understand, there were some student concerns about changes to their majors and how it would affect them during their time here. I think this is an extremely important right because it speaks to students’ ability to get out in four years without changes in the middle.”

Although this will mark the first time in school history that a Bill of Rights has existed, numerous ASWC Presidents in the past have made unsuccessful attempts to pass bills of their own.  Throughout the drafting process and during his tenure, Rashid maintained communication with these former Presidents and reported that they all cited “institutional barriers” and a “lack of esteem for student-body government on the part of both students and the school’s administration” as the main reasons for why a bill was unable to be passed.

President Herzberger said that this billisimportant because “itreally documents our commitmenttostudentrights.” In the weeks following President Trump’s proposed repeal of the DACA program, the college publicly declared that the campus is a space where all students are welcome and supported. Included in the bill is “the right to education regardless of immigration status in compliance with the Whittier College Poet Student Sanctuary Protections Policy.”  

Herzbergerfeelsthat the bill was “well-done and well thought-out in its complexity,” which has led toits success. Wells and Rashidworked with many different departments on campus before it was brought to President Herzberger, which made iteasyforher to sign as it was so thorough,“I’m not only optimistic because of the positive impact this will have on students,” said Herzberger. “I’m also optimistic because students took this on as a project and figured out how to work it through the system, collaborate with other people, and finally getting it signed. It’s a win for everyone involved.”

Associate Dean of Students Josh Hartman was one of the administrators that Wells, Rashid, and the Social Justice Coalition (SJO) collaborated with during the drafting of this bill; he hopes that the passing of the bill will alleviate some concerns about student safety on campus. “To me, the most important thing is that students are feeling safe, healthy, and supported on campus in every way imaginable, and I think a Bill of Rights will help them feel supported,” said Hartman.

During the drafting process, Wells explained that collaboration between students and administration was crucial to bringing legitimacy to the bill. “If we don’t collaborate with administration in making this bill, it wouldn’t have as much weight,” Wells said at the time of drafting. “We want to be transparent in everything and [make sure] that we are all on the same page. This bill needs to be as powerful and serious as possible. We don’t want to rush it.”

After a year’s worth of discussion, planning, and drafting, Whittier’s Student Bill of Rights finally received its first administrative signature at the ASWC Senate meeting on Monday, Sept. 25. Additional signatures from members of administration, faculty, ASWC, and SJC are expected in the coming days, and the bill is planned to be made available on OrgSync once all signatures have been collected.