First-year senator Keegan Williams-Thomas is currently working to amend the laws of ASUO to allow freshman senators to vote.
Williams-Thomas is currently not allowed to vote on issues in the senate, such as resolutions and special requests from student groups. His role is to provide his input on the discussions that lead to the senate’s decision. However, Williams-Thomas wants to change that.
Freshmen comprise about a quarter of the student population and contribute to the $16 million incidental fee budget. Even though adding one more voting senator in the mix may not be consequential, Williams-Thomas said adding the vote is still necessary.
“Although one vote won’t change a decision in the senate, with most decisions being unanimous, the opportunity for a vote and the opportunity for full participation within the senate needs to be there,” Williams-Thomas said.
The freshman representative is not elected by the student body, but is appointed by the ASUO Executive because freshmen are not on campus during spring elections.
Senator Nakai Corral said the position is highly competitive with numerous applicants who are trying to get involved on campus. Although freshman representatives may not be immediately familiar with ASUO processes, Corral said recent representatives — including Williams-Thomas — have been valuable to the senate even without a vote.
“Williams-Thomas has been to everything even when he didn’t need to be. To see his engagement [and] to see his excitement gives me a lot of optimism,” Corral said.
Senate President Kevin Dobyns also commended Williams-Thomas’ work on the senate with his input.
“Williams-Thomas has been valuable to the senate with just his voice,” Dobyns said.
Both Corral and Dobyns are in favor of Williams-Thomas’ proposal. Corral said that freshmen are the most important group in the ASUO because of their heavy involvement with student groups.
Although freshmen weren’t present during ASUO elections and the freshman representative is an appointed position, having appointed senators vote is not unprecedented. Dobyns said freshmen still deserve a vote.
“Even with those arguments aside, I still think the freshman representative should have a vote. There is no reason that their voices shouldn’t be heard,” Dobyns said.
Although no senator has opposed the proposed changes, Dobyns says that some are apprehensive because it can open a “can of worms.”
Once the freshman senator is allowed to vote, it raises questions about creating senate seats to represent sophomores, juniors and seniors. Another senator pointed out the University of Florida’s senate includes 200 students representing every major and class, compared to UO’s 20-member body.
Williams-Thomas said there have been discussions with other members of the senate to possibly expand senate representation to transfer and international students. However, his first priority is to give the freshman representative a vote.
Although Dobyns is not against giving those students seats and is something he’d consider, he said there is nothing preventing those groups from running for other seats.