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OU Student Union votes on agenda at General Assembly

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Student worker unionization was voted the top priority of the Ohio University Student Union at Thursday night’s first general assembly meeting.

Two other proposals were also deemed high priorities at the meeting. The first was a collaboration with the Black Life Action Coalition and F-ckRapeCulture to pursue cultural competency class and a study of rape culture at OU, and the second was a call for a socially and environmentally responsible endowment, including prison and fossil fuel divestment.

The fourth proposal, which received the fewest votes, was a proposal to bring the Real Food Challenge to OU.

The next time the Student Union meets will serve as a planning day where different committees gather to work out the details of each proposal.

Staff advisor and a founder of the Student Union Tyler Barton said that the OU Student Union aims to give decision-making power to students. When Barton asked how many students in attendance received a paycheck from the university, nearly half of the over-100 students present held their hands up.

OU Students pay attention to a proposal made at the first general assembly of the OU Student Union. Photo by Emily St. Amour.
OU Students pay attention to a proposal made at the first general assembly of the OU Student Union. Photo by Emily St. Amour.

“Through student debt and tuition increases the University is contributing to the problem of economic inequality,” Barton said. “People get really rich off the backs of students. If the top administrators can make as much as the do then certainly the student workers should get more.”

This year the OU Board of Trustees voted to give OU President Roderick McDavis a $33,730 raise and a $85,000 bonus, raising his base salary to $465,000 a year.

There were eight proposals originally made at the general assembly. However, after a debate session that was extended from 45 minutes to 60 minutes, several of the proposals were combined.

One point of contention was sparked by the question of whether to combine the proposal for cultural competency classes presented by Black Life Action Coalition members with F*ckRape Culture’s proposal for combating rape culture.

Eventually, members of the two groups came to the consensus that these should be combined because they work through similar avenues and are intersectional issues. The Student Union regularly collaborates with other student organizations, such as F*ckRapeCulture and BLAC to accomplish its goals.

Union member Jolana Watson, an OU senior majoring in media and social change, explained that racism and sexism often have similar causes and can be mutually reinforcing. In order to work together Watson said having “tough conversations” is crucial, such as the one about combining the two groups.

“[The Student Union] tries to look at the way issues are connected to each other, rather than just dealing with one issue,” Watson said. “We get really angry at each other and we yell at each other, but it’s the love for humanity and the hope for social change that is at the root of our debate. We don’t have a hierarchy of oppressions, there is no one oppression that is worse than the other.”

Olivia Wallace stated in her presentation on cultural competency classes that she would like the classes to be mandatory for freshman. The classes would aim to engage students in discussions about race and culture.

F-ckRapeCulture voiced their desire for more education for OU staff about how to handle cases of sexual assault, a better system to alert students when a case of sexual assault has occurred and improved psychological services for students.

“People’s lives are being disrupted because of [rape culture]. Not just Ohio University, but institutions in higher education in general are mostly working to protect themselves against legal liability, rather than prioritizing supporting their students,” Barton said.

The Student Union hopes a campus-wide sexual violence study, potentially conducted by a third party, would generate the hard facts necessary to spur the university into action. The study would investigate where rape culture exists, why it spreads and what could be done to mitigate it.

The third priority on the Student Union’s list was socially responsible endowment and fossil fuel and prison divestment. Currently, OU is required by the Securities Exchange Commission to release a report about endowments once every six months.

OU junior Bobby Walker, a women, gender and sexuality studies major, explained that the endowment connects OU to “morally ambiguous” industries, such as the fossil fuel industry and the prison system.

Walker wants to put pressure on the OU to sever its ties with these industries and practice greater financial transparency.

“We not only want our university to tell us exactly where our money is going and what it is invested in, we actually want them to completely divest from industries that profit from the exploitation of land and our people,” Walker said.

Barton said that when the Student Union has tried to work with university officials in the past it has been largely unsuccessful.

“The Student Union has met with administrators and trustees many times over endowment, the problem is that the universities money is held by a private foundation so they’re not actually subjected to public records request,” Barton said. “They did release some information to the Office of Sustainability last spring about their investments in fossil fuels, but in general they do not make it well known how they spend money.”

Information about the OU Foundation’s endowment portfolio investments from December 31, 2014 can be found found online.

The next meeting of the Student Union will be Sept. 24.

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