Students express their concerns over lack of advocacy for the Black Lives Matter movement and transparency within ASUCR during their last meeting of the quarter

Editor’s note: As ASUCR did not record the Zoom meeting, The Highlander is providing an audio recording of the meeting. The audio recordings can be found on The Highlander Youtube channel and can be accessed through this link. The audio recordings are posted in three separate videos due to the longevity of the meeting. 

ASUCR held its last meeting of the school year via Zoom on Wednesday, June 3. This meeting had over 80 students present and during Public Forum many expressed their concerns over ASUCR’s lack of leadership throughout the year and their lack of advocacy this week over the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, calling it “performative” and “vague.”

Samia Alkam was the first to speak during Public Forum; she addressed the statement that ASUCR posted on their Instagram page on Monday, June 1 regarding the racial injustices happening across the country. In the statement, ASUCR stated that they will, “(commit) to take greater strides in becoming more educated and effective allies in fighting racism and social injustices.” Alkam called the action performative stating, “Your statement is extremely vague … and you did not pledge to make any sort of action.” Alkam condemned ASUCR’s failure to address UCPD in their statement, stating that they have had a history of being unjust to black students on campus.

Next to speak during Public Forum was Chief Justice Sarai Fuentes. Fuentes discussed the Judicial Branch’s decision on a judicial review set in place last week regarding Sb-S20-007 Amendments to Chapters 10, 8, 2 and 4 of the ASUCR Bylaws which would essentially increase the Executive Vice President (EVP) stipend from $7,425 to $9,900. The Judicial Council announced that the vote was conducted unconstitutionally as they did not motion to rescind their votes before voting a second time. The Judicial Council also announced that incoming EVP Natalie Hernandez’ vote on the bill was constituted to be a conflict of interest per Robert’s Rules of Order Article 8 Section 46 which states, “It is a general rule that no one can vote on a question in which he has a direct personal or pecuniary interest.”

Jeffrey, a second-year student who did not provide his last name in the Zoom call, addressed the senate over last week’s failure to pass SB-S20-011 The R’Gear Initiative … He stated that he was surprised by the senate’s decision and expressed his support for the R’Gear initiative. Jeffrey added, “Without (R’Gear) we may not have learned about this organization or continue to follow it.”

Ashley Taylor stated that she had personally reached out to each ASUCR member regarding the Black Student Union’s (BSU) list of demands for the administration asking for a response. She expressed her disappointment with their delayed response times, as only one member responded to her email within 24 hours. She added that it is important for the students ASUCR is advocating to have fair seats in the senate. “There is no way you can say you support black students when ASUCR has a reputation of not having fair equal or equitable representation of black and brown students in government,” stated Taylor.

Vincent Rasso, the newly elected vice president of external affairs was next to speak but he was cut off and muted by EVP Abigail Cortes before he could finish his statement. Cortes announced that Public Forum could only take place for up to 15 minutes. SPP Senator Emily Thomas asked if the senate could motion and vote to extend Public Forum. Cortes refused and justified her decision by stating that there could be no motion to extend the time for Public Forum because the agenda had already been approved, meaning it could not last longer than 15 minutes. However, according to Chapter 1 Section 7 of the ASUCR Bylaws, Public Forum should not exceed 15 minutes, excluding the question and answer period, but the senate can agree on a time extension by a two-thirds vote of the elected senators.

Laura Anaya-Morga /HIGHLANDER

The senate then moved on to Committee Reports; ASUCR President Julian Gonzalez presented SR-S20-002 In Solidarity with Black Lives Matter. The senate resolution seeks to echo the thoughts penned and formally announced in the Executive Statement made by Gonzalez that was posted on the official ASUCR Instagram page. The entirety of the resolution consists of 15 different resolutions that commit to, “Denounce racism on every level and express our solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.” The entirety of the bill can be accessed and read here.

In the chat of the Zoom call, Rasso suggested that the co-authors of the bill be updated to include Evelyn Kennedy and Kalin Pont-Tate; they were later added as co-authors of SR-S20-002.

