ALANA seats removed after student vote

By Alyssa Creamer

The results are in. The ALANA Caucus appointed seats are out.

At the Student Government Association (SGA) Election held earlier this month, SGA representatives were elected through the contentious new online voting system. But this semester, many SGA officials believe the most controversial ballot item was referendum number two, which discussed the removal of the African, Latino/a, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Caucus appointed SGA seats, which dictated that 13 percent of the Senate be appointed by the ALANA Caucus.

On the spring 2010 ballot referendum, University of Massachusetts students voted 1707 to 626 in favor of removing the ALANA Caucus appointed seats.

The referendum results will alter the SGA’s by-laws and a legal review by the General Counsel of the University had previously determined that the ALANA Caucus seats are unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they “discriminate on the basis of race specifically noting ‘that the approval of the ALANA representation provision by the Board of Trustees would be unconstitutional.’”

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment states that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The final bill that passed declared that the seats reserved positions in the student senate “on the basis of race or ethnicity.”

The approved bill further stated that Student Legal Services, the SGA’s legal counsel, had informed the SGA in a memo entitled “ALANA appointed Senate seats” that the seats violated the SGA Constitution and its by-laws.

“Appointed seats are also quite literally unconstitutional as our SGA constitution does not recognize senators except through election, yet our by-laws do,” said Yevin Roh of the Center for Educational Policy Advocacy (CEPA). “This lack of congruency makes appointed seats unconstitutional.”

According to a document titled “Summary of CEPA Research on ALANA Caucus Appointed Seats,” based on research done throughout 2009 by CEPA, all appointed seats, particularly the ALANA Caucus and Area Government appointed seats, are deemed unconstitutional. The Area Government appointed seats were not removed in this referendum; those particular appointed seats were not up for referendum on this year’s ballot.

During the March 3 SGA meeting, several members of the SGA were upset at the way in which the discussion of the ALANA seats’ legalities occurred.

One of the reasons the removal of the seats is controversial, according to several SGA members, is that the ALANA Caucus has, for many minority students, been a gateway into student politics by introducing the existence of the SGA and providing a guaranteed opportunity to join its body.

According to these same SGA members, who wish to remain anonymous due to of the sensitive nature of this issue, many minority students on this campus may not have been aware of the opportunity to participate in the SGA because of international backgrounds or disadvantaged socio-economic and educational opportunities.

In 2000, the legality of the ALANA Caucus appointed seats was discussed by the student judiciary. Members of the student judiciary at the time found the seats permissable under the SGA’s Constitution. However, due to the sensitivity of the conflict, they decided to bring the vote to a referendum. The spring 2001 ballot referendum ruled in favor, 1678 to 797, of preserving the ALANA Caucus appointed seats.

According to Senator Derek Khanna, the Office of Civil Rights has been investigating the legality of the ALANA Caucus’ appointed seats for over seven months. Khanna explained that he had been in direct contact with Michael Joyce of the Office of Civil Rights, who, according to Khanna, found the seats to be illegal and “did not understand why the seats were up for referendum.”

Any changes to the SGA bylaws and Constitution must initially be passed in referendum and then approved by Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jean Kim.

Attempts to contact Michael Joyce from the Office of Civil Rights were unsuccessful because comments about the ALANA Caucus seats were instead directed to the Office of Civil Rights’ press office.

Khanna also stated that he sought guidance about the legality of the ALANA appointed seats from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and that the ACLU supported the proposition that the seats were illegal.

However, according to Christopher Ott of the ACLU of Massachusetts, the ACLU “took no further action” deciding that the union “did not take a position” about the ALANA seats.

Kim had set in place a plan to remove the appointed ALANA Caucus seats by March 1. Although the seats are vacant, several senators say the ALANA appointed seats were vacant mainly because of concerns surrounding the legality of the seats and knowledge about their pending removal.

When asked if he believed the SGA would remain as diverse should the ALANA seats be removed, Roh said, “Diversity has always depended on the students, the ALANA Caucus was not the sole arbiter of ensuring diversity. Each senator as an individual brings a great amount of diversity, each having their own unique life experiences.”

“It is not up to CEPA or the SGA to try to get the seats back,” added Roh. “If the need arises for the seats in the future, and students fight for them, anything is possible.”

Of the campus’ 18,263 undergraduates, 2,662 of them voted in the University’s trial-run online Student Government Association elections, meaning the voter turnout, according to results released by the SGA’s Chancellor of Elections Jitesh Khushalani, was 14.58 percent.

Election results were approved at the SGA meeting held last Wednesday.

Hannah McGoldrick can be reached at [email protected] Alyssa Creamer can be reached at [email protected]