Undergraduates to vote on contested Freshmen Senators Act

April 8, 2021, 11:32 p.m.

The Freshmen Senators Act (FSA), a bill that would allow frosh to run for the Undergraduate Senate by adding a fall election cycle, will appear on the ballot after receiving 848 votes in the primary elections last week, over the 5% threshold of student body signatures necessary. 

The act, which has already faced numerous challenges from undergraduate senators in previous meetings, has been a source of dispute between those seeking better frosh representation in the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), and those worried about the logistical issues the act would create. In addition to the ASSU spring elections, the FSA would create five seats in the Senate that undergraduates, including frosh, could run for in the fall. 

“We did not feel that our voices were really heard in a lot of the decisions made by the Senate,” said Jack Scala ’24, one of the bill’s authors. “There’s a huge disconnect between one fourth of the student body and the rest of the university, and had there been a couple of frosh on the Senate, maybe they could have advocated for solutions to better connect the class and to better hear out the concerns.”

Scala, a candidate for sophomore class president running with the Treehouse slate, and Amira Dehmani ’24, who is running for ASSU senate, co-authored the act after feeling frustrated by their experiences on Frosh Council this year. Noting the unique struggles of adjusting to Stanford during a pandemic, both said that they felt frosh would have had a better first year if they had been represented in the ASSU.

Brian Wu ’24, a Frosh Council representative and candidate for sophomore class president on the TreeTops slate, echoed concerns of under-representation, saying that the current system of student government felt like “taxation without representation” to him.

Frosh are unable to participate in the current spring elections, and “because of the grants tied to the Undergraduate Senate, logistically there has to be an election in the spring,” according to Scala. But rather than implementing an entirely new election cycle, those opposing the act say frosh are represented through Frosh Council, suggesting improvements on the existing body instead.

Undergraduate Senate chair Micheal Brown ’22 agreed that representation and equity for frosh were important. He said that possible reforms to the Senate and ASSU merited further exploration, but that the FSA was too vague and unfeasible to implement. He said the timing of the fall election would make it difficult for frosh to meaningfully contribute to the Senate. Brown also explained he was concerned that a fall election process would disadvantage frosh from marginalized communities or unfamiliar with the Stanford environment, including “frosh of color and international students.” 

Instead, Brown supports more ASSU engagement with Frosh Council. He said the Senate was open to sharing responsibilities such as finances and policies impacting the student body, as well as engaging with frosh in shaping ASSU advocacy. 

“I don’t think there’s any need for us to be competitive with each other. We instead need to be collaborative, in terms of providing, or looking at solutions that actually work,” Brown said.

But Scala and Dehmani say that in their experience, Frosh Council does not have powers on par with those of the ASSU. 

“Frosh Council does not have the weight that the Senate does,” Dehmani said. She felt that frosh would be more connected to administration and able to effectively create programs with Senate representation.

Dehmani continued that the current ASSU system also was not making an effort to represent frosh voices.

“There’s no effort from the Senate and ASSU to actually meet with Frosh Council,” she said. “It took a long time for them to come and they didn’t even come until the end of winter quarter.”

Brown provided a different perspective on the two representative bodies’ interactions this year: “The purpose of each body is constructed by the members of each body,” he said, adding that if the Frosh Council was interested in taking on more responsibility outside event programming and further engaging with the ASSU, there was room to support that. 

Scala and Dehmani also said that having frosh representation in the Senate may have helped this year’s class feel more comfortable and welcomed at Stanford, particularly when navigating the University’s resources during the pandemic.

“Connections to resources in a pandemic are essential, and I think having a bridge from the Senate with freshmen representation to help them connect to those resources would have helped a lot of freshmen this year, who just had no idea how to get started with even finding those things,” Dehmani said, noting housing and food insecurity as issues in particular. “It almost is like your voice is not important to these conversations and of course that’s not true.” 

The FSA has been co-sponsored by numerous other frosh, including eight members of this year’s Frosh Council, as well as upperclassmen senators. The FSA was also endorsed by the Sophomore Class Cabinet and Undergraduate Senate parliamentarian Mià Bahr ’22, who said she co-sponsored the bill because of her confidence “that frosh have the capacity and drive to make the ASSU better.” 

“I think including frosh on the Farm would improve the transition of institutional knowledge and enfranchise a group of students with the power to make meaningful change without having to wait two quarters to have a platform,” Bahr wrote in a statement to The Daily.

Other frosh not involved in student government have also expressed support for the act. Ishaan Singh ’24 said that he voted for the act in the primaries because he felt that frosh “weren’t always considered when decision making was happening” this year, and “it would have been nice to have frosh bringing their own perspective.”

While she shared concerns about the implementation, Bahr wrote that this applied to any overhaul of existing policies in the ASSU and she was confident that “if passed, we could make it work.” 

According to Marielle Baumgartner ’24, the class of 2024 was able to quickly connect through social media before arriving on campus. Even if frosh are still learning the institutional rules and regulation, there is “a pretty unique viewpoint that comes from freshmen who are just entering the university in what’s confusing or what may be extra difficult” that would be an asset to the Senate, Baumgartner said. 

Bahr echoed Baumgartner, writing that “I genuinely believe that not including frosh from the beginning of the academic year is a disservice to the [Senate], because it takes away the perspective of fresh eyes.”

If the FSA passes, Baumgartner said including information about the ASSU in Approaching Stanford newsletters for incoming frosh could be valuable. She said sharing more information about the institutional structure of the ASSU and the University would address the concern of frosh lacking enough understanding to serve as senators, and more broadly inform people about the operations of the ASSU.

Undergraduate students will vote on the FSA in the ASSU general election starting April 29. If passed, it will need to be accepted by the Board of Trustees to be implemented.

Jessica Zhu '24 is the executive editor for Vol. 264 and 265 and was formerly head copy editor and a desk editor for news. She studies international relations, human rights and French, and can probably be found at CoHo with a quad espresso.Kaushikee Nayudu '24 is The Daily's Editor in Chief. Contact her at knayudu ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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