With senate and officer elections coming up on Tuesday, March 28, The Daily Mississippian looked into the Associated Student Body to provide the university’s students with more insight into the organization.
ASB was established in 1917 “to serve selflessly and to represent justly the student body, in accordance with the University of Mississippi’s Creed, by prioritizing students’ interests and needs above personal ambition and prejudice,” according to the ASB website.
The organization is student run and consists of the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
In The Daily Mississppian’s preliminary examination of ASB, which included website and social media analysis as well as attending all senate meetings, questions concerning transparency arose.
According to Section 101, Rule 6, Line 6.8 of the ASB Code, student opinions submitted to the student body through the senate opinion form must be read to the entire senate for members’ consideration.
This year, not a single student opinion was read, as the link to submit student opinions on the ASB website is broken.
The duty of aggregating and reading student opinions typically is that of the senate liaison, a position that was not filled this year.
“We did lots of outreach to try and get that position filled. And we really didn’t have anyone interested in taking on that position, so those duties have been split throughout my legislative council,” ASB Vice President Alex Nabors said.
Nabors offered an apology to students.
“That was definitely a fault of ours, something that we missed, something that we got wrong and that we needed to fix. That’s really the best that we can do as student leaders, hear about a problem and fix it as soon as we can, and I think that we’ve done that for this case,” Nabors said.
As of March 7, the link remained broken.
Sen. Mason Greenwald believes this to be a point of shame for the organization.
“The fact that the message box is not open is completely abysmal, and it’s embarrassing,” Greenwald said.
Beyond student opinions, senate meeting minutes were also not posted this year. The primary way for the student body to learn what happened at senate meetings was through coverage provided by The Daily Mississippian and the ASB Social Media Accounts.
ASB Secretary Kaylynn Steen explained why.
The secretary position was restructured this year, which may have led to responsibilities like minutes slipping through the cracks, according to Steen.
“With the restructuring, there’s just been capacity issues with (the minutes) process, especially in getting them ready to be published and then actually getting them published,” Steen said. “I think there has been a bit of a breakdown in the process. It’s an extremely valid concern because we know that students want to be kept informed about what is going on in the senate.”
Additionally, when Steen took office there were few people in her department. She believes that more hires would make dividing up the workload easier.
“We need people that can be dedicated to those different things,” Steen said. “We obviously knew going into a new structure that there are going to be some growing pains. It’s encouraging to me that people want to see those minutes and keep up with what we have going on.”
Steen affirmed that the minutes would be released before the next administration takes office.
“As far as completing my term, we have a plan in place to get them all published before the next administration comes in. They exist, and they will be published,” Steen said.
A deeper dive into ASB operations also revealed internal issues.
Wade Roberts, former religious/spiritual senator and chair of the Infrastructure Committee, left the organization in September. Roberts said that ASB felt like an “autocratic” work environment.
“I think there’s a well-intentioned effort of trying to unite the different branches of ASB, but what it actually does is squash a lot of the creativity that comes from separate branches,” Roberts said. “Specifically from the executive branch, telling senators ‘don’t do this project’ or ‘don’t go after this policy change’ just because it didn’t fit the executive agenda.”
Projects are resolutions and bills. Resolutions can be thought of as senator or committee projects. Bills are modifications to the ASB code.
“The thing that I keep thinking of is the pronoun policy,” Roberts said.
SR 22-9, commonly referred to as the Preferred Pronoun Policy, establishes that faculty and staff are expected to use a student’s preferred name and pronouns.
Roberts claimed that the President Pro Tempore Anastasia Jones-Burdick told committee chairs in a meeting, “We don’t want to do that (the preferred pronoun policy) right now. Maybe if you want to pursue it, wait till a lot later in the year.”
The Daily Mississippian asked Hayden Pierce, former senator and chair of the Committee on Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, about Robert’s claims and the process of getting the bill passed.
Pierce said what happened in the meeting Roberts referenced was the product of internal miscommunication, not project suppression.
The legislation was introduced when both he and Jones-Burdick were new to their roles and figuring things out, Pierce said. In addition, he said he did not submit the bill to the legislative monitor far enough in advance before the Rules Committee.
According to Section 15 of the ASB Constitution, the Rules Committee is a meeting that occurs twice a semester. In this committee, upcoming legislation and legislation that has not gone into effect is discussed
Pierce also said that he submitted it to Jones-Burdick’s weekly committee survey, but that she did not communicate it to the executive council.
The Daily Mississippian reached out to Jones-Burdick for a comment, but received no response.
“Alex and I met that day before the rules meeting and she said that the legislation was good, but it would be better if I could talk to university administration about it and see how they want it written,” Pierce said.
