SU Senate releases letter alleging administration tried to block pro-Palestine resolution; opinions within SU divided

| Investigative News Editor

SU Senate released a letter alleging that WashU’s administration has prevented them from meeting. (Alan Zhou | Student Life)

A majority of Student Union (SU) senators have signed a letter alleging that Washington University administrators have attempted to block Senate from meeting to pass a pro-Palestine resolution, leading other SU members to call for more transparency and communication in the organization, May 1. 

The letter, which was posted to the Senate Instagram, states that multiple members of Senate were told that Chancellor Martin met with the Board of Trustees to potentially block a referendum reaffirming Senate’s call to divest from Boeing. This would be unprecedented, if true. Additionally, it states that an administrator who works with SU, Sarah Edmondson, Associate Director for Student Involvement, has prevented them from holding an emergency meeting to discuss a resolution demanding WashU overturn student suspensions. 

Multiple members of SU said they take issue with the fact that the letter was published without holding a discussion where all members of Senate were able to provide their input, citing that the letter was only officially sent out to senators hours before it was published online. 

In a written statement provided to Student Life, junior and SU President Hussein Amuri wrote that it was unconfirmed whether Martin held a meeting to prevent the referendum. 

“Allegations that Chancellor Martin and the Board of Trustees blocked a Senate resolution are just that: allegations,” Amuri wrote. 

Senate’s letter follows a recent pro-Palestine encampment on April 27, where WUPD and multiple other police departments made over 100 arrests to break up the protest. Many campus organizations, students, and faculty have responded, calling the police response unnecessarily violent and criticizing WashU administration for suppressing free speech.

The letter stated that its authors believe WashU administrators have implemented policy arbitrarily as a “blatant obstruction to our duty and authority as student-elected officials to advocate for peaceful student and faculty protesters exercising their right to free speech and expression.” 

The letter states that on April 28, Senate’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee met to pass a resolution “condemning the police response to the solidarity encampment and demanding that WashU lift suspensions.” 

One SU senator and co-author of the letter, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of backlash and will be referred to as Senator Y, said that Senate has not been able to hold a full body meeting since April 16.

“We haven’t been able to meet, since our advisor does not want us to meet,” Senator Y said. 

Senator Y said that Senate hoped to meet on May 1 in order to conduct a vote on the resolution passed by the DEI Committee but was unable to. 

All student groups are unable to meet per Campus Life policy during a blackout period of student organization meetings, which runs from April 28 until after commencement. According to the SU Constitution Article IX Section 2(a), SU must conduct business in compliance with all University policies. 

According to Senator Y, in the past, Senate leadership has been able to meet during the blackout period by declaring an emergency meeting, which must be approved by Edmondson, their advisor. 

“Though Campus Life policy establishes a deadline for student group programming, an administrator who works directly with Student Union has the authority to allow Senate to hold an emergency meeting needed to pass the resolution,” the letter states. “This administrator blocked such a meeting, though student groups, including SU entities, have historically convened outside the allotted programming dates on countless occasions.” 

Edmondson, in a written statement to Student Life, stated that SU meetings during reading week have been rare and not usually granted.

“I checked with Stan [Sweeney] and Rob [Wild] and the only times they remember SU meeting outside of the semester were during breaks due to COVID, not during reading week/finals. If SU has met during reading week/finals in the past, that was not registered or approved,” Edmondson wrote. 

In his written statement made to Student Life, Amuri said that, in his experience, he did not remember a time where Campus Life had allowed Senate to convene during this blackout period.

“I’ve been in SU since my first year, and I personally don’t remember Campus Life ever allowing us to operate during this time. I’ve spoken to past SU exec members, and they concluded the same thing,” he wrote. “It is extremely unfortunate that SU is unable to convene and operate on behalf of our peers in the wake of what transpired this past weekend. However, we still exist within University rules like every other student group.” 

Amuri said that the timeframe for the post meant that there was a lack of transparency. 

“Specifically, the senators who wrote the statement privately reached out to individuals asking them to sign the statement,” he wrote.

