Senators Scramble to Pass Legislation As Quarter Ends

Students crowd the hallway by the Flying A Room in the UCen, waiting for their turns to speak at the Associated Students Senate public forum. Sanda Zhao/Staff Photographer

Gwendolyn Wu
Campus Beat Reporter

Controversy marred the final Associated Students Senate meeting of winter quarter, as students flooded the Flying A Room to discuss free speech, divestment and honoraria.

Because of the high attendance at the Wed., Mar. 2 meeting, A.S. boards, commissions and units (BCUs) who attended to give their quarterly reports were asked to stay outside in the University Center hallways to allow public forum speakers ample room to observe. UCen staff moved folding chairs into the room to allow for more space for free speech advocates and students, who demanded the Senate’s support for the push for the University of California system’s divestment from Turkey.

At this meeting, A.S. Attorney General and third-year political science major Hector Contreras announced that he resigned from his position, effective beginning spring quarter.

Over the past week, UC Santa Barbara Young Americans for Liberty pushed a life-size inflatable beach ball through campus, asking students to sign the ball in recognition of how important freedom of speech is to the campus’ livelihood.

In past weeks, members of the group pleaded with the senate to take a stance on free speech in accordance with the United States Constitution. Citing incidents at California State University, Los Angeles last month when prominent free speech activist Ben Shapiro spoke on campus, the group urged Senate to move forward with an official statement of support.

At this meeting, Off-Campus Senator and second-year political science and Asian American studies double major Akshaya Natarajan proposed A Resolution in Support of Free Speech.

“The university has traditionally been, in the United States’ history, the best method of forecasting the political, social and scientific knowledge of the country and the future,” said Daniel Reardon, a third-year physics and philosophy double major and president of UCSB College Republicans.

“The actions which you take today, which influence the sort of climate that we have here, will have a significant impact on how the future of the country is going to play out,” he continued. “Do not underestimate your roles. That’s why these issues are cropping up in the university today, here, because the people who oppose free speech recognize the university is the place to first go after it.”

The resolution passed the senate unanimously amid cheers from the crowd.

At the Feb. 24 Senate meeting, Natarajan proposed A Resolution to Divest from the Republic of Turkey to End the Perpetuation of the Armenian Genocide. Activists on campus approached her about pushing forward the legislation as one of the few UCs that had yet to do so.

The UC system invests over $74 million in the Republic of Turkey, divided between bonds issued directly by the government and their Export Credit Bank. The UCSB Armenian Student Association (ASA) gave a presentation that detailed the history of genocide and why they believe it is important to divest. The group stated that students were never given the choice to invest, but are now in a position to change that.

“These funds are drawn from our tuition, and as descendants of genocide survivors we don’t want our tuition money invested into a government that repeatedly and actively denies and attempts to erase our history,” Sose Abraamyan, a third-year communication and sociology double major, said in an interview with The Bottom Line. Abraamyan, along with others, served as a representative for the ASA on campus.

The group’s goal is to get the UC Board of Regents to officially divest. This would be the latest divestment by the Regents in the name of socially and fiscally responsible investment, following the success of Afrikan Black Coalition and other activists in getting the Regents to divest $425 million from Wells Fargo, which invests in the prison-industrial complex.

“As an academic institution, we cannot be invested in a government that censors academia and jail journalists,” the group wrote in the presentation, referring to Turkey’s attempts to silence journalists who speak out, and omittance of the genocide in national history classes.

During this meeting, UC San Diego’s Associated Students passed a similar resolution, making UCSD and UCSB the sixth and seventh UCs to pass divestment from Turkey. The resolution passed with one abstention.

Gwendolyn Wu is a third year double majoring in history and sociology, and is the 2016-2017 Executive Content Editor of The Bottom Line. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley and attended Cleveland High School, and is interested in pursuing journalism as a career. When not poring over history books, she's watching Cutthroat Kitchen and mentoring first year students.