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Davis, California

Friday, April 19, 2024

This week in senate: May 8, 2014

ASUCD Vice President Maxwell Kappes presided over the senate meeting held on May 8 at Freeborn Hall. The meeting was called to order at 6:42 p.m.

Prior to the meeting being called to order, Associate Executive Vice Chancellor Rahim Reed reminded the crowd, which filled the facility, to consider UC Davis’ principles of community when addressing Senate Resolution (SR) #20 later that night.

The first order of business was the consideration of Senate Bill (SB) #67 which sought to re-establish the Sexual Assault Awareness and Advocacy Committee (SAAAC). Senator Amelia Helland authored the bill. Senator Mariah Watson motioned to add Eddie Truong, the first founder of the SAAAC, as a co-author on the bill. The motion was seconded, and the bill was passed unanimously 12-0-0.

The meeting then moved into the introduction of new legislation. The legislation consisted of three senate resolutions, which discussed the use of more efficient lighting by administration and ASUCD and also the ban on fracking.

The rest of the meeting was spent on SR #20, which urged the UC Regents to divest from corporations that aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and alleged illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.

The first speaker to address the resolution was its author, Saleem Shehadeh.

“This resolution is for having courage to create a future that is not filled with corporate greed and ethnic violence, but with the just and equal peace for all,” Shehadeh said. “We as students are helping to pave that path to a just peace and that sometimes staying silent is a crime.”

Senate then heard from Zach Griffiths, Business and Finance Commission chair, Kriti Garg, Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission (ECAC) chair and Amy Ly, External Affairs Commission (EAC) chair. Each chair gave reports on how his or her individual commission meetings went regarding the resolution. Griffiths noted that he abstained because there was no way to get a majority student opinion on the issue. During Ly’s time, two of her commissioners, Abire Sabbagh, a proponent of SR #20, and Julia Reifkind, an opponent of SR #20, spoke on opposing sides of the resolution.

“I see EAC as the face, the image of UC Davis to other people, and I was not comfortable with the image of UC Davis being a campus that is not standing up against injustice and is not standing up against human rights violations,” Sabbagh said.

Reifkind spoke of the divisiveness of the issue.

“The reason I voted no and urge anyone and everyone to vote no is because of this resolution, based on a community of students feeling marginalized, is inherently divisive on neglecting the welfare of this campus as a whole,” Reifkind said.

The meeting then entered a public discussion, in which members from the public and the senate table gave their opinions on the resolution.

Opponents of SR #20 criticized the resolution for presenting a biased view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and told senate that voting yes would be choosing one side over another. Additionally, opponents said the resolution created a negative campus climate and an unsafe environment for pro-Israel and Jewish students.

“It is an embarrassment that this resolution has made it to senate. There will be no winner tonight,” said Brent Ghan, an opponent of SR #20. “If this resolution passes, I will feel unsafe on this campus as well as countless other students that are here tonight as well. Senators, you are our elected officials. Please protect me, please protect my community on this campus and protect my voice.”

Proponents of SR #20 supported the resolution for being pro-human rights and pro-justice for Palestinians. Several proponents identified as Jewish themselves and negated any claims of feeling unsafe on campus. Additionally, the proponents combated claims that the resolution was biased by defending that it was level-headed toward both parties.

“We must do what is in our power, here in the U.S., to challenge the daily oppression Palestinians suffer at the hand of Israeli forces,” said Eran Zelnik, a supporter of SR #20, a UC Davis Ph.D. student and a former Israel Defense Forces soldier. “This is a pro-justice and pro-human rights resolution. Please do not let the voices of those who have not yet fully acknowledged the narrative of both people to tell you otherwise.”

During the discussion, former ASUCD senator and an SR #20 opponent Ryan Wonders accused Garg for being biased toward the proponent side of SR #20 during her commission meeting report.

Garg later received a chance to defend herself, claiming that a third of her report was spent on the opposing side, a third was spent on the supporting side and a third was spent providing historical context, making her report fair to both sides.

Kappes called a break at 8:00 p.m.

Public discussion resumed when Kappes called the meeting back into order at 8:26 p.m.

In response to the resolution being one-sided, one supporter of the resolution said it was difficult for the oppressed to have a dialogue with the oppressor. Additionally, in defense of the resolution neglecting to include other countries in conflict that the University is investing in, one supporter argued that the support didn’t have time, nor was it the authors’ responsibility to write resolutions for all these countries.

Other accounts included a list of student and political organizations in support of divestment and several personal and historical accounts of why supporters saw the resolution as pro-justice for Palestinians.

Melissa Zamora, a first-year Chicana/o studies major, said she supported the resolution because of the conditions affecting the Latino/a community as well. According to her, two of the companies in question, Caterpillar and G4S, also contribute to the the deportations of Mexicans out of the U.S. and the reinforcement of the U.S./Mexican border.

“I support Davis Divestment because the UC investment in these companies affects more than just Palestinians, it also affects [the Latino/a community],” Zamora said. “We support the resolution in hopes that our student fees and university funds will be utilized not to build apartheid and occupation, but to ensure a greater future for everyone.”

In opposition to the resolution, one opponent argued that the companies in question are not malicious in intent and that Israel is simply defending itself, as a country is required to do. Others provided further accounts of feeling unsafe and claimed that saying yes to the resolution was in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Another opponent argued that the resolution failed to comply with the UC Davis principles of community by making students feel marginalized. Additionally, one supporter criticized graduate and Ph.D. students involved in the conversation due to their tuition not being included in the University’s investment in these corporations.

“Grad students and Ph.D. students, thank you so much for coming to speak and although you apparently know everything, this is an ASUCD Senate Resolution, and I just wanted to make the reminder that grad students do not pay to ASUCD and do not vote in ASUCD elections,” said Tal Topf, former ASUCD senator and an opponent against SR #20.