Pierce explained that by working more closely with administration, legislation is more likely to be implemented after it is passed.
“At the end of the day, that’s what we’re going for. We’re not just trying to pass legislation,” Pierce said. “I told everyone that we wanted to fail that resolution at the time so we could go back and rework on it.”
Although Pierce said there was an explanation behind delaying the pronoun policy, he did say some other projects were stifled.
“(Higher ups would say) we shouldn’t really be doing that, we shouldn’t be focusing our time on that, or that’s not something that we can do when in reality it’s something we could and should be doing,” Pierce said. “I don’t think there was any malintent, but at the same time, it just was hard to do what you wanted to do and make the changes that senators wanted to make.”
When asked about project suppression, Nabors said legislation is not being stifled, it is being reframed.
“We do have committees and departments that work on specific things,” Nabors said. “If you’re on the Government Operations Committee, it’s not to say that you can’t work on a piece of legislation that has to do with Student Life. It’s more so that you need to be working with the Student Life Committee, because that is under their jurisdiction.”
Liberal Arts Senator and Chair of Student Life Taylor Kelly said she didn’t experience issues getting projects off the ground.
“(The executive branch and pro tempore) give opinions about what they think would be best projectwise and legislatively. I have not personally experienced anything being shut down without any reasoning behind it,” Kelly said.
A Focus on Protocol
In addition to the work environment, Roberts cited a higher focus on protocol as something constricting ASB senate this year.
“(Something) that was kind of new to the leadership this year that we hadn’t done in the past was a really high emphasis on protocol,” Roberts said. “Which is understandable to an extent, but they got so strict on protocol that if we didn’t cc them on an email they would chew people out.”
ASB president Lila Osman offered an explanation for this increased attention to protocol.
“In the past, there have been programs and initiatives that nobody knew about,” Osman said. “Then the week of (the program or initiative) there was no communication or (social media) post about it because nobody else knew about it other than the person directly working on it.”
Nabors said a greater focus on communication is crucial to the swift execution of projects.
“What I didn’t realize until I was a committee chair was how important that one cc to the right person can be, because it can take a project that would have taken a couple months only hours,” Nabors said.
While Roberts left ASB earlier in the semester, Pierce stayed throughout the semester before leaving to study abroad. He said that as they got more familiar with the roles, it got better.
“Everyone’s kind of on the same page as it goes on,” Pierce said.
Type of Legislation
Senators also offered their perspectives on the type of legislation that was passed.
Roberts, Greenwald and Pierce all noted there has been a lack of debate in the senate and talked about how it has changed internal opinions about ASB.
“There were some big debates last year. We debated when Mississippi passed all of its reforms on critical race theory, and we passed a statement for the state government in conjunction with other universities,” Roberts said. “This year just seemed very much like the senate was boiled down to like cc’ing them on emails and writing memos.”
Roberts is referencing SR 22-3 which condemned the passing of Mississippi Senate Bill 2113 which is a piece of anti-critical race theory legislation.
Pierce, too, missed debates but offered a different perspective on how they help to drum up discussion.
Pierce was an author of Senate Resolution 22-10 which supports the establishment of a post-secondary education program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Pierce thinks that a lack of debate surrounding the resolution stopped senators from getting excited about it and sharing it with other people.
“Even if it’s written well or a good idea, it’s important to have people say why it’s a good idea and say that they’ll go tell other people about it,” Pierce said.
Greenwald offered his perspective.
“The last couple of years it’s been a lot of code revisions and more tedious things that needed to be done,” Greenwald said. “A lack of hot button issues causes senators to feel that they are not really arguing for anything and they’re more so procedurally approving legislation that is beneficial.”
Kelly believes the code revisions passed by ASB this year improved campus inclusivity.
Kelly spoke about revisions like SB 23-1 which clarifies the roles of Homecoming King and Queen.
“The code revisions make Ole Miss more inclusive, because there’s a lot of things that are in there that the average student may not know about, specifically whenever you’re going for positions such as homecoming queen or Mr. and Mrs. Ole Miss,” Kelly said.
Nabors echoed Kelly’s sentiments.
“I am really proud of the code changes that we’ve gone through,” Nabors said. “I know a lot of times senators and even people on the outside might think that those code changes are insignificant, but they’re going to have a major impact on the years to come for ASB elections, various roles and branches and the entire organization.”
Many senators acknowledged that ASB has a reputation for being an exclusive group.
The Daily Mississippian asked 12 random students on campus what they know about ASB and half of them had little to no knowledge of the organization and its actions.
