ASSU Senate brings in Harry Elam to discuss OpenXChange, talks open membership policy

Oct. 14, 2015, 11:54 p.m.
(MCKENZIE LYNCH/The Stanford Daily)
(MCKENZIE LYNCH/The Stanford Daily)

The 17th ASSU Undergraduate Senate met on Tuesday night for its fourth meeting of the quarter.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam attended the meeting to discuss OpenXChange and respond to activists’ concerns. Associate dean and director of Student Activities and Leadership (SAL) Nanci Howe also came to discuss open membership requirements for Voluntary Student Organizations (VSOs).

Elam discusses OpenXChange

Elam invited Senators’ to discuss the OpenXChange initiative and its relationship with the ASSU.

“It’s admirable that the administration is trying to address campus climate, but students aren’t impressed and wish action was increased as well as dialogue,” said Luka Fatuesi ’17, serving as a proxy for Senator Hattie Gawande ‘18.

Other Senators commented that delaying action on issues such as sexual assault policy reform also meant that, for the sake of dialogue, a small group of students was being called upon to repeatedly relive its traumatic experiences. Senator Leo Bird ’17 added that the administration is so removed from student life that students may be unable to see change even when it has been enacted.

Senate Chair Sina Javidan-Nejad ’17 read aloud a piece by Stanford Daily columnist Lily Zheng ’17, in which Zheng argued that OpenXChange should not sap funds for existing student advocacy, such as for marginalized communities and divestment.

Elam, however, clarified that funding for OpenXChange was allocated over and above existing community center funds.

“I read the article, too,” Elam said. “One thing I did immediately was to try to reach out to her. So much of what she says there is what all of us care about, and some of it we’re doing.”

In answer to Elam’s emphasis on the need for students to support the administration in order to effect top-down reform, Javidan-Nejad commented that his main concern was the concept of students having to “buy in.”

“Students shouldn’t have to buy into anything they have to help them,” Javidan-Nejad said. “Activists wouldn’t want to waste their time with the president or the provost because they’re so passionate about it already – why would they waste time speaking to people who wouldn’t listen or just nod their heads?”

Concluding the discussion, Elam urged the Senate to rethink its own role in deciding how student voices are represented in University decision-making.

“Are students who are currently on committees with the administration representing more of their own views? Should they feedback more to other students? When you choose students for these committees, what do you look for?” he posed, leaving the Senate with some food for thought.

SAL discusses open membership policy

Howe also joined the meeting to discuss a bill to change the open membership policy for VSOs. Under the current policy, VSOs are required to accept students only based on objective criteria and not interviews or resumes.

In response to concerns that the new policy targets pre-professional organizations, Howe pointed to an anonymous survey in 2011 that showed how students were unhappy with experiences of rejection from highly selective organizations.

“We’ve had students come into our office as freshmen who’ve applied to 10 or 12 organizations and didn’t get into one,” she said.

She went on to explain that SAL’s ideal is for groups to use member commitment and participation as objective criteria for assessing students after they have already joined the organization, rather than excluding some students initially.

Associate dean and associate director of SAL Snehal Naik also quoted a negative comment he found on Yik Yak that referenced the exclusivity of student organizations.

“‘Why doesn’t Stanford put anything on Approaching Stanford on applying to join student groups?’” he read. “So [new students] wouldn’t be shocked when they apply and get rejected, and don’t make any friends.”

Senator Justice Tention ’18 moved to refer the issue to the Student Life Committee for closer discussion with SAL. The committee will come back with its findings within two weeks.

The Senate also approved additional funding for the Korean-American Students Association retreat and reserve fund transfers for Latinos Unidos. At the end of the meeting, last week’s bill to appropriate Graduate Buffer Funds to ASSU Speakers Bureau was passed unanimously.


Contact Fangzhou Liu at fzliu96 ‘at’

Fangzhou Liu ’19 was Vol. 253 Executive Editor; before that, she co-led the news section. She grew up in Singapore and studies computer science and linguistics.

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