The Collegian
Saturday, June 25, 2022

Students launch petition for WCGA re-election, increased transparency

<p>Screenshot of the petition calling for WCGA re-election, transparency and accountability.</p>

Screenshot of the petition calling for WCGA re-election, transparency and accountability.

Westhampton College Government Association senators, students and survivors of assault launched a petition on April 3 calling for a WCGA presidential re-election, transparency and accountability. At the time of publication, the petition had over 200 signatures.

The demands were drafted based on the stories and calls to action from survivors and speakers at the April 1 town hall that junior Hoor Ain organized after she was disqualified from the WCGA presidential election, she said. Ain was disqualified following an Instagram post in which she stated that there were sexual predators in the Richmond College Student Government Association.

“Hypothetically, most of these demands could be met by a student government,” a sophomore WCGA senator who took part in drafting the demands said. “But the way that WCGA operates, we could never pass anything like this without the approval of the deans.”

The sophomore WCGA senator asked The Collegian not to be named out of what she said was fear of reprisal from the deans. The other WCGA senators involved wished to remain anonymous because of the same reason.

The petition is directed at the Westhampton College dean’s office and WCGA, Ain said. Change.org was the only platform she knew of that wouldn’t only display a list of what they wanted, but would show just how many people agreed with the students and survivors who shared stories about assault from RCSGA members and censorship within WCGA, she said. At the town hall on April 1, two Westhampton College students said there were members of RCSGA who had assaulted them. Documents obtained by The Collegian confirmed that there is a no-contact order and active police investigation against a member of RCSGA.

Westhampton College Dean Mia Reinoso Genoni did not respond to The Collegian’s request for comment.

“I decided to go with a petition because I think that people are trying to discredit just how many people have had the same experiences,” Ain said.

The five demands are as follows:

1) An immediate resignation from President Hu followed by a re-election for the WCGA President position

2) A free, fair, transparent and student run election

3) The development of a joint mechanism that allows students of one college to vote out their abusers in the other college’s student government

4) A true commitment to UR’s values of free speech, in person, in writing and in social media

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5) Members of both student governments should work toward excluding candidates with Title IX violations.

The creators of the petition also expanded on why each demand was necessary in a document attached to the petition.

Ain said she was just hoping that the petition would show administrators that people were standing with them and highlight the severity of censorship and assault.

The third demand, which calls for a system that would allow students of one college to vote out their abusers in the other college’s student government, was one of the most important, the sophomore WCGA senator said.

“I find that, you know, the issue of there being sexual predators on RCSGA and survivors who are students at Westhampton College — like that's an issue that is pretty inherent to the existence of a coordinate college system,” she said.

With the way things work now if you’re a survivor and your assaulter is serving in a position for the other college, you have no power in voting against or doing anything to remove them from their position of power, the sophomore WCGA senator said. The fifth demand says that members of both student governments should work towards excluding candidates with Title IX violations.

After they finished drafting the demands on April 3, Ain sent them to every survivor who spoke out at the town hall to gather their input before finalizing the demands, she said. 

The first demand, which calls for WCGA President Penny Hu’s resignation, was formulated in concurrence with the survivors’ calls for Hu to resign at the town hall, according to the document outlining the demands. Hu did not respond to The Collegian’s request for comment.

Ain said the demands were not drafted because of her own disqualification. “It just coincidentally happened,” she said.

Ain, who was disqualified from the WCGA presidential election after being told to delete a post where she said she would remove known sexual predators from RCSGA, was also disqualified from running for chair of Senate, she said.

About 30 minutes after submitting her application, Ain received a phone call from WCGA election committee member sophomore Jordan Jones, telling her that she could not run for chair of Senate because she had been disqualified from the presidential election, Ain said.

“I said, ‘Are you joking? Like that’s not in the constitution anywhere,’” Ain said.

If found guilty of an election violation, the candidate will incur sanctions which may include removal from the election, and upon approval of the election committee leader and the dean of Westhampton College or their designee, candidates may be asked to remove themselves from the election at any time, according to the WCGA Constitution. Ain was not told she couldn’t run for chair of Senate when she was disqualified from the presidential campaign, she said. Jones did not respond to The Collegian’s request for comment. Elections Committee Leader junior Lily Dickson also did not respond to The Collegian’s request for comment.

Although Ain knew there were ways to make change apart from holding a high office in student government, she was very disappointed, Ain said. She wondered if her disqualification from president and chair also meant that she couldn’t apply for any committee chair either, she said.

“After three years of experience — like is that all for nothing?” she said.

The Westhampton deans oversee the election and are involved in all decision-making related to it, according to the document outlining the demands.

“We believe that the deans interpret WCGA’s constitution according to institutional traditions and administrative interests rather than students’ interests,” the document outlining the demands states.

The fourth demand calls for a commitment to UR’s values of free speech in person, in writing and in social media. Speech may not be suppressed “simply because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be unwelcome or deeply offensive,” according to UR’s statement on free expression.

The sophomore WCGA senator said she had gotten involved with drafting the demands because she had a lot of priorities regarding free speech on campus and standing up for survivors. She said she had not been surprised that it had come to the point where they needed to push for change on their own. 

“We're not really encouraged to do anything that would be systemically transformative on WCGA,” she said. “We're kind of expected just to work within the confines of the system.”

Contact news editor Natasha Sokoloff at natasha.sokoloff@richmond.edu.

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