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Erin Nguyen: Annual USAC resolution repeal ignores marginalized communities’ groundwork

The Undergraduate Students Association Council has a bylaw stating all council resolutions will be scrapped at the end of the academic year. This rule is shortsighted and fails to take into account the long-term needs of some campus communities. (Kristie-Valerie Hoang/Assistant Photo editor)

By Erin Nguyen

Nov. 16, 2017 10:45 p.m.

A large group of students with their hands over their hearts gather in a circle. They begin clapping rhythmically, gradually increasing speed until the clap breaks out into a thunderous roar. As the students clap, they chant, “Isang Bagsak,” which they interpret as “If one of us falls, we all fall, but if one of us rises, we all rise.”

Members of Samahang Pilipino at UCLA conclude every general meeting with “Isang Bagsak” to remind members what it means to be part of a community, said Natalie Bagaporo, president of Samahang Pilipino and a fourth-year human biology and society student.

In the past, the Undergraduate Students Association Council has passed several resolutions, or official statements of the council’s stance on certain topics, that recognize the struggles of various communities and provide calls to action to support these communities, such as the resolution to recognize the contributions of the Pilipino farmworkers in the Delano Labor Movement and resolution to recognize the Sikh genocide of 1984.

In 2015, USAC passed an amendment to its bylaws stating that resolutions would only represent the opinions of the council that passed them. This means resolutions are only effective for the academic year in which they’re passed, and student groups have to repropose resolutions to bring them back into effect.

Resolutions have the power to set foundational precedents to create resources to support students, such as the Transfer Student Center. These changes, however, cannot always be achieved within a single year. Absolving resolutions within a year eliminates precedents and removes history. Forcing students to re-present resolutions is not only exhausting, but also hinders the progress these organizations can make toward institutional change to better support their members.

USAC should repeal the bylaw amendment stating council resolutions must be wiped clean each year. Allowing resolutions to remain in effect preserves the work done by marginalized communities to get them passed and paves the way for future projects. USAC should ensure resolutions stay in effect unless the council votes to individually repeal them.

Resolutions are not created to pin USAC with the responsibility of fixing all injustices and issues within a community. Rather, they exist to help communities by connecting them to the council, which has funding and resources at its disposal.

USAC can help UCLA retain more students from marginalized communities by recognizing their experiences and addressing their needs, said Divya Sharma, USAC Academic Affairs commissioner.

Sharma spearheaded a resolution in October in support of the transgender community, which advocated for more all-gender restrooms, ally training for USAC staff and more sustainable funding sources for the UCLA LGBT Campus Resource Center – objectives last year’s council tried to achieve in its term with its own resolution. Unfortunately, the bylaw change absolved this resolution, which took necessary steps to improve transgender student retention, in May 2016.

Sharma said without the resolution, the current council is not held accountable to achieving the resolution’s objectives unless individual council members advocate the resolutions themselves – a redundant and tiring process that limits the scope of resolutions to one year.

But institutional change cannot always be achieved in a calendar year. USAC bases decisions on precedents, and removing resolutions negates the advocacy work of communities who already go through adversity, Sharma said.

Additionally, re-presenting resolutions is not always a feasible option for students. Doing so requires students find three council members to sponsor their resolutions, launch media campaigns and educational workshops on their own time and present their ideas at the council. This is a tenuous process for students, who are already burdened with academic and other responsibilities, and might force many to focus their efforts elsewhere.

Of course, resolutions have limitations.

“It’s important for students to recognize that USAC resolutions are the opinions of 13 students on campus, and there are many other ways to bring attention to student experiences,” said USAC President Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh.

However, these 13 voting council positions come with social prominence. Council members can influence what happens on campus, and their stances on issues can be validating for students who were traditionally underrepresented by the university.

“To some, resolutions may feel like ‘opinions,'” Bagaporo said. “But for others, opinions have real-life implications.”

Resolutions influence local news, admissions, social thinking, policy and media, and even the way procedures are conducted at UCLA, Bagaporo added.

“These resolutions are not just ‘opinions’ to us,” she said.

It’s important that resolutions should prioritize needs relevant to the latest student body and landmark resolutions, such as support for the DREAM Act or divestment from the prison-industrial complex, which typically shouldn’t change year to year.

Of course, there are some resolutions that can also negatively impact students.

“(Divestment resolutions) exacerbated anti-Semitic activity (on campus) and we saw an increase in hateful tropes, graffiti and speakers,” said Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA. “The amendment attempts to limit such antagonism.”

But according to current bylaws, harmful resolutions can be suspended by a two-third vote by council. Repealing one harmful resolution is an easier solution than repealing every resolution. Most resolutions are focused on community building and don’t harm students, so it’s counterproductive to absolve all resolutions every year.

UCLA has a world-renowned reputation, and has the power to influence change at the institutional level. Resolutions set up blueprints for USAC and marginalized communities to work together, and it’s important not to undo this groundwork or erase communities’ past struggles. If one of us rises, we all rise. If one of us falls, we all fall.

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Erin Nguyen | Alumnus
Nguyen was an Opinion columnist.
Nguyen was an Opinion columnist.
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