Julia Nagel/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

The SA meeting took place in the Willard Straight Memorial Room on Sept. 9, 2021.

September 13, 2021

Student Assembly Discusses Reproductive Rights, Indigenous Governance and a New Committee

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In Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting, student representatives passed resolutions making statements in response to a recent Texas law which severely reduces abortion access, as well as urging Cornell to advocate to the United States federal government in support of the demands of Cayuga Nation Council of Chiefs and clanmothers.

On Sept. 1, Texas passed a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, which renders over 85 percent of abortions previously preformed in the state illegal. The new law shocked student advocates on campus, including leadership of the Planned Parenthood Generation Action at Cornell.

“[The new law] is an affront to our democracy and bodily autonomy,” Samantha Heller ’23, PPGA co-president, said in an interview with the Sun. “It’s also just so cruel. It doesn’t have exceptions for people who have become pregnant through rape or incest, and that to us was kind of shocking.”

The Student Assembly passed a resolution in support of reproductive rights which stated that the legislation was “a threat to the bodily autonomy and personal health of Texans and a severe violation of democratic principles and judicial procedure.” The resolution now awaits submission to the president.

The assembly called for increased investment from Cornell to fund student education about pregnancy termination and birth control services available to them at Cornell, as well as for the University to stand in solidarity with Cornell peers from Texas who may be impacted by this legislation.

Heller and other student advocates are especially concerned about the disproportionate impact of the policy on low-income communities of color, where people may be less likely to have the resources to travel out-of-state to seek an abortion. Heller appreciates the support of the Student Assembly in advocating for reproductive rights.

“I was really grateful. It also made me somewhat optimistic,” Heller said. “It’s good to know, especially among young people, that these kinds of bills that completely fly in the face of Roe v Wade, are not acceptable.”

The Student Assembly also passed a resolution titled Calling on Cornell University To Publicly Support the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ (Cayuga Nation) Council of Chiefs and Clan Mothers Demands, sponsored by representatives including College of Agriculture & Life Sciences Representatives Adele Williams ’24 and Yanenowi Logan ‘24, as well as Arts and Sciences Representative Claudia Irene Leon ’23.

Halftown was first designated the leader of the Cayuga Nation by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2003, according to WSKG. He remains the federally recognized representative of the Cayuga nation, despite controversies in recent years including land claim disputes.

The resolution cited an open letter released by the Cayuga Nation Council of Chiefs, clan mothers and other Cayuga citizens, which alleged that Clint Halftown ordered the demolition of homes, businesses and a traditional schoolhouse on February 22, 2020, and issued eviction notices amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

A spokesperson for the federally recognized Cayuga Nation government led by Clint Halftown, Maria Stagliano, accused the Cayuga Nation Council of Chiefs and their allies of aligning themselves with people guilty of criminal activities.

Stagliano defended the demolition of buildings, which the resolution referenced due to alleged illegal activities previously conducted in these buildings. Stagliano claimed that the current efforts to evict some Cayuga Nation members was in fact an effort to recoup years of missing rent. Leon and Williams were skeptical of these justifications.

The spokesperson disagreed with what she characterized as the decision to seek outside influence on native governance.

“The ‘Council of Chiefs’ is undermining Native American nations’ abilities to self-govern without interference from non-native members,” the spokesperson wrote. “This abrogation of the Cayuga Nation’s sovereignty in the pursuit of power is wrong.”

According to Williams and Leon, the focus of their effort is to amplify the voices of Cayuga people rather than speak for them.

“We are not the authority on the internal struggles of their government at the moment,” Williams said in an interview with The Sun. “We are just trying to support the people who have gone through a lot.”

In addition to the above resolutions, the Student Assembly discussed its internal bylaws, standing rules and charter. Changes to the bylaws include the possibility of adding more ex-officio members, including the suggestion of three ex-officio members to represent each segment of the Greek tri-council instead of just one for the whole council and a new ex-officio seat for a student athlete representative.

While the changes to the charter and bylaws were tabled until the next meeting in accordance with the bylaws, the standing rules were approved. To replace the former research and accountability committee, the Student Assembly passed a resolution creating an external Office of Ethics. 

According to Vice President for Finance Morgan Baker ‘23, one of the co-sponsors of the resolution to dissolve the Research and Accountability Committee and create the Office of Ethics, she and other representatives thought that an independent body would be best suited to hold accountable SA and directly elect undergraduate representatives to the University Assembly.

Baker characterized the research and accountability committee as “plagued by historic dysfunction and systematic shortcomings,” and is hopeful that this new structure will help make the Student Assembly more accountable.