As students of Illinois Wesleyan University, we have been blessed with a community that fosters not only our achievements as intellectuals but also as well-rounded individuals. In these four years, we are expected to cram in enough knowledge and experience in preparation to enter the “real world.” We study, learn and grow in our Wesleyan bubble, yet we prepare to enter this world where opportunities are endless. The bubble cultivates critical thinking and creativity that will come useful as we build our lives and careers. But, it gives us the illusion that we are protected from hardship: from racism, sexism, homophobia and poverty, among other forms of systematic oppression.
While we are privileged to be at an amazing institution, we cannot ignore that our bubble is permeable to such hardships. Events such as #HereAtIWU show that this permeability is real and present on our campus. Because of these unfortunate experiences, the Council of Inclusion and Awareness (CIA) felt obliged to bring an amendment to the Student Senate that would allocate a senate seat to each RSO under CIA that requested one.
This amendment failed, an action that shows the failure of Student Senate to understand systematic oppression on IWU’s campus.
The disappointing outcome of the April 13 meeting reveals a severe lack of understanding among Senators. Despite two #HereAtIWUs in the last two years, a presentation and discussion on the amendment on March 30 and two discussion sessions in the week following the March 30 meeting, Senators fail to understand real student experiences that can be attributed, at least in part, to systematic oppression. In order to truly and completely represent all students at our university, Senators must educate themselves and increase their awareness in such a way that they validate and sympathize with the experiences of those who are different from them.
Senate’s decision to keep the current seating structure was more than disappointing, it was disheartening. It was yet another sign that we, underrepresented groups, do not belong. Senators have a duty to address concerns from their constituents and to be representative of ALL students.
With that vote, senate did not uphold their responsibility to diversity on this campus. In the meeting, a senator made a comment along the lines of: there are 2100 differing student opinions on campus, so why don’t we give them all a seat? His comment made us feel like we were being mocked. It felt as if it was said to belittle our group’s effort to bring a diversity lens to senate that it is currently lacking. We are not sure if this was his intention, but his delivery made us feel that way. There was another senator who shook his head excitedly when the decision was made. There is nothing exciting or happy about marginalized students who do not feel represented in senate or even that they can approach senators with their concerns and be taken seriously.
Systematic oppression was happening in front of our eyes and those in power to stop such an event failed to recognize it. We stood in front of the senators as champions of multiculturalism and the social justice issues surrounding it, and instead of receiving validation that the student body cared about what we stood for, we walked out of the room feeling more excluded than ever.
After the senate meeting we gathered together to talk for a brief moment about how we were feeling. The room was full of emotion and tears. Although we were there to comfort one another, no amount of comfort could take away the overwhelming emotions that we felt. There is currently an invisible barrier that many of us feel keep us away from Senate. It took a lot of time, dedication and organization for us to come together to approach Senate with our sentiments. After all of our efforts, we left knowing that we were going to continue our days here as students without a voice in senate.
CIA members are willing to work with Student Senate as much as we can to not let systematic oppression be recognized and acted upon. Student Senate must also be willing to work with CIA members to bring about positive change