After Gonzalez spoke about SR-S20-002, SPP Senator Thomas motioned again to extend Public Forum. Senator Thomas stated, “At this point, we are not playing fair and it’s important for students to be able to speak.” She pointed out that the ASUCR Bylaws do not require that the allotted time for Public Forum be altered before the meeting minutes are approved. Thomas motioned to extend Public Forum by 15 minutes and added that since it is the last senate meeting of the year, students should be given the opportunity to voice their concerns to the ASUCR senate. SB-S20-002 passed with a unanimous vote of 13-0-0.

EVP Cortes allowed Rasso to finish his statement. He expressed that ASUCR should have given more momentum to the BSU’s list of demands and used their platform to uplift those voices. He also emphasized the importance of the associated students being aware of the criticisms they are receiving and using them to improve their advocacy efforts. Rasso reiterated that $40,000 is a large sum of money to allocate to R’Gear and stated that it is time for ASUCR to get creative on the ways that these funds can be utilized to engage, empower and center black student voices on campus moving forward.

Sean Nguyen also spoke during public comment about the importance of differentiating between real and performative activism. Nguyen was followed by Amy Ramirez, who addressed President Gonzalez. She stated that real action items must be taken and prioritized in order to make a difference. She explained her disappointment with members of the senate drifting off, texting or not paying attention during Public Forum. She added that it appeared that “President Gonzalez is on his phone.” She finished her statement by addressing the senate: “I want you guys to know that you are not exempt from criticism. Especially from the students that you guys are supposed to answer to.”

“You guys are going to go out into the world and fill these positions that we need a change in. How is it that we’re supposed to trust you to go out into society and serve the people … but these are the actions that you commit for a student body in your university?” she asked. Ramirez called on the members of the senate to donate their stipends to organizations working to end racial injustice. “You need to use your position on this board to support your students and the communities that you say you stand in solidarity with,” she stated.

Ramirez also acknowledged ASUCR’s failure to include the divestment from UCPD in their resolution, an action that was mentioned in the list of demands sent by the BSU. The resolution’s only mentions of UCPD are in sections 10, 11 and 14. Ramirez also pointed out a post that was made by UCPD on Facebook, calling it performative. “That’s not what students asked for. It’s up to you guys to have a meeting with the chancellor (and) say that we stand with students. Instead, you guys align yourself with the administration,” stated Ramirez.

Elections Director Dyanna Castaneda contributed to Public Forum by stating that she personally understands and shares students’ concerns. She stated that she has been using her own personal platforms to show her support for the BLM movement. In response to Ramirez’s comment, Castaneda stated, “Unfortunately, as I would love to donate my entire stipend, I would not be able to do much if I’m homeless.”

Crescent Lauren, another student, stated that senators did not do their part this year to make themselves known in the ethnic and gender offices on campus. Lauren stated that she only saw two senators attend one LGBTRC event throughout the year and urged them to be allies of these organizations.

Brandon Molina Berrios echoed the sentiments Lauren made, stating that ASUCR was “unrecognizable” in Costo Hall throughout the school year and added, “If you take this personally, just don’t run for these positions.”

Elysha Castillo added to Public Forum stating, “What you guys are not understanding is that the main problem many people have is with your lack of action.” Castillo added that the senate has not been advocating for students and instead, has been taking criticism personally. “Many of you ran in these positions under the pretense that you are for the students but you guys have not done that,” declared Castillo.

Darielle Martin, a freshman at UCR, expressed that she was disappointed that her experience at UCR so far had not lived up to her expectation. “UCR says how diverse they are and you love to poster your black students but I quickly learned … that this is just an act,” said Martin. She added that she was specifically disappointed in President Gonzalez because, as a prospective student, she expected a person of color in office to fight for all students of color but stated that she did not feel that Gonzalez had done that. Martin stated that she does not feel comfortable telling people to come to UCR as a black student.

After Public Comment, the meeting moved on to Committee Reports.