“There’s this outside perspective that ASB is this in-group of people in the honors college that are ambassadors and serving a number of things — it’s these high achieving students. And from the outside, it may seem like a lot of these selection processes are closed off to the public,” Greenwald said.
Greenwald talked about a problem of over-involvement.
“We need a diversity of involvement. I think we need more students to hold fewer positions. I think a lot of students are really swamped and hold five leadership positions on campus. That’s not really fair to have that power,” Greenwald said.
Osman also acknowledged the need for more diversity in ASB.
“I do think that it’s understandable that people have that perception because when you do see people coming from the same groups serving it’s kind of like, okay, this is consistent,” Osman said. “That’s something that we’ve talked a lot about, making sure we’re representative, making sure that the senate is representative.”
Nabors gave a possible explanation for why this in-group formed and proposed a solution.
“There are a lot of public policy leadership majors, there are a lot of honors college students,” Nabors said. “If the people who keep running are PPL majors in the honors college and the people who keep voting them in keep voting them in, that’s who’s going to make up your senate. I would challenge the people who have those complaints about the makeup of the senate to run.”
Attorney General Maddy Ryan talked about how ASB has been fundraising to help alleviate campaign costs for candidates..
“If we’re trying to get all voices, there are people who do not even consider being in the executive office because of the financial cost of running a campaign,” Ryan said.
Ryan has also spent this semester trying to increase election awareness.
“I encourage my department, and in my own actions, to just show up to Registered Student Organizations, events and try to be present on campus,” Ryan said. “So when we do have our elections, it’s not like a random email trying to get people to run, but they feel like there’s a trust within ASB and we actually want to hear your voice and we want your voice represented.”
ASB’s Accomplishments This Year
Nabors emphasized that members of ASB and the executive committee are young college students and perfect work should not be expected.
“I’m 22 years old. In college, we’re not going to be doing these roles perfectly. I’m managing 65 people,” Nabors said. “I don’t know what other 22-year-old is doing that.”
Many of the senators interviewed recognize this. Pierce said that Nabors, Osman and Ryan served as guiding role models throughout the year.
“They always helped me to bounce ideas off of them, gave me advice and connected me with people.” Pierce said. “Alex Nabors had a ton of great ideas she gathered from faculty and all over. She sourced them and gave them to us.”
Despite the challenges, seven resolutions and eight bills have been passed this year in the senate.
In late January, the organization passed the Prefered Pronoun Policy that requests professors use the preferred pronouns of their students. The policy was brought about after a student informed the bill’s main author, Equity and Advocacy Organizations Sen. Caleb Ball, that their professor intentionally ignored and misused their pronouns. Both the student and professor were granted anonymity by ASB.
On March 2, the senate passed a resolution supporting the Angel Shot Initiative, a campaign against sexual assault that encourages anyone who feels unsafe at a bar to go to the bartender and order an “angel shot.” The bartender would then take action to ensure that person’s safety throughout the night or get them out of the bar.
Osman pointed to the increased funds ASB can distribute to student organizations thanks to the increase to the student activity fee.
“The treasurer’s department has received much more money due to the SAF. So we’ve been able to fund a lot of different student organizations and give them a lot more money if they partner with different student organizations or if they do large scale events,” Osman said.
According to an Instagram post from the organization, ASB, “approved approximately $100,250.76 worth of SAF funds.”
Nabors believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on student organizations on campus, including ASB.
“COVID dampened every organization’s enthusiasm, increased burnout, mental health issues, stress and anxiety. I think these really took a hit on the involvement culture,” Nabors said. “But I think we’re on the pendulum swinging back. I think that we’re headed back to a place where involvement is a huge part of this campus and people are excited to go to these events and participate.”
Nabors is optimistic that the upcoming elections will be more competitive as the university recovers from the pandemic.
“I’m hopeful that these (officer elections) are going to be a lot more competitive and contentious than they have in the past. For my grade, if you look at the number of qualified candidates that were juniors that spring during my election season, there were not that many qualified candidates that could even run for those positions,” Nabors said. “Because of that Zoom-COVID year, people just didn’t want to stay in ASB, so there were very few people qualified by the code to run for those positions. That’s why you see two juniors now in executive positions. Typically, you see a majority senior executive council.”
Greenwald also thinks this year’s elections will be more competitive than years past because there are more qualified candidates.
“I don’t think there’s a clear-cut person that’s a shoo-in for president this year,” Greenwald said. “I think we’ll see a lot more people running for those big executive positions.”
Osman also emphasized the importance of putting the students first in student government.
“You’re not in this role to serve yourself. You’re in this role to serve the student body,” Osman said. “And that’s what I think makes somebody one of the right people to do this job because you can’t do this job selfishly.”