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SGA condemns Executive Order No. GA-44 amid Israel-Palestine debate, introduces legislation

Members of the Senate debate in the SGA Senate Chamber during Monday’s April 22, meeting. |Raphael Fernandez/The Cougar

The Student Government Association delved into contentious campus matters in a special session lasting over four hours on Monday night.

Discussions ranged from condemning Executive Order No. GA-44 to address challenges within Greek life and unresolved executive appointments. As debates intensified, senators grappled with navigating diverse perspectives on critical issues.

Israel-Palestine Conflict

A resolution condemning Executive Order No. GA-44 issued by Governor Greg Abbott was read after the order which aimed to address acts of antisemitism at Texas universities and colleges.

The order requires institutions to review and update their free speech policies, including the definition of antisemitism, and establish punishments for antisemitic speech and acts on campuses. The order’s reference to phrases such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” was cited as an example of its potential impact on free speech rights.

“This resolution calls on the UH administration to protect its students’ right to speech, action, protest and campaigns, and we hope that the administration refuses to comply with the executive order,” Sen. Mohib Awan said. 

Awan expressed concerns that the order creates a negative environment for affected students, particularly those involved in groups like the Palestine Solidarity Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine.

“The executive order endangers students advocating for the end to the genocide of Palestinians; endangering Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students in particular by creating a hostile environment that suppresses free speech,” Awan said.

Another resolution, titled Divest from Death, focused on the university’s investments in weapons manufacturers and other companies allegedly implicated in various conflicts and human rights violations. 

The resolution called for divestment from these entities and cited the university’s historical precedent in divesting from companies engaged in business with apartheid-era South Africa. It also referenced previous efforts by SJP to urge divestment from top weapons manufacturers, which were not fully implemented by the university.

“These companies are directly giving weapons to Israel to bomb Palestinian people or they are companies that occupy illegal territories, so we hope that the Board of Regents will vote to divest the endowment fund from these companies,” SJP representative and art history graduate student Frances said.

The resolutions, now in committee, will undergo further scrutiny and discussion before being brought to a vote by the Senate in a future meeting.

Greek Life

A resolution aimed to recognize the UH chapter of Phi Kappa Sigma that advocated for its inclusion on the university’s website and its hopeful accelerated national recognition was planned to be voted on by the Senate. 

The author Sen. Jesus Nieto argued for the chapter’s recognition to highlight its positive impact on campus and adherence to university regulations.

“This resolution is a call to action to be recognized on the university’s website so we can increase our membership numbers and presence on campus,” Nieto said. “We are on the way to being nationally recognized and this would help.”

However, the resolution faced staunch opposition from senators questioning the fraternity’s national status. Sen. Lauren Williford and others expressed concerns about endorsing a fraternity without national recognition.

“I don’t think we should pass this because it has not been nationally recognized as a chapter yet and this seems like a premature thing to do,” Williford said.

Neito defended the chapter, stressing its fulfillment of university requirements and local contributions. Despite his efforts, the Senate remained divided over the fraternity’s eligibility for recognition. After extensive debate, the Senate was divided, with 15 of the 29 present senators voting to table the resolution. 

In a bid to foster dialogue and collaboration within Greek life, the Recognition of the SGA Greek Life Caucus Resolution was introduced to propose a platform for discourse among student leaders. 

“This would basically just create a forum to discuss all things about Greek life. This is all about creating a space to talk and increasing presence,” Nieto.

Although the legislation was sent to the committee, disputes arose over alleged sponsorship claims that reflected the need for clarity and accountability in legislative procedures.

“I never agreed to be a sponsor on this and I know a few other senators feel the same. I never signed the document or said that I supported this,” Sen. Will James said.

Executive Appointment

The appointment process for the Director of Outreach position turned into a battleground of opinions, with candidates Williford and James failing to impress the Senate with their speeches. As deliberations stretched over whether to strike the appointments or proceed to vote, frustration mounted among senators torn between duty and dissatisfaction with the candidates.

“They felt very unprepared and they definitely should have read up on the position before their speeches,” Nieto said. “There should be no reason why they can’t name five University Sponsored Organizations when that is a main part of the outreach position.” 

Ultimately, the decision to vote yielded no clear winner which left the position vacant and the Senate divided.

At the beginning of the meeting, Bryanna Nimmons, a familiar face from the 60th administration, shared her disappointment at being overlooked for the director of outreach position despite her efforts.

“I submitted my application so you can imagine my surprise when I received a call on Friday right before submissions were closed saying that my submission was not received although multiple people saw me submit it,” Nimmons said.

Her testimony shed light on the challenges of navigating internal politics within SGA, underscoring the need for transparency and fairness in appointments.

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