Amendments were made to the resolution in order to specify the number of portfolios and amount of money in which the University is investing the companies in question.

Another break was called to order at 10:00 p.m.

After the meeting was called back to order at 10:30 p.m., public discussion continued with each side providing accounts in support of points stated previously.

Watson motioned to divide the house with a non-binding vote for the resolution; however, the motion failed 1-10-1.

Casey Nguyen, ECAC coordinator, said that as a Vietnamese-American, she empathized with the support of the resolution.

“Both the occupation of Vietnam and Palestine were heavily funded with U.S. dollars,” Nguyen said. “In the question of neutrality, I wanted to remind about the impossibility of neutrality especially when I reflect on how Palestinian struggles have been inextricably linked with Vietnamese struggles.”

Pamela Nonga, former ASUCD senator, spoke on how she was against human rights violations in Palestine but could not support the bill because of it hurting one side. Nonga said that she believed there could be a resolution that was inclusive of both sides.

“As a Cameroonian-French-American student, occupation and oppression are in my blood and I can’t condone it or justify it in any way. Anyone who can justify the violation of human rights is in denial,” Nonga said. “However, I am not for this resolution… As ASUCD representatives you not only represent students who are for this resolution, you also represent students who are hurt by this resolution, whether or not you agree that their hurt is real, they are Aggies, they are our peers and you have to acknowledge that.”

Senator Nicholas Sanchez then motioned to divide the house in an unbinding vote for who was for and who was against the resolution. The motion was confirmed.

Senate voted 4-4-4, with senators Watson, Sanchez, Robyn Huey and Azka Fayyaz voting yes, Eugenia Chung, Helland, Katie Sherman and Jonathan Mitchell voting no, and Gareth Smythe, Artem Senchev, Shehzad Lokhandwalla and Janesh Gupta abstaining.

Mitchell argued that the resolution was not about students, but about a greater political movement that had no place on UC Davis’ campus. Furthermore, he criticized the resolution for being divisive.

“The text of this resolution seems logical; it seems rational, but that is not what this resolution represents,” Mitchell said. “This is a BDS movement; it may not appear so because they mask themselves in the opinion of students. Look around the room, is this really the right way to bring this discussion to campus? Do you see all the students wearing red? Do I really have to argue about how this divides our campus?”

However, Huey argued that it wasn’t divesting from these companies that created campus division, it was investing in them in the first place.

“Divesting from these companies doesn’t cause campus divide, it is investing in these companies that has already caused campus divide,” Huey said.

Additionally, Garg argued that the resolution was not attempting to offer a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Pro-divestment is not claiming to solve the situation,” Garg said.

Another break was called at 12:00 a.m.

Public discussion continued after the meeting was called back to order at 12:30 a.m.

In the middle of public discussion, Helland motioned to move the conversation into senate discussion. The motion was seconded.

During senate discussion, the conversation moved toward potentially placing the resolution on a ballot in order to be more inclusive of the greater student body.

Chung led the conversation by proposing putting the resolution on a ballot only if the pros and cons were listed in order for students to be more sufficiently educated on the issue. Watson proposed there be an abstain option and that the new resolution should include the added amendments. However, Mitchell said he was against putting the resolution on a ballot because he predicted that it would only divide the student body further. Other senators, such as Senchev, Sanchez, Lokhandwalla and Helland, said that they were in support of placing the resolution on a ballot.

However, a supporter of the SR #20 urged the senators to not vote no on the resolution simply because of the possibility it will be on a ballot. Likewise, an opponent against SR #20 criticized the senators for wanting the resolution on a ballot, emphasizing that the senators were the elected officials of the student body and that it was their responsibility to make these decisions.

Sherman then gave her account of why she planned to vote no on the resolution. She accounted experiences when she felt marginalized and unsafe because of the resolution.

“I’m ashamed that I don’t like being an Aggie when our campus is so unsafe,” Sherman said.

Watson motioned to amend the resolution’s language to include the effects the corporations in question had on the Latino/a community as well.

The amendment was initially objected by Mitchell, who claimed that “there isn’t any purpose in amending a broken bill.”

However, Watson defended her amendment on the grounds that the language she wanted to make were valid points that had to be added. She motioned for a second time, and the amendment was made.

Sabbagh then asked the senators if other amendments could be made to the resolution in order for it to seem more fair. Her proposals were criticized by Wonders, who felt the resolution’s supporters waited too long for amendments to be made.

“I think that what has happened here is that we had a resolution, which began as one-sided, despite attempts to collaborate, [that] is now facing a vote, and suddenly there’s desperation and now we want to work together and make amendments so it’s two-sided,” Wonders said. “I find it convenient that what I see as a middle finger is turned into a handshake right before this vote.”

Mitchell then motioned to vote on SR #20. Fayyaz initially objected to the motion in order to give her final last words on the resolution. The motion was then seconded.

The resolution ultimately failed with an initial vote of 5-5-2, in which Sanchez, Watson, Fayyaz, Huey and Lokhandwalla voted yes; Helland, Senchev, Chung, Mitchell and Sherman voted no, and Smythe and Gupta voted to abstain.

Because there was a tie, Kappes was required by the decision of ASUCD Court Case 13, which requires the vice president to vote to break a tie. Kappes voted to abstain, ultimately failing the resolution due to the proponent side not having a majority. The final vote was 5-5-3.

The meeting was adjourned at 1:52 a.m.

Moments after the adjournment, Chaker’a “Star” Bacon, student assistant to the chancellor, reminded both sides that they promised to work together and that she expected them to do so.

SR #20 supporters left the building chanting, “Invest in education, not occupation.”

— Jason Pham


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