Student group proposes constitutional amendment to have students vote on changes in student body fees

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A proposed constitutional amendment requiring a campus-wide vote to approve student body fee changes will appear on Friday’s Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) election ballot. The petition to add the amendment had 667 student signatures as of Monday night, fulfilling the 600 signature minimum necessary to put it on the ballot.

The petition, which was emailed out to the student body April 13, stated that it is “unfair and undemocratic to the student body” for Honor Board to be in charge of enacting changes to student body fees.

Currently, the ASOC constitution states that Honor Board has to approve any changes to student body fees. Honor Board, a body of 10 student jurors elected by Occidental students, hears cases concerning alleged violations by members of the student body of the Student Code of Conduct or Honor Principle.

Mikayla Branz (senior), as well as the other students involved with the petition, believes that student body fees should not fall within Honor Board’s jurisdiction. Branz served on Honor Board for four semesters and was co-chair in fall of 2013. She, along with Ricardo Parada-Delao (first-year) and Danielle Raskin (sophomore), spearheaded the effort to get the proposed amendment on the ballot.

“We realized that [Honor Board] students are not trained to make decisions about the budget,” Branz said. They’re students like us, and so there’s no reason that [a few] people should make a decision for the entire campus when we can make a decision for ourselves”.

According to Parada-Delao, the petition was sparked largely by discontent over Honor Board’s decision to reject a student body fee increase to fund the new Diversity and Equity Board (DEB), despite overwhelming student support for the new ASOC branch. A group of students, which includes Branz, Parada-Delao and Raskin, believe the provision of the ASOC constitution giving Honor Board the power to oversee any student body fee increase is flawed and ambiguous.

“The [Diversity and Equity Board Initiative (DEBI)] movement has highlighted the procedural ambiguity and flaws within the responsibility given to Honor Board,” Parada-Delao said. “After Honor Board was made aware of its power, they have not provided sufficient reason for the student body to understand why they [vetoed DEBI’s funding component].”

Student signatures on the petition do not necessarily indicate their agreement with the amendment, just its right to be put on the general election ballot for students to vote on. According to Parada-Delao, there seems to be wide student support for both the petition and the amendment to the ASOC constitution.

Honor Board member Jonathan Kanellakos (junior) said he fully supports the potential shift of student body fee increase decisions to a campus-wide vote. However, he believes the reinstatement of general assemblies or discussions as a part of making changes to student fees will be necessary as well.

“I fully support the democratic process,” Kanellakos said. “My only concern is that without the reinstatement of general assemblies or discussions around changes in fees, students may not be able to critically engage with these conversations in order to ensure the best possible implementation of each proposal.”

However, he said that if the amendment is passed and DEBI receives funding, he believes it will be necessary for there to be a change in the way Occidental students engage in dialogue.

“We need to create an environment at Occidental that is conducive to respecting a wide range of opinions, not only those that come from the most vocal students,” Kanellakos said. “I hope that those appointed to DEB work to become more transparent and inclusive of the entire Occidental community, not only those who align with similar beliefs.”