The Associated Students of Oregon State University has officially pulled out of an agreement to provide membership dues to the Oregon Student Association, a statewide nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of college students across the state.
OSA engages in lobbying at the state capitol, organizes get out the vote efforts to increase student voter turnout and organizes conferences to teach students advocacy and activism skills. Several Oregon colleges and universities are part of the organization and fund their efforts, including the University of Oregon and Portland State University. Each university contributes $1.34 per student per term for membership, according to OSA’s website.
While there were multiple reasons for the split, ASOSU President Justin Bennett referred to a feeling of unwelcomeness within OSA board meetings as one of the main factors in the decision-making process.
“It’s been about this difficulty in ASOSU and OSU students feeling that they’re not welcome in OSA spaces,” Bennett said. “Feeling like their voices aren’t heard, feeling ostracized or feeling different, just for offering differing opinions.”
Bennett added that OSU students have returned from OSA board meetings crying after receiving harsh responses for voicing their perspectives. He also added that he personally was subject to profanity in board meetings, with no one stepping in to restore civility.
According to Ceph Poklemba, a senior board member of the Oregon Student Equal Rights Alliance—a board under OSA—they and other staff members were subject to intimidating behavior from members of ASOSU.
“ASOSU has actively tried to block or remove the student board representatives from OSU they do not agree with,” Poklemba said in an email. “As well as actively targeting many of the OSA staff that came to campus and making them feel actively unsafe in the ASOSU office space, this includes but isn’t limited to physical intimidation, and loud verbal outbursts at various staff when they came to campus.”
There was also conflict over funding: with more students than several other member schools, OSU did not have a greater say in determining OSA’s legislative priorities or overall direction, according to Bennett. This was a source of contention during negotiations last year.
The two organizations have been in tense negotiations for multiple years now, and last year the ASOSU legislative branch decided to redefine their statutes to fit the negotiation process. The new change required the introduction of a new bill every single year regarding relations with OSA.
While the move to divest from OSA means their services will no longer be available, it does allow ASOSU to use these funds for other purposes. According to ASOSU Speaker of the House, Carol Moreno, this year ASOSU contributed around $50,000 to OSA, a decrease from the $105,328 the year before. While these dollars came from student fees, the financial impact of no longer funding OSA will not be felt by OSU students.
“The $50,000 that is leftover for our student government to utilize will have to be redistributed in some other area—whether that be hiring another lobbyist, or putting that funding into something else,” Moreno said. “From my understanding, there is not really a clear plan right now of what that’ll be used for.”
Poklemba said OSA would decide whether to rebuild relations with ASOSU in the future based on what the student body wants. They also expressed a desire to see ASOSU listen to the concerns of students who disagree with the decision.
Looking forward, Bennett hopes to see the two organizations recommit to a new relationship.
“I hope that we can recommit to a membership agreement, but I do think that’ll take awhile,” Bennett said. “OSA loses OSU, but OSU also loses OSA. That’s a big concern of mine, and it’ll be (next year’s administration)’s job to navigate that and figure out what that will look like.”