Sophomore and SU senator Mika Kipnis said she felt like all senators were not given an equal chance to read and edit the letter before it was sent out. She saw the letter for the first time when it was sent out on the Senate Slack channel at 10:31 p.m. on May 1, about 40 minutes before it was published. 

After she saw the letter, Kipnis said she asked if she would be able to provide any edits or comments to it, and she was told no.

“I said, ‘Can we make any recommendations for edits?’” Kipnis said. “[Another senator] responds back saying that a lot of senators have already signed on, and we would have to vote on the edit, so unfortunately, no.” 

Kipnis said that she felt excluded from the process based on her identity as a Jewish student, despite the fact that she said her peers do not know her political beliefs.  

“In their mind, they see that I’m wearing this tag that says ‘Jewish,’ and for them, they say, exclude, without taking time to sit down with me and talk to me,” Kipnis said, “In the letter it says, ‘How dare the University silence students,’ and you literally silenced me from giving edits and you don’t know what they were gonna be.” 

After expressing these thoughts to one of the authors of the letter, Kipnis said she did not receive a response. 

“There shouldn’t be a letter going out. I [told the senator] that not all of Senate has been given an equal opportunity to both review and provide feedback, and the letter speaks for all of Senate,” she said. “I was basically left on read.” 

In terms of the timeframe for the letter, Senator Y said that it was rushed as a result of Senate being unable to hold meetings. 

“I regret not having more time to discuss, but us not having time to discuss is the result of having to work within such a short timeframe, because it was an urgent matter and we felt like we owed it to students to make our voices heard as soon as possible,” Senator Y said. 

Because some senators had already signed onto it, Senator Y said that any changes would mean that each one would have to re-sign. 

“We had been gathering feedback throughout the entire day and if we did incorporate some changes, we would have to go to the other senators, make sure that they approve the changes in order to incorporate them,” they said. 

They also said that the language of the letter paralleled the language of the resolution passed by the DEI committee, which had been sent to all senators for review on April 30. 

“Although it is directly addressing administration, which is otherwise something we do not do in a resolution, the language [and the demands] are pretty much parallel to the resolution,” they said. “Senators did have a chance to know what we had been working on.” 

They also emphasized the fact that there is no standardized procedure for how to publish statements when Senate is unable to meet. 

“That is a problem we have been faced with this entire semester, the fact that there are no enforcement procedures,” they said. “There is no standard procedure, and to my knowledge, it’s unprecedented that administrators have blocked an emergency meeting.” 

Edmondson claimed that Senator Y had reached out to her the afternoon of Monday, April. 29 to have an emergency Senate meeting, but she did not have any availability to meet with Senator Y until that Wednesday, May 1. Senator Y did not respond to Edmondson in regards to meeting on May 1.

At their last meeting on April 16, junior Lauren Fulghum was elected to be Speaker of the Senate; however, she had to step down due to family health issues. 

Amuri said that without a speaker, Senate is unable to function.

“Currently, no one in Senate has the authority to use the Instagram account until another speaker is elected,” he wrote. 

In regard to the allegations that Martin met with the Board of Trustees to block the resolution, Kipnis said that her view depends on what his motivations were. 

“I want to believe that if he did actually go ahead with this, it was over concerns for student safety and that kind of trumped any precedent,” she said. “If it was just to silence student voices and say ‘I don’t want to deal with this on our campus’, which I doubt it was, then it’s not okay because he advocates for free speech and taking this away is blatantly hypocritical.” 

Regardless of people’s individual opinions on the content of the statement, Amuri said that he believes there should be a consensus among SU members and the campus community at large that student government should not work this way. 

“We are a public body. Our operations are public,” he wrote. “The process of the statement and the usage of the Instagram account last night was a breach, a slap to the face to all the senators who didn’t have the opportunity to go over the statement, and a disregard to the people that elected those same senators to represent them.” 

At the time of publication, WashU’s communications department has not responded to requests for comment.

Additional reporting done by Aliana Mediratta. 

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