Student Union wades into political waters with constitutional amendment

Curran Neenan | News Editor

Student Union Senate and Treasury unanimously passed an amendment to the Student Union Constitution allowing Senate and Treasury to address a wider range of political issues, Oct. 1.

The change in language, proposed by sophomore Senator Philip Keisler, now allows Senate and Treasury to take stances on political issues “which relate directly to Washington University policy or practice.” Previously, the legislative branches could only comment on political issues “which directly impact constituents in their capacity as students.”

After University trustee Harry Siegle penned a letter to Fossil Free WashU challenging climate science and the effects of climate change, members of the Senate Campus and Residential Experience (CRE) committee joined with Fossil Free WashU in writing an email to the entire student body that called for increased transparency from the Board of Trustees and included a link to Fossil Free’s divestment petition.

According to CRE member sophomore Diva Harsoor, Fossil Free was thrilled with the initial results.

“Fossil Free was updating us saying, ‘We have 400 new signups, 500, 600, 700,’” Harsoor said. “And this was really exciting since Senate’s job is to help out groups that were doing advocacy on campus and to give them a loudspeaker to raise their voices.”

SU’s Constitutional Council took issue with the email, deeming it political and thus improper. This spurred Keisler, the chair of the CRE, to workshop several different language changes to the SU Constitution that would broaden the scope of political stances that SU can take.

Sophomore Joe Billips, a member of the CRE Committee, says the constitution’s old language was “frustrating” and “vague.” Billips says it limited Senate’s ability to address environmental issues that were deemed political.

“No two people had the same interpretation,” Billips said. “The new statute didn’t really change the vagueness of the original statute, but it allows us to better advocate for the growing student concern about the current climate crisis.”

Harsoor says the new language has not yet been utilized since “it takes time to get reports, resolutions and that kind of thing together,” but that several people have expressed interest in doing work to divest the University endowment from the fossil fuel industry. She noted that such a task would “be further down the line.”

The CRE will soon release its Green Energy Report, which measures the University’s carbon footprint, and recommends steps for the University to take in order to reduce its carbon emissions and build up more environmentally sustainable practices. Billips says the report, which would not have been possible under the old language, was also an important factor contributing to the language change.

Sophomore Arjan Kalra, the Treasury budget committee chair, praised the amendment.

“I think it’s great and a lot of various parts of SU came together to help make our founding documents better,” Kalra said.

Additional reporting by Sabrina Spence

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.