In the aftermath of several close races in last week’s ASPC elections, the current Senate formed a subcommittee at its weekly meeting April 18 to address the endorsement of candidates for ASPC Senate by ASPC-funded organizations.
The discussion came in response to an e-mail sent to all members of the ASPC-funded student organization Empowered Latin@s in Action (ELA) prior to last week’s election. The e-mail, which was written by Rachel Ramirez PO ’11, endorsed candidates for ASPC positions based on their commitment to issues of people of color.
“I'm hoping that ELA can mobilize ourselves as a unified front to support the candidates that are the most committed to the issues of people of color and other marginalized groups on campus,” Ramirez wrote in the e-mail.
According to Frank Langan PO ’11, Vice President of Campus Life and Activities, the e-mail was forwarded to other student organizations on campus, including the Asian American Mentoring Program (AAMP). Of the eight candidates endorsed in the e-mail, seven won their respective races.
Langan said he believes it is a conflict of interest when ASPC-funded organizations endorse candidates for ASPC Senate.
“I fully support students in their right as individuals to hold and express opinions as to who they support for ASPC elections,” Langan wrote in an email to The Student Life. “I cannot, however, condone the use of the e-mail list of an ASPC-funded student group to tell members of a group who to vote for. This is not the purpose of these groups, and I do not feel it is appropriate for club members or leaders to abuse their position within that club to influence the votes of others.”
Ramirez said she did not view her e-mail as an official endorsement. Rather, as a four-year member of ELA, Ramirez said she felt that she understood the mission and goals of the organization and felt it was appropriate to share the list of candidates that she endorsed with them.
“People should be able to engage in open conversations around the candidates,” Ramirez said. “I think there should be open dialogues about who we want to support for any reason. You should support candidates you believe would support your causes.”
Ramirez characterized ELA as “a group for self-identified Latinos and allies with the mission of engaging in political work and promoting events and activities for Latinos on campus.”
She added that she picked candidates by doing research based on their candidate statements. Though a number of the students she endorsed were students of color, she said that race did not play a role in her decision to endorse candidates.
“It’s not so much being a student of color and not being a student of color, but promoting critical dialogue on campus,” Ramirez said. “Race did not impact my decision to choose them.”
According to ELA Co-President Salvador García PO ’12, ELA leaders have not had a chance to discuss Ramirez’s e-mail. However, he said he didn’t believe that there was anything wrong with using ELA’s mailing list to send that e-mail.
“I also see nothing wrong with groups funded by ASPC internally endorsing candidates for ASPC elections,” he added. “The decisions ASPC makes directly affect these groups, so I think it makes sense that certain groups would want certain people in ASPC that would work to their benefit.”
However, Langan expressed concern that language used in the e-mail implied that the endorsed candidates were the only candidates who sought to represent the interests of students of color.
“I do not for one minute believe that there was any candidate for ASPC office who was not committed to making this campus better for the entire student body, and this e-mail makes it appear as though only the candidates listed held this ideal,” Langan wrote.
Sarah Appelbaum PO ’13, who ran unopposed for Commissioner of Community Relations and was endorsed in Ramirez’s e-mail, said that although she does not believe that anyone currently on Senate or any of the candidates in the recent election are antagonistic to marginalized groups on campus, she added that she felt the candidates who were endorsed have more experience with marginalized groups and can better represent those communities.
“At the very least, as I understand it, Senate has been a majority white group,” Appelbaum said. “With this election there is an increase of self-identified people of color. People were running to bring the voice of marginalized groups on campus to the Senate. That was part of the reason I ran as well.”
Appelbaum added that she hopes to see a shift in Senate next year, where marginalized groups will be better represented by ASPC.
According to Nate Brown PO ’12, who was elected to serve as ASPC President next year—and was the only candidate not endorsed in Ramirez’s e-mail to win his election—the specific issues of this case were not problematic since Ramirez sent out the e-mail from her personal address and did not portray the e-mail as an official ELA endorsement.
Still, Brown said he would like to see some definition in the election code that addresses endorsements prior to the fall elections. Specifically, he said he wants to ensure that ASPC club funds are never used to endorse candidates.
While this incident concerned the endorsements of a single individual, the Senate subcommittee formed at Monday’s meeting will seek to address issues with student groups endorsing candidates in general. Will Gamber PO ’13, who was endorsed in Ramirez’s e-mail and won his election for Commissioner of Academic Affairs, said that although there is a conflict of interest when a group receiving money from ASPC endorses candidates who will decide how much money the group receives, organizations should play a role in the dialogue surrounding elections.
“I think we need to consider what kind of dialogue we want,” Gamber said. “I don’t think ASPC-funded organizations should be banned entirely from speaking about elections.”
According to theory friction practice PO ’12, who was also endorsed in the e-mail and won the race for Vice President of Campus Life and Activities, people should be able to discuss opinions with the members of their group.
“If a group is politically oriented, as most groups on campus are I think, it makes sense that they would support a candidate,” practice said.
According to Associate Dean of Students Neil Gerard, issues surrounding the role of clubs and organizations in ASPC elections have come up episodically, but there has never been a consensus on the issue that has resulted in a change to the election code.
The subcommittee will attempt to come up with a proposed change to the election code to address the involvement of clubs and organizations in ASPC elections. The Senate has two more meetings before the end of the semester.
If a change to the election code is not made this year, Brown said he will make sure the issue is readdressed in the fall.
“I was concerned about this topic being left behind with the end of the year, but if the subcommittee meets I think they can come up with a good definition,” he said. “If it isn’t resolved before then I will definitely continue the subcommittee next year and get some definition in the election code before the fall election.”