Column: SGA referenda burst NU ‘liberal bubble’

Column: SGA referenda burst NU ‘liberal bubble’
A Facebook campaign against Student Justice for Palestine's SGA referenda question, created by Huskies for Israel. / Photo by Jasmine Heyward

By Jasmine Heyward, editorial columnist

Editorial columnist Jasmine Heyward. / Photo by Riley Robinson

“Should Northeastern publicly request that the Massachusetts state government change their laws to allow open carry of firearms on college campuses?”

This is one of 22 referenda questions submitted to Northeastern’s Student Government Association, or SGA, for consideration. Approved questions will appear on the ballot for student body elections later this spring.

Typically, referenda questions have come from progressive student groups who believe in working through discourse with SGA and the administration. Last year, three questions made the ballot — one from Students Against Institutional Discrimination on gentrification and two from Husky Environmental Action Team on ways the university can reduce its environmental impact.

This year, the potential questions don’t carry the same diplomatic tone. Half of the questions, including the open carry question mentioned above, were submitted by Northeastern University College Republicans, or NUCR. Many questions, submitted by NUCR and other groups, challenge previous university initiatives, including a smoke-free campus, the Center for Intercultural Engagement and the removal of trays from dining halls. The Senate voted to allow the first two questions while denying the third.

This challenges a common slogan among humanities professors that Northeastern is a “liberal bubble” where dissenters do not speak up. The liberal-dominated culture may be changing, and if nothing else, NUCR is making it clear that they want the university establishment to acknowledge them.

What this means for the student body is unclear thus far. Realistically, not all 22 questions will make the ballot. SGA’s Senate votes to approve or dismiss questions based on “fairness of wording” and “adherence to university policy.” The open carry question was dismissed Monday night on these grounds, said Collin Walter, SGA’s executive director of communications. The full results were not available when this column was submitted for print.

Perhaps surprisingly, the most debated question was from Students for Justice in Palestine: “Should Northeastern stop purchasing HP products until HP affiliated companies end their involvement in all of the following: deportations, population registries and settlements in military-occupied areas?” It was rejected by the Senate with seven yes votes, 47 no votes and 14 abstentions.

Huskies for Israel, a self-described pro-Israel student group, launched a campaign against the question, including paid Facebook and Instagram advertisements. The group believes that the question promotes anti-Semitism on campus because the initiative to boycott HP is part of an extremist Palestinian group’s platform. On Facebook, “he said, she said” arguments broke out under dramatic political ads that were a throwback to the 2016 presidential election. The ads, featuring black and white photos of the university and red text, directed students to a petition at nohatenu.com.

It’s hard to say where this discussion will go as election season continues, but this is clearly not the discourse that happens in echo chambers. The student body will vote on creating designated smoking areas on campus, replacing most of the Center for Intercultural Engagement with a leisure space and bringing Chick-fil-A to campus. It must also acknowledge that the political power of groups that don’t fit into the “Northeastern bubble” is growing.

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