Referendum 2 proponents speak at Undergraduate Association Council meeting

Referendum #2 speakers call for an ad hoc committee “to handle the interpretation and implementation of the referendum.”

In the 2024 Undergraduate Association (UA) elections, Referendum 2 passed with three terms: to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, to condemn the suspension of the Coalition Against Apartheid (CAA), and to terminate ties with the Israeli Ministry of Defense. The UA held an open council meeting on April 10, where four student speakers reaffirmed the contents of Referendum 2 to the UA Council and advocated for the creation of an ad hoc committee.

The UA Council is the UA’s legislative body, and is independent from the UA Officers and Committees. It can amend the UA Constitution and create new committees.

Quinn Perian ’26 stated that the majority of cast ballots supporting the referendum represents a “unique and rare call to action,” and characterized the referendum result as a reflection of the “collective frustration that the MIT administration ignores.” He called for 2023-2024 UA President Andre Hamelberg ’24 to use his speaking powers at the April 17 faculty meeting, where President Sally Kornbluth and other administration would be present, to read out the full election results. Perian also advocated for a new UA ad hoc committee “to handle the interpretation and implementation of the referendum.”

Ellie Montemayor* ’26 spoke next about how the referendum embodies students’ “fear of retaliation” for “speaking out against the Institute's actions.” Montemayor cited incidents at Columbia University and Vanderbilt University, where student protestors were suspended, evicted from housing, and denied medical care. She concluded her speech by asking the UA Council to establish an ad hoc committee to stand by students as they “fight back.”

Sandra Youssef ’26 spoke of MIT students' desire to pursue an ethical career, naming numerous class offerings on ethics. Youssef argued that rather than supporting ethics in practice, the MIT administration hypocritically “[suppresses] attempts by students to discourage unethical engineering and scientific practices.” She called on the UA to represent the beliefs of the undergraduates — the constituents — whose strength, she stated, “lies in our unity, our voice, and our organization.”

Lastly, Jessica Cohen ’22 stated to the council, “As much as MIT is a bubble, it is also deeply connected to the rest of the world.” Cohen cited death tolls and descriptions of flattened schools and hospitals. “We are here and are privileged to be able to pursue a higher education,” she said, and it is “beyond shameful as an MIT student” that the Institute is not taking “tangible steps such as the ones lined out in the referendum.” 

The rest of the council meeting was closed to the public so the council members could discuss in private.

“I definitely learned some things that I didn't know prior,” Hamelberg said. “It's always great to be able to have people come in and share what they want to share.” While Hamelberg did read out the election results at the faculty meeting on April 17, the creation of the ad hoc committee is still to be determined.

The UA has two types of committees: the permanent standing committees and ad hoc committees such as the food insecurity committee, which exist for a finite period to address a timely issue. The Referendum 2 speakers called for the latter. 

Establishing an ad hoc committee requires a majority vote from the UA Council to approve a charter. The charter would include the committee’s name, purpose, principles of operation, and membership provisions. Moreover, it would need to be submitted to the UA by the Referendum 2 sponsors. The council can request changes to the charter before a vote is taken. It could take as little as two meetings to introduce and vote on the charter.

While Enoch Ellis ’26, the recently sworn-in UA President, is not able to vote for or against the charter, he sees his role as helping to abide by procedure and ensuring that what happens will “reflect well on the UA, both now and in the future.” He stated that the UA’s principal role is to advocate to the administration on behalf of the students and that they cannot guarantee a “yes or no.”

Hamelberg shared a similar sentiment. The formation of an ad hoc committee could carry more legitimacy if it advocates for a cause to the administration. “But at the end of the day,” he said, “it doesn’t necessarily give an immediate avenue.”

Safiyyah Ogundipe ’24, a member of the CAA, added that the ad hoc committee would ideally exist until the end of 2024, allowing students to advocate as part of the UA. Since UA committees are open to any student, the ad hoc committee would allow existing UA members to continue to focus on their tasks and expand “the position that the UA has to advocate” simultaneously. 

According to precedent, the committee would likely accept anyone willing to join. “We've never refused anybody from being on a committee,” Ellis stated. “Counsel members are trying to be cognizant of the fact that even though we are honoring Referendum #2, it is important to note that it didn't [pass] unanimously.”

The UA cannot make a committee that “only represents one belief on any given matter,” Ellis added. 

Ogundipe is confident that an ad hoc committee would honor the referendum. “How many things can you say that 63% of undergraduates actually agree on?” Ogundipe opined that an ad hoc committee is “never going to be able to represent every voice.” She claimed that “there's a desire by some to want to point to the number of ‘no’ votes, because it seeks to minimize the fact that it did pass.”

Regarding the creation of the charter, Ogundipe stated that organizers do not have it prepared yet. “To be honest, everyone who is involved with that is [at the encampment].”

As a whole, the referendum is “unprecedented, at least in recent memory,” Ellis stated. “I think it represents a paradigm shift in terms of how people both view the UA and are able to use the UA to augment their political agency.”

*Montemayor is The Tech’s Publisher. She was not involved in this article’s publication.