At this point in the meeting, many students and Andrea Parra, the events and media manager for ASUCR, were asking if the Zoom call could be recorded by EVP Cortes. After a member of the senate brought this to her attention, EVP Cortes stated that she “had seen the chat,” but provided no further explanation as to whether the meeting could be recorded. A minute later, SPP Senator Thomas asked if it was against policy to record the meeting. EVP Cortes responded by simply stating, “The meeting will not be recorded today.”

Thomas began making a statement about the senate’s failure to address ASUCR’s professional staff, Parra and Executive Director Laurie Sinclair in the chat before she was muted repeatedly by EVP Cortes. EVP Cortes stated, “Please wait for the chair to address you, please stop unmuting yourself Senator Thomas.” After a long pause, EVP addressed Senator Thomas. Thomas commented, “Our pro staff first asked us to record the meeting, Andrea, and then Laurie, our other pro staff, is saying that (this vote) is unconstitutional and we are still not addressing them.”

CHASS Senator Angelica Garcia again asked EVP Cortes if there was a reason they could not record the meeting. EVP Cortes responded saying, “Yeah, I just don’t know how to record it, I’m so sorry.” Someone added that they could show her how to do so and she responded, “It’s okay, it’s the last senate meeting.”

The senate then reviewed the finance hearing from Monday, June 1. Vice President of Finance Carolyn Chang, stated that a president allocation of $2,637.36 was made towards the BLM movement with funds that were acquired through non-student fees. President Gonzalez added that he will be in contact with leaders from the BSU to determine where to send those funds.

Archive /HIGHLANDER

Next, the senate voted on the 2020-2021 finance budget. Only a few adjustments were made to the budget including renaming several line items to coincide with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the president’s budget, Gonzalez asked that the $40,000 R’Gear allocation be renamed the Undergraduate Student Emergency Fund. Gonzalez could not provide specifics as to what these would be utilized for because that would be up to the discretion of the next ASUCR president.

Gonzalez began answering questions in the chat regarding the way the funds presented in next year’s budget will be utilized. He stated that each line item has its own purpose and most of it will be determined next year. A student also asked President Gonzalez to address EVP Cortes’ behavior throughout the meeting in a comment that read, “if you were truly on the side of students you would unmute and call out Abigail Cortes for her behavior in this meeting.” He stated that while he will not ignore it, he will also not tell her how to run her meeting because she is the chair. “She is the leader of this space … yes the tone could have been improved, I do recognize that,” but added that senate meetings are run based on parliamentary procedure.

Senator Isaiah Kim motioned to amend the ASUCR fall retreat from the budget and instead allocate that sum to senator projects for the following year so senators will be able to collaborate with different campus organizations of their choosing. The senate motioned to change the senator projects line item to $5,900, to change training funds to $7,900 and to change the training line item to training for all elected officials.

During Ex-officio Reports, Eric Calderon the transfer and non-traditional student director, shared the thorough results of two surveys that were conducted by the Transfer and Non-Traditional Students Committee during spring quarter. The full survey results can be viewed here. The survey gathered responses and action items for transfer and non-traditional students based on their academic enrollment, orientation, housing, employment and campus involvement experiences. The results called for many action items, including ways to aid students in each of the areas of focus.

At this time, EVP Cotes left the senate meeting abruptly. President Gonzalez stated that it was due to her WiFi cutting out; however, she never returned to the senate meeting and President Gonzalez took over for its remainder. During his ex-officio report, he stated that he is currently working on transitioning the next members of the executive cabinet (ECAB). He originally had to reschedule a meeting with Chancellor Wilcox that was set for Friday, June 5, but has since rescheduled it and invited the two co-presidents of the BSU to lead the conversation around uplifting black student voices on campus. Some students criticized Gonzalez for letting the meeting get canceled and not pushing hard enough to reschedule it. He acknowledged these critiques and said that he should have worked harder to immediately reschedule the meeting.

Up next during Ex-Officio Reports, Personnel Director Luna Sebastian expressed her disappointment in the members of ECAB. She stated that she had previously sent out an email to all of ECAB requesting their committee reports in order to increase transparency within ASUCR, given the remote learning experience. According to Sebastian, only one ECAB member, Vice President of Campus Internal Affairs Jocelyn Ortiz responded. She stated that she did not feel respected for the work that she was doing to be transparent with students.

