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Sunday, March 3, 2024

More than 60 community members publicly oppose bill at March 2 Senate meeting

The bill, which would require antisemitism training for the Senate table, received backlash following concerns about anti-Palestinian sentiments held by the organization that would provide the training

 

By RACHEL GAUER— campus@theaggie.org

 

Note: Some sources are anonymous for the safety of the Palestinian students who commented during the meeting.  

 

Vice President JT Eden called the meeting to order at 6:14 p.m. on Thursday, March 2. Following roll call, he recited the UC Davis Land Acknowledgement. 

Next, the Senate heard a presentation from Associate Vice Chancellor Cory Vu. Vu highlighted Aggie Mental Health resources and gave updates regarding the process of hiring new members of their team. 

“We have about seven counselors left that we need to hire, but once we get all of them hired I think we will be in very good shape in terms of access here on campus,” Vu said. Vu also spoke about a current project called Health 34, which plans to launch in the fall. Vu is working with the UC Davis Fire Chief Nathan Trauernicht to create an emergency service that is specific to mental health crises. 

“Imagine if you have a friend or roommate or anyone that you know who is in distress,” Vu said. “Instead of calling 911 for the police to come and assist, you can call a seven-digit number, and when you call them, a team will arrive which will consist of paramedics, EMT students trained by the fire department and a nurse navigator.”

Next, the Senate heard a presentation from recently elected Davis City Councilmember Bapu Vaitla. Vatila responded to Senator Stephen Fujimoto’s questioning regarding how the city can improve the current housing crisis.

“We will do our best as a city to ask the university for more, but also we have very little leverage,” Vaitla said. “We gain leverage if students organize themselves and ask for the same things — if they ask the city and ask UC Davis.”

Next, the Senate confirmed three new STEM committee members: second-year human development major Julia Miller, first-year data science major Pearl Vishen and second year Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation major Grace Gabel. After questions from members of the Senate, all three members were confirmed.

Following the confirmations, Chairperson Yoanna Soliman presented the STEM quarterly report. The committee is currently working on onboarding its new vice chairperson by the end of this quarter. 

Next, the Senate heard the Disability Rights Advocacy Committee’s (DRAC) quarterly report, presented by Chairperson Ryan Manriquez. Manriquez spoke about new mats that could help accommodate disabilities in areas on campus with uneven ground during outdoor events such as Picnic Day and Sunset Fest.   

Next, the Senate heard from the Judicial Council. Chairperson Amanda Clark and the committee’s newest member, fourth-year political science major Gustavo Pichardo Villaseñor, presented their committee’s quarterly report. They discussed the committee’s expectations and reviewed what it does and the tasks it carries out in relation to the Senate’s passage of bills. 

Next, the Environmental Policy and Planning Committee gave their quarterly report, presented by Chairperson Mackenzie Field. Field highlighted the Cool Campus Challenge, is a competition between UC Berkeley and UC Davis that will take place between April 3 and April 28. 

“It’s going to be an inter-campus sustainability challenge where participants record their sustainable actions and we will keep track of points,” Field said. 

After a short break, the Senate resumed, moving into the introduction of new legislation. Following the introduction, they reviewed the consent calendar. The consent calendar was passed, and SB #74, SB# 78 and SB #82 all passed unanimously without objection. 

Next, the Senate discussed SB #72, a bill introduced by Senator Jacob Klein that would require antisemitism training for the Senate table. The bill received widespread criticism, and a letter emerged opposing SB #72 that received almost 300 signatures. Many students and community members who opposed this bill joined the meeting in person and via Zoom. 

First, Senator Klein provided his comments surrounding the bill and the backlash it received. 

“SB #72 would require the Senate table to attend an antisemitism training conducted by the Academic Engagement Network, or AEM,” Klein said. “The main complaint in the letter is in regards to AEN as an organization. The UC Davis Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) recommended that we use AEN.” 

The Senate then opened the floor to public comments concerning the bill. 

First, the current Muslim Student Association president, who is also a former ASUCD senator, shared her perspective on the bill.  

“I believe that having antisemitism training for the table is vital and is something that should have been implemented a long time ago,” the student said. “I am concerned, however, with the language in SB #72 in that it identifies AEN as the organization responsible for conducting the training. On its website, AEN takes an explicit stance on the boycott, divestments and sanctions (BDS) movement.”

Next, the Students for Justice in Palestine president outlined the bias they believed is present in the AEN mission statement

“The organization […] clearly appears to be more concerned with the efforts of criticizing Israel and Zionism rather than actually combating antisemitism on campus,” the student said. “In total, this organization mentioned Israel seven times, ‘zionist’ twice, and ‘antisemitism’ only once in their entire mission statement.” 

The vice president of Students for Justice in Palestine also commented on the views expressed by the executive director of the AEN organization.  

“The executive director of AEN, Miriam Elman, is a known zionist advocate who has written for right-winged platforms,” the student said. “Elman’s bio on the AEN website is replete with her experience oppressing Palestinians and Palestinian activists across the country. There is no mention whatsoever of Elman’s experience fighting antisemitism, making her and her organization unqualified to lead students on this campus to address [antisemitism]. 

Following the public comments, Senator Zeph Schnelbach voiced his opposition to the bill. 

“I cannot endorse a training that I, one, have not seen […] and two, is conducted by an organization in which the very name has brought an unprecedented amount of students to our meeting tonight,” Schnelbach said. “We as a table can also not ignore the voices that have been brought to us today by the almost 300 people who have signed that letter.” 

Next, Senator Klien, the author of SB #72, responded to the comments.

“Based on the overwhelming opinion that I am hearing today, I am very much amenable to changing the [training] to a different organization,” Klein said. “I was under the impression that I was going through the proper channels by consulting with the office of DEI. I appreciate the number of people who have shown up today. I strongly apologize if any of my conduct has offended or hurt anyone.”

Following Klein’s statement, the Senate moved into voting. The Senate voted 11-1 to table SB #72 indefinitely, meaning the bill will no longer be considered and an updated bill, recommending a different organization to provide the training, will later be reintroduced. 

Next, the Senate introduced SB #73, which would lower the number of signatures required for an UC Davis student to become a candidate in ASUCD elections in order to encourage more competitive elections and higher turnout. The bill passed 7-0-4, and the Senate then moved into open forum.

The meeting adjourned at 2:24 a.m. on Friday, March 3. 

Written by: Rachel Gauer — campus@theaggie.org