Fresh off spring break, student senators discussed various resolutions and legislation during Wednesday night’s meeting of the Texas A&M Student Senate.
After a half-hour of debate during open session, the Senate passed the “Opposition of PROSPER Act Free Speech Regulations,” taking a position against some of the congressionally proposed changes to college speech codes, which are part of the reauthorization to the Higher Education Act.
Originally introduced by Legislative Affairs Chair Katina Economides, Student Services Chair Eric Mendoza and College of Liberal Arts Caucus Senator Wes Fisher, the resolution expressed a preference to maintain Texas A&M’s current free speech student rules and stated opposition to regulations proposed by the United States House of Representatives banning free speech zones at colleges receiving federal funds.
Community Relations Chair Joshua Sweet referenced the 1960s Vietnam protests and the free speech movement, and said banning free speech zones would bring unnecessary issues surrounding safety and educational integrity to the campus.
“These free speech zones originated from Vietnam era protests [on] some campuses and they did it for protection of the protesters as well, just so that it's just a controlled down area that they can do it in,” Sweet said. “That’s why I supported it in a sense. There’s still free speech, but at the same time we’re not disrupting the educational environment.”
Citing national controversy surrounding free speech on campuses, Economides said it was paramount to avoid disruptions to the campus learning environment that could result from these changes.
“Texas A&M University respects everyone’s First Amendment rights; however, we work to uphold the primary goal of quality education for this institution and the Texas A&M Student Senate opposes the PROSPER Act’s efforts to remove free speech zones from college campuses,” Economides read from the resolution.
The resolution contained an explicit declaration of support for the First Amendment, which quelled concerns about the Student Senate’s position on allowing free speech activities on campus.
“Student rules state that Texas A&M University is committed to providing an educational and work climate that is conducive to the personal and professional development of each individual,” the resolution read. “In fulfilling its multiple missions as an institution of higher learning, it encourages the free exchange of ideas. The university will protect the rights of freedom of speech, expression, petition and peaceful assembly as set forth in the U.S. Constitution. Texas A&M University maintains its right to regulate reasonable time, place and manner restrictions concerning acts of expression and dissent.”
Economides said the Student Senate has an obligation to reflect the views and the voice of the student body and represent their educational as well free speech interests.
“We’re all Aggies,” Economides said. “We’re all here to learn and that should be the one thing that is protected most — it’s our education environment and our learning environment. And if banning the ‘free speech zones,’ it could set a dangerous precedent and kind of open the flood gates to chaos that universities may not have the resources and tools to regulate on to their own.”
Speaker Jasmine Wang said the resolution will be sent to all members of the Texas delegation to the United States House of Representatives as the official position of the Student Senate as representatives of the student body.
“A lot of thought is put into these resolutions and I think that if they pass, in majority or unanimously, then it's most likely a representation that the majority of students probably agree with this,” Wang said. “However, every legislative body has flaws. The Senate has had many things in the past that many students to not agree with and unfortunately, that’s just one of the flaws of how a legislative body works.”
The resolution was passed unanimously with no amendments.
The Student Senate also passed the Sexual Assault Awareness Month Updated Resolution, introduced by College of Liberal Arts Caucus Senators Kaylyn Roberts and Ashali Chimata, expressing support for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is April, and committing to joint efforts with the administration to improve sexual assault response processes and services on A&M’s campus. The Student Senate also passed legislation amending the committee notification process between Student Senate committees and the Executive Branch.
At the beginning of the meeting, a group of the senators elected in the spring 2018 student body elections that were unable to attend the previous swearing in ceremony, took the oath of office, filling vacancies in the Senate’s current session. The Student Senate was also briefed by the Texas A&M Transportation Services Assistant Director Madeline Dillard on fall of 2018 transit changes to Bus Route 12 with significant availability and bus time implications for the routes extending into Bryan and specifically, to Blinn Community College.