ASSU Executives Elizabeth Woodson ‘15 and Logan Richard ‘15 took office last spring with plans to “fix, connect and build” various elements of Stanford undergraduate life. In the nine months since, the executives have refined their focus and contributed to initiatives in three major areas: sexual assault, student group funding and mental health. But although this Board commends Woodson’s and Richard’s overarching vision and the first steps they have taken, we must also acknowledge that their progress has also yet to trickle down to most students.
As the executives enter the home stretch of their one-year term, we interviewed Woodson, Richard and their chief of staff, Jordan Shapiro ‘15, as well as members of the ASSU Senate and Executive Cabinet, to evaluate the executives’ work so far.
By all accounts, the executives have shown dedication to their positions, working earnestly to build relationships with University administrators and structure their cabinet effectively. They recognized that their platform — which touched on topics as wide-ranging as advising, community centers, support for athletics and on-campus events — was initially too broad. By consolidating many of those initiatives and allowing branches of their cabinet to address them autonomously, Woodson and Richard were able to concentrate their own efforts on sexual assault, student group funding and mental health. We applaud their focus on these three issues in particular because we agree that there was a pressing need to address each of them this academic year.
Of their three areas of emphasis, the executives have made the most tangible impact with their work on sexual assault, riding the wave of student support for reform that stemmed from the #StandWithLeah protests last June.
Woodson and Richard led a five-person ASSU Task Force on Sexual Assault & Relationship Violence, which published detailed recommendations to the University in October after months of local and national research. That high-level progress was supplemented by the executives’ proposal for a new, 45-minute sexual assault awareness program which was held during NSO, as well as their contributions to a resource guide published by the University in September. Though these early measures have yet to affect every student, they are certainly a good start because they provide a strong foundation for more wide-ranging long-term reforms.
The executives are also quick to point to their progress on student group funding — namely, the passage of a funding reform bill during a special election in December.
This Board agrees that the bill’s approval represented a big victory by student government on this campus, given the struggle for over two years to address the broken funding system previously in place. However, that victory belonged not to the executives but mostly to the ASSU Senate, which developed the legislation in its entirety. ASSU Senators told us that Woodson’s and Richard’s role was limited to holding town hall meetings and spreading the word about the special election. The reaction of Undergraduate Senate chairman Ben Holston ‘15 to Woodson’s veto of an October draft of the bill — “A veto is a legislative tool that you use to negotiate and at no point did the executives approach us…I’m extremely disappointed” — casts further doubt on the executives’ role in collaborating on the legislation.
To the executives’ credit, getting the vote out was half the battle during the Dead Week election. But that doesn’t mean they were the driving force behind the reform.
The executives have been less active in their third area of focus, mental health. The only specific proposal that the executives presented to us to address mental health was to list emergency phone numbers on the backs of student ID cards. Other than an ongoing mental health survey that has received over 1,300 student responses — and future plans for more NSO programming and another resource guide — few changes have actually been implemented in this realm.
Like Woodson’s and Richard’s overall body of work since taking office, this is a well-intentioned first step that will only affect students indirectly, and only in the long run.
Given the depth of the issues the executives have taken on, it’s their responsibility to ensure continuity with the next group of student leaders, or else those first steps will never turn into anything more. Woodson and Richard understand this. They have expressed their desire to talk to future ASSU executive candidates about what they’ve learned in order to make the transition into the position more fluid, and presumably, so that next year’s executives can pick up where Woodson and Richard left off.
However, the structure of the entire executive cabinet, which is frequently reshuffled by new executives, could present an even greater barrier to continued progress. The two executive cabinet members we spoke with — each working for a different committee — expressed concern that their teams’ work would be abandoned by the next administration. It may prove challenging to achieve progress over several years unless the cabinet committees, not just the executives’ priorities, are passed down.
We recognize that problems like sexual assault, mental health and student group funding won’t be fixed overnight; Woodson and Richard deserve praise for starting down the right paths, and only so much can be accomplished during a year. But it is also imperative that Woodson and Richard continue to look beyond their final three months as ASSU executives, or else their initiatives may reach a dead end before they reach the student body.
The Editorial Board can be contacted at opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.