The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Senate approved the language of three ballot referenda in its meeting on Sunday, March 27, including two Senate-sponsored referenda regarding the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee and mental healthcare, and one student-sponsored referendum calling for the University to cease its use of Caterpillar machinery.
Before the language review process began, U-Councilor Stephen Daniels ’24 presented a proposal for Senate sponsorship of a mental health referendum which calls on the University to “allocate institutional resources to satisfy unmet demand for University-provided mental health care identified by a review, completed by the start of the Fall semester.”
Daniels explained that because the Senate would be heavily involved in the implementation of the referendum, choosing not to sponsor it would “send the wrong message that [the Senate doesn’t] think it should be a priority.”
“I truly do believe that this is crafted in a way that will elicit a response [from] the administration, as per the feedback that we’ve gotten so far,” Daniels continued.
In response to a question from Senator Ned Dockery ’25, Daniels clarified that this referendum is now a single measure encompassing both of the individual referenda he had originally proposed earlier this month. The Senate voted unanimously to sponsor the referendum.
USG Vice President Hannah Kapoor ’23 additionally noted that “student-sponsored referenda can be proposed by any member of the student body to advocate for any sort of change they wish to see on campus.” She added that unlike Senate-sponsored referenda, “after the language review, student-sponsored referenda are required to undergo a petitioning process.”
She also emphasized the role of USG as a “neutral facilitator” and clarified the Senate’s responsibilities during the language review.
“During the Senate language review, the USG Senate is not voting on whether they identify with the opinions expressed in the referendum themselves,” Kapoor said. “Simply, we’re voting on whether or not the proposals fall under what [USG’s] constitution describes to be a power of a referendum and whether or not it clearly describes the direct effects of its adoption. Our role is not to assess the direct effects or implications of a referendum proposal.”
Kapoor noted the Senate’s plan to hold a community forum after the vote.
USG Parliamentarian Kate Liu ’23 laid out the referendum process, pointing out that in order for a referendum to appear on the ballot, it must pass a majority vote by the Senate, which approves the language of the referendum and the ballot question.
According to the elections handbook, the job of the Senate is to evaluate the language used in a referendum based on three criteria: (1) “the resolution is neutrally worded,” (2) “the resolution clearly describes the direct effects of its adoption,” and (3) “the resolution does not claim to exercise a power that cannot be exercised by an undergraduate referendum.”
However, referenda that are not neutrally worded may be allowed if (1) the referendum is only given under an advisory power — in other words, it calls on the University to take action rather than enables the Senate to take action itself — and (2) the referendum is issued under an advisory power is stated “unambiguously” in the resolution.
Liu added that the Senate must also ensure that the wording of the ballot question “clearly describes” the longer resolution part of the referendum. She noted that sponsors can choose whether to amend their language based on comments from the Senate, but they are not required to make edits.
Additionally, Liu referred members to a clause of the Senate’s constitution stating that, with a 5/6 vote, the Senate can determine that a referendum is “frivolous”; should this determination be made, the sponsor would need to get 1,300 signatures during the petition period, as opposed to the usual 500 signatures needed to get a referendum on the ballot. Neither the USG’s constitution nor the elections handbook define the term “frivolous.”
According to the elections calendar included in the USG’s March 27 newsletter, referendum petitions are due on Friday, April 1 at 11:59 p.m.
The Senate first considered whether to approve the language of a referendum put forward by DEI Chair Braiden Aaronson ’25. If passed by the student body, the referendum would make the DEI Committee a core committee of USG and make the DEI Chair a member of the Senate Executive Committee and a voting member of the Senate.
The Senate voted unanimously to approve the language of the referendum.
They also unanimously voted to approve the language of Daniels’ mental health referendum that they had agreed to sponsor earlier in the meeting.
Details on the discussion and voting of the language of the third referendum, regarding the boycott of Caterpillar construction equipment can be found here.
In the meeting, the Senate also heard a brief update from USG Movies Committee Chair Cheyenne Zhang ’22, who reported that about 53 percent of students who register for USG movie events actually attend — up from 48 percent last semester. The Committee “has spent about $5,000 total,” Zhang said, adding that they are hoping to host an outdoor movie kickoff event at the end of April.
Tiffanie Cheng ’24 of the Mental Health Initiative also gave a report, emphasizing the group’s Mental Health Week which begins on Monday, March 28. The group will host mental health-related events through Sunday, April 3 with the goal of promoting wellness and destigmatizing conversations around mental health.
Projects Board Co-Chair Nelson Dimpter ’22 presented two funding proposals to the Senate. The first, from the Asian American Student Association (AASA), requests $1,228 of USG funding to bring influencer Elliot Choy to campus as a speaker.
Secondly, Princeton Students for Reproductive Justice (PSRJ) requested $1,500 from USG as part of an initiative to provide students with free STI testing.
Both requests were approved unanimously.
Derek Nam ’23 of the Student Groups Recognition Committee (SGRC) introduced six new clubs that were recently approved by SGRC, including a group called February 24th, 2022, formed “to raise awareness of the events happening in Ukraine and Russia concerning the war;” a stand-up comedy group called Basic; a club called FACET (the Food Allergy and Celiac Education Team); Just Dance Company and Collective; TigerMed EMS Education; and a chapter of National Alzheimer’s Buddies. The Senate approved all six student groups unanimously.
After the meeting adjourned, Kapoor indicated to those in attendance that some Senate members would remain in the room for the planned community forum, but community members opted not to engage in a forum at that time.
This week’s meeting ran for about two and a half hours compared to the usual one hour, with attendance significantly higher than any other USG meeting this term. Community members constantly filtered in throughout the meeting, with some standing in the back of the room.
USG Senate meetings are held in Robertson Hall Bowl 016 at 8 p.m. on Sunday evenings and are open to all.
Correction: The headline of this article previously stated that the USG approved the referendum’s appearance on the ballot. It has since been corrected to accurately represent the approval of the referendum language. The ‘Prince’ regrets this error.
Annie Rupertus is a first-year from Philadelphia and a News Staff Writer who covers USG for the ‘Prince.’ She is also a designer for the print issue. She can be reached at email@example.com or @annierupertus on Instagram and Twitter.