Sebastian also brought attention to EVP Cortes’ behavior during the meeting in particular and her similar behavior throughout the year. Sebastian found her behavior in this specific meeting particularly concerning because there were many students in the meeting who sought to speak to the senate about their concerns. “I know a lot of people who I personally felt should have resigned,” stated Sebastian, while explaining her experience within ASUCR that year. “The behavior today by the EVP was honestly unacceptable,” Sebastian added that she found it odd that President Gonzalez did not address EVP Cortes behavior when he too has power in senate meetings. “When ya’ll take every criticism so far up the ass … I’d think it would reach your brain,” stated Sebastian, “it is too much to address right now.”

In an interview with The Highlander, Sebastian stated that her comment about EVP Cortes’ behavior applied to many people within ASUCR throughout the year. “Early on in the year, students were met with condescendence and animosity from several of the officials that claimed to represent them,” stated Sebastian. She added that this behavior was often taken onto social media as well where members of the senate or ECAB would engage with students negatively online. Sebastian stated that while she does plan to continue with ASUCR next year, she will be focusing her time in the external affairs office.

During GCAP Committee Reports, a representative for GCAP announced that they will be allocating $10,000 from their short term investment pool (STIP) to a new relief co-sponsorship with African Student Programs.

Students also spoke to the senate during Public Comment. Lily Romero stated that the meeting had been a “trainwreck” and that she felt that the professional staff and SPP Senator Thomas had been treated very rudely. She also thanked a few senators for their hard work throughout the year.

Director Calderon also spoke during public comment and stated that he had hoped to do more during his time in ASUCR. “There is a bloodstain on ASUCR that predates any of y’all … there has been a legacy of corruption here, there has been a legacy of sometimes students not getting what they deserve … a lot of times we don’t necessarily represent the entire student population,” stated Calderon. Taylor once again spoke to the senate and expressed the importance of taking criticism in stride and working to grow from it in order to become better allies. Finally, Evelin Castaneda expressed her disappointment in the ASUCR senators who did not speak up during the meeting. “When you take a position, a powerful title, please … use your voice,” stated Castaneda.

During senator reports, senators said their final goodbyes and those returning to ASUCR gave promises to have more transparency and accountability next year. SPP Senator Thomas stated that it was unacceptable that no senators or members of ASUCR stood up for her when she was muted by EVP Cortes multiple times. “The past few weeks have been very stressful for me as an African American person and as a woman of color. You all say that you are for black lives, but then you let EVP Cortes disrespect me by muting me, which I do not take as a form of solidarity by any means.” She went on to state that as leaders of the future, “If you’re actually going to stand up for people of color, for black people, I expect y’all to take actions,” stated Thomas. She also added that the work environment she experienced in ASUCR is like nothing she would ever wish to experience in the real world.

“ASUCR had previously spoke about standing with the Black Lives Matter movement and continued to mute the only current African American ASUCR senator,” stated Thomas in an interview with The Highlander. She added that EVP Cortes’ actions were unprofessional and she has not yet received an apology from her. Thomas has hope that next year’s student government cohort will be respectful to each other and the professional staff that supports them. She added that they, “Most importantly not only listen to students but take action and do all they can to advocate for them.” Thomas will also be continuing with the external office next year.

CHASS Senator Garcia also shed light on an issue that had been spread widely throughout social media earlier in the week. Multiple UCR students were stepping forward to reveal their stories of sexual assault and harassment; many of the stories were tied to UCR’s Greek life. She acknowledged the bravery of these individuals and gave a message to survivors. “You are loved, you are strong and just know that there is always someone that you can talk to,” stated Garcia. ASUCR addressed the multiple allegations in a statement posted on their Instagram page. The statement informs survivors of the different resources available on campus but also states that they will be working with the appropriate campus leadership to ensure that justice is served.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:52 p.m.

Facebook Comments