Sunday night, the Undergraduate Assembly met to debate their role in the political sphere.
The meeting opened with the usual open discussion where UA members can bring up any concerns. Representative and College sophomore Nolan Burger brought up the question of school spirit in regards to athletic events, while UA Representative and College freshman Aidan McConnell brought concerns about the stairs in McClelland Hall. McConnell who is also the editor of the Daily Pennsylvanian’s Red and Blue blog said he was witness to an accident on the stairs.
The final topic, brought up by UA Representative and College sophomore Willie Stern, centered around opening up a UA-sponsored subletting service. Other representatives cautioned against Stern’s idea, recalling the failed PennLets website and the management issues that came with such a high-demand service.
The Academic Affairs committee then brought to the floor a progress report detailing their work towards a Native American studies and intercultural studies minor. UA Secretary and College sophomore Joyce Kim and UA Representative and College freshman Varun Menon presented the report, relating the excitement of former advisor to Natives at Penn, Vanessa Iyua, about the initiative. They talked about their next step, talking to the Center for Native American Studies.
About the initiative, Kim said, “The Native American studies project started with Varun Menon…There is a large push for Native American activism, especially here at Penn.”
However, Kim said, “It’s hard to put a definite timeline on something like this, since we don’t have all the pieces yet.”
The bulk of the meeting was a discussion about the UA’s political advocacy and how it should be handled.
College representative and sophomore Gabe Delaney and UA Vice President and College and Wharton junior Abe Sutton authored the paper that led to the discussion, which related four guidelines for any UA advocacy initiative.
These guidelines state that the advocacy must affect students, make a difference on policy, be discussed with appropriate student groups and must not be for or against any particular bill or law.
The discussion quickly focused on the last guideline — the nonpartisan check. UA Technology Director and College junior Nikolai Zapertov opposed it. “If there was a bill to cut Pell Grants, obviously I would be against that particular bill,” he said.
Delaney said in response that many of the issues the UA would support may come as a rider to a larger unrelated bill, and “in that case, you can’t say anything about a particular act or bill because that would be partisan.”
As quickly as the talk moved to the nonpartisan check, it moved once more to the question of whether the guidelines should be codified as UA bylaws. The bylaws are the definition of procedure and are binding — the only way to get around a bylaw is to have a two-thirds vote to ignore it.
“To be clear, this is one of the issues we grappled with,” Sutton said. “Should these be enshrined in bylaws or can they stay merely traditions?”
UA President and College junior Dan Bernick advocated the limiting power of the bylaw in this case and said, “There might be some things we in this room all agree on, but that the 10,000 others might not … I was elected to do Penn stuff, not to debate about gun violence.”
After a long discussion about the guidelines, no resolution was reached. Delaney and Sutton decided to convene a special committee next week to discuss the issue further.