Every Monday, the Associated Students of Whittier College (ASWC) Senate shape Whittier College’s Villalobos Hall into a sort of makeshift theater, arranging a series of tables to form one long, horseshoe-shaped mega-table: a half circle looping out towards an audience of chairs. Behind the chairs, Senate sets out a snack table where they sometimes serve coffee or hot chocolate. At their first meeting this past Monday, they served chocolate-covered strawberries.
The meeting opened with Vice President Yvan Monreal asking the Senators, and the audience, for a moment of silent contemplation in honor of Whittier College’s Quaker tradition. Afterwards second-year Student Body Representative Kole Joachim read an inspirational quote — this week’s was from Eleanor Roosevelt. Social Justice Coalition Representative third-year Nick Segura then read the ASWC Senate Mission Statement:
“The ASWC Senate, as the governing body of the Associated Students of Whittier College, is dedicated to the betterment of the College as an institution and as a member of the broader community. The Senate shall assist on-campus clubs and organizations in creating, promoting and implementing dynamic programs and events that involve students and add value to their educational experience. This body will act as an open forum for students to voice their opinions and desires, always keeping the best interests of the ASWC in mind. In all of its actions, the Senate will serve the students first with integrity, dedication, responsibility and humility.”
Since its inception in 1902, the purpose of ASWC Senate has shifted as new members joined and old Senators graduated. Fourth-year Vice President Yvan Monreal spoke about how Senate has taken a turn toward student advocacy in recent years; a push that, Monreal claims, was first led by Whittier’s 2015 - 16 ASWC President Robert Duarte. “We want to really continue with what Robert did when he was here as President,” said Monreal, “and morph [Senate] into more of an advocacy group as well [as a bank].”
The Vice President and President have a different set of responsibilities in Senate. The Vice President chairs the weekly Monday meetings, and works to facilitate communication between Senators and their constituents. The President has a series of responsibilities outlined in the ASWC Constitution, including acting as an official liaison between Senate and Whittier Administration, as well as having executive vetoing power over Senate legislation, funding or bills.
Second-year ASWC Senate Secretary Sam Johnson explained that many students do not realize it, but all full-time students (any student who takes 12 credits or more) are a part of the ASWC. Senate is a coalition of students who represent the ASWC student body.
“Students come to Senate with problems,” said Campus Relations Director third-year Grace Reeder, “or they complain about problems on campus … Senate is [a] vehicle that could help bring those complaints or those concerns to the administration so that they can see them.” Reeder believes that Senate gives students an “easier pipeline” to communicate with administration. She thinks that Senators can work to ensure that student’s concerns are brought to the attention of Whittier’s administration.
These concerns are often raised during the Monday meeting’s “Public Voice” segment, a section of the meeting where Senators offer students an opportunity to address them directly in public. Students have, in the past, used this time to voice grievances about the operations of the College, and the behavior of administrators.
Last year, fourth-year Detrick Manning ran for ASWC President on a joint ticket with Monreal, Reeder, and Johnson on a platform based largely around promising transparency and accessibility. Monreal believes that part of being accessible means improving on campus visibility. He feels that some students may find the prospect of speaking out in public daunting, and, as a result, were discouraged from speaking out. He hopes to offer more approachable avenues for students to communicate with their representatives. Monreal believes that one way to improve communication is to change the way Senate holds office hours. “The only people who [would] come to office hours generally,” said Monreal, “[were] people who either knew you personally or had a funding request.”
“We want to do something in terms of having open office hours where we sit in front of the Campus Inn (CI) or something like that, rather than students having to come to us,” said Reeder. Senators are considering holding office hours outside the Senate Office. Monreal feels that the office’s location — tucked underneath the CI, next to the Dean of Students Office — is somewhat hidden. He hopes that holding office hours outside the office will encourage students to interact with their Senators.
Reeder feels that another aspect of visibility is a strong social media presence. Reeder tweeted throughout the meeting as the ASWC Campus Relations Director typically live-tweets what happens at the Monday meetings from the ASWC Twitter account (@aswc_senate). “I hope to utilize our Instagram much more,” said Reeder. “I want people to know who their student body reps are. I want people to know the positions people hold on campus.” Reeder believes that, by using social media, Senate can let students know who to contact on Senate, and which committees to visit to deal with which college issues.
Down the line, Reeder also hopes to start live streaming Senate meetings. “If [students] can tune … through live streaming capabilities, then they’ll be able to participate in the meetings virtually.” Reeder is still working out the logistics of creating live video. She will have to work out a way to record good quality video and audio in a convenient, reliable way. “I want to do a few test runs with the first few meetings in terms of just live streaming to an empty account,” said Reeder. “That way, we can figure out the full logistics and what it would take to operationalize having these live streams.”
Monday meetings also feature a budget report, given by ASWC Treasurer Jesus Delgado. A large portion of Senate’s allocated funds come from the Student Body Fee, a $120 fee every full-time student pays each semester as part of their tuition. College clubs and on-campus organizations can request funds from Senate’s budget committee if their request is for less than $2,500, or from Senate as a whole if their request is over $2,500. Delgado wants to reconsider how Senate spends their funds based on how they spent them last year. He feels that Senate spent too much on Whittfest last year, greatly limiting their budget late in the year. “I would say I’m going to try and avoid not entirely funding something like [Whittfest],” said Delgado. “I still want that tradition of a Whittfest experience to be on campus, but I would say that $60,000, almost [spending] half the [Senate] budget — will not be something I plan to do this year.” Delgado also wants to review what organizations have requested funds from Senate over the past five years, and to reach out to organizations that have made fewer funding requests.
At the meeting, Senators have constituents reports, bringing concerns raised to them by their constituents to Senate as a whole. And, once they are formed, Senators will also give committee reports, based on information learned at their committee meetings. Committees are smaller groups of Senators, each led by a member of Senate Executive Board, which includes the President, Vice President, Secretary, Campus Relations Director, Treasurer, and Program Board Director(s). Committee meeting times will be posted on OrgSync, and are open to all Whittier students. Committees are formed to deal with specific, common Campus programs. For instance, the Culinary Committee discusses the food served at Whittier in the CI and the Spot.
At 8:21 p.m., after addressing Miscellaneous Business and giving Announcements, this Monday’s meeting was adjourned. Senate will be hosting elections for First Year Class Council and other positions in the coming weeks. “If there are students who are already interested in elections,” said Johnson, “especially first-year students, I would highly encourage them to come to the next Senate meeting or the Senate meeting the week after that.” Students can find Senate’s contact information on OrgSync or ask questions directly by direct messaging Senate’s social media accounts.