A heated discussion about underrepresentation contributed to a two-and-a-half-hour Student senate meeting Sunday night.
Senate rejected 18 to 10 an amendment to its constitution that would give Council of Inclusion and Awareness (CIA) student organizations senate seats. CIA RSOs include groups such as Black Student Union, The International Society and Pride Alliance.
Underrepresentation and feelings of underrepresentation by certain groups is a reoccurring issue in Student Senate. Representation issues have been raised many times in student senate history. The most recent discussions share much in common with past ones, particularly those in 2005. In late April of 2005, a speak out on the quad and a five-and-a-half-hour student senate meeting lead to an amendment that extended seats to certain groups that represented people that face “institutional or societal disadvantages.” While Sunday’s outcome was different, as in 2005, it feels like a concrete, lasting resolution has not been reached.
Just like in 2005 there is a shared view that the way seats are allocated is not ideal. Recently many CIA students want their RSO’s represented and feel that a student who identifies themselves as Southeast Asian, for example, would not necessarily represent the views of the Southeast Asian Students Association. Proponents of the amendment also argued that electing senators from an RSO rather than on a class basis is beneficial because underrepresented students often don’t feel comfortable running for seats under the class based model.
Not all senators weighed these concerns as heavily. There is a consensus among some senators that a class-based model represents the student body better than one that reduced class elected seats from 36 to 28 and allocated seats to CIA RSO’s. Some senators felt designating potentially seven or eight seats to CIA RSOs was unnecessary or too large a proportion of the senate body.
Part of the discussion in 2005 was centered on appropriate definitions of multiculturalism and underrepresentation. Unlike in 2005, I believe the Council of Inclusion and Awareness now provides a better definition of what constitutes an underrepresented student group, and brings these groups together.
While individual RSOs do have their own objectives, I see having a smaller number of general CIA representatives as a potential compromise that would allow the concerns of underrepresented RSOs to be heard better in senate.
As for now, I feel CIA RSO members should be actively supported and encouraged to run for seats under the current class based model that will be kept for at least the next election cycle.
While Senators did not pass an amendment to include RSO specific senators, they voted to establish a group to focus on senate representation issues. In April 2005, the then student senate president promised discussions on representation would continue in the next year. It is my hope that the new committee is able to find a fair and lasting resolution that does not leave specific groups feeling underrepresented on campus.
I like to believe that we have become a more inclusive and diverse community since 2005, when, for instance, 95 percent of students were Caucasian. I hope that our student senate is able to reflect that diversity, be inclusive and vote for a system that does that best.