Addressing what former Associated Students President Timothy Belfield called an act of cowardice, senators Maria Rodriguez and Diana Medina spoke during the open forum session of Tuesday’s A.S. meeting.
Rodriguez and Medina addressed an anonymous letter that was distributed before the March 15 session. The letter contained what some members of A.S. said were slanderous comments about Medina, who was a nominee for the vacant position of A.S. vice president.
The two senators urged the author or authors of the letter to identify themselves and apologize. Cara Keith, A.S. president, said the letter made slanderous comments about Medina, upper division senator, who was being voted on by senators to possibly fill the currently vacant vice presidential position.
In its opening sentence, the letter stated that Rodriguez, Social and Behavioral Science I senator, who also applied for the vacant vice presidential position, was more qualified for the position, said Selene Salas, Humanities II senator and senior liberal studies and Chicano/a studies major.
Keith, senior deaf studies major, said the letter was only distributed to about eight of the 16 senators. The letter, she said, was either put in certain senators’ boxes before the March 15 meeting, put on their desks at the beginning of the meeting, or directly handed to them by other senators.
Keith said she did not know about the letter’s existence until the day after the March 15 meeting.
“(The letter was) promoting Maria by slandering Diana,” Keith said.
The letter, according to Keith, spoke of Rodriguez as being present on campus more often than Medina, and said Medina once left a Senate meeting early.
Medina, junior political science major, who did not receive a copy of the letter until after the March 15 meeting, said the letter compared her role in A.S. to Rodriguez’s role.
“(It) compared and contrasted the lack of my abilities to Maria’s abilities,” Medina said. “Whoever wrote it only saw one side.”
During the March 15 meeting, only three of the 15 voting senators present voted for the appointment of Medina as vice president. The remaining 12 senators abstained from voting.
Senators Meghan Cruz, Bobbie Ross, and Lindsay O’Dell voted in favor of Medina’s appointment. Senators Victor Morales, Peter Gallego,Victor Cervantes, Johny Tadros, Maria Rodriguez, Mohammad Jahangard, Mario Lopez, Stan Ilyashenko, Selene Salas, Jose Zegarra, and Sylva Kouzouian abstained from voting.
Senator Jennifer May Pastores was not present during the vote, and Diana Medina also abstained from voting.
Since Medina said she had no knowledge of the letter, she figured the senators had reservations about her, but had no idea that certain senators were possibly given the letter in an attempt to sway their votes.
Medina said that prior to the meeting, no senator ever approached her to discuss her qualifications to fill the vice presidential position.
Rodriguez, senior psychology major, said she had no knowledge of this letter until it was placed on her seat before the March 15 meeting. She said that initially, when she read the first line of the letter, she was happy because it supported her becoming vice president. Then, upon reading further, she found that the letter was attacking Medina. These comments, she said, made her feel uncomfortable.
“At the time, (after reading the letter), I wanted to resign,” Rodriguez said. “Nobody notified me about the letter. I felt really uncomfortable being (at the meeting). It was unfair to (both) of us.”
The day after the meeting, Rodriguez, who said she was unaware that the letter was not distributed to all members of A.S., was ignored by one of her fellow senators, she said. This made her think that others might believe she was involved with the letter in some way.
Had she known someone was going to write a letter like this, Rodriguez said, she would have gone against it. Timothy Belfield, former A.S. president who resigned Feb. 8, also spoke during the forum regarding the anonymous letter.
“The author of the letter in question is a coward because that person was unwilling to take responsibility for it by putting her or his name at the bottom,” Belfield said. “The letter was an act of unethical behavior because its distribution was limited to a select few. It was written for personal reasons to promote a personal agenda, and the author of this letter, and those of you who passed it on or promoted its contents, have blurred the line between personal agenda and professional responsibility to the students of CSUN.”
Belfield, senior geography major, said he knows for a fact that one senator was asked to vote a certain way. He said that by abstaining from voting, a large number of senators were being irresponsible by not asking questions.
“I think it was irresponsible,” Belfield said. “I characterize (the) vote as ignorance through abstention. They are senators. They can ask questions. A lot (of the senators) do not really know how many tools are in their toolbox.”
According to Enrique Galan, A.S. director of legislative affairs and junior Chicano/a studies and political science major, abstaining from voting is the same as a weak “no.” He said he could not vote because only senators are allowed to vote during the meetings, and also said that if senators have concerns, they need to voice them.
A letter is not the appropriate method, he said.
Peter Gallego, Education I senator and a higher education administration graduate student who abstained from voting, said he felt a letter was not the appropriate method to use if there were questions about Medina.
“(We) need to take a better approach at addressing the problem (possibly in the form of a) question and answer period,” Gallego said. “I tried to give my input, but there wasn’t much debate and discussion.”
He said senators need to take a closer look at who they represent.
“We represent the constituents,” Gallego said. “We need to focus on how we (can) help students.”
Gallego also said that if candidates for positions such as the vice presidency were required to speak before the Senate members, it would give them an opportunity to get to know these candidates better.
Keith said she will be advertising the vacant position for the next two weeks, but will not accept a new vice president until the person or persons who wrote the letter come forth.
If the person is a director in A.S., Keith said she will ask for the person’s resignation. If the person is a senator, Keith said she will bring the issue to the senate so senators can vote on the person’s removal, which would require a three-fourths vote, as stated in the Associated Students Constitution.
“I don’t want this going by without any action being taken,” Keith said. “I don’t want it to seem (like) these things are OK.”
Medina said she has noticed changes in A.S. since the release of the letter.
“It is turning into little cliques in the senate,” Medina said. “(This incident has) divided me from the senate.”
Medina said she plans to reapply for the vice presidential position, if allowed.
David Crandall, general manager of A.S., said he believes Medina cannot re-run during the same session. He said the only way she could be reconsidered is if someone who voted down the appointment wanted to reconsider. However, there were no votes against the appointment. There were three votes in-favor, and 12 abstaining votes.
Rodriguez said she wants to reapply, but said she still feels uncomfortable and does not know who to trust in the Senate. She said the most important thing to her is to serve the students, and the title is not important to her.
“I don’t need a name,” Rodriguez said. “We are here for the students, not ourselves. My responsibility as a senator is to make sure students are being heard.”