At Pitzer, Senate Elections Spark Controversy

On Thursday, Sept. 8, and Sunday, Sept. 11, Pitzer Student Senate Communications Secretary Cindy Onyekwelu PZ ’18 sent out a series of three emails accusing Senate President Josue Pasillas PZ ’17 of changing the Student Senate election ballot and lacking transparency. These emails prompted Pitzer student senators to send an email on Sept. 12 asking Onyekwelu to resign. In addition, the agenda for the Sunday, Sept. 18 Senate meeting contains Resolution 53-R-2, a resolution drafted by 13 student senators in order to remove Onyekwelu from her position.

Senators have also drafted a resolution to impeach Onyekwelu and may bring it up at this Sunday's Senate meeting, according to Campus Aesthetics Committee Representative Sam Kole PZ ’19.

The Sept. 11 email contained a spreadsheet that included senate applicants’ personal information, including phone numbers, IP addresses, and student ID numbers. Students raised concerns that the email was in violation of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student education records.

However, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center Adam Goldstein said that the email did not violate FERPA, since such a violation requires a "policy or practice" of disclosing education records, not "merely an incident."

Onyekwelu said that she sent out the emails in order to alert students and staff to her concerns as soon as possible.

“Student-talk gets a lot of people’s attention because you could simply go through judicial council or deal as a request,” she said. “But from previous actions I've seen in the past where someone does tamper with the ballot, they would try their best to conceal the ballot behind the scenes with judicial review or with the deans.”

According to Onyekwelu, Pasillas’s actions—including tampering with ballots in sophomore year to the point where he “was about to get impeached by the two years’ previous president”—and “aggressive” behavior, caused rifts between her and Pasillas. Tensions, Onyekwelu said, finally came to a head in this current election.

According to Onyekwelu, Pasillas locked her out of the Student Senate application form, removing people’s names and changing the format of the application.

Pasillas "made the entire application for Qualtrics," she said. "I did not make that—he just put my name on it and kept on telling people whenever they had errors or he made a mistake, he kept on blaming me for the mistake in front of everybody." 

Pasillas, however, tells a different story in response to these allegations.

“The initial ballot that was going to be sent out to the student body had several mistakes, including names on the ballot for individuals that did not run for an elected position, and it was also missing names for individuals that did want to run for a position,” he said.

After realizing the mistakes and fixing them, he and the other members of executive board sent out a new form, changing the login information.

According to Pasillas, Onyekwelu's main assertions of Senate favoritism are false.

“Any person who has been appointed to a committee applied for it and said that they were very interested in it,” he said. “And all of these appointments were not made by individual persons—they were made by the [executive] board which is made up of five people.”

Some student senate members have expressed concern at Onyekwelu’s emails. Kole signed a letter requesting Onyekwelu’s resignation along with 18 other student senators.

“You have to put personal matters aside—what Cindy did was unacceptable there are a lot of people whose information is now for the entire Pitzer population to see [is unnecessary],” Kole said.

Senior Class President Chance Kawar PZ ’17 feels that impeachment is not a viable option, but acknowledges that there are tensions between executive board members.

“My experience now having served twice on the executive board is that it creates a lot of problems in that new people coming in who don't have experience on exec[utive] board,” he said.

Kawar proposes a system to elect executive officers earlier in the year so that the incoming officers can work with the outgoing officers to share information and establish a transition.

“We need to do more to train incoming executive officers and incoming senators to insure that they're ready to fulfill the responsibilities of the job they're elected to do,” he said.

Pasillas agrees that there are tensions within the executive board, and agrees that there must be something done about them.

“The executive board is working on setting up an assessment where we really assess our leadership styles to better work with each other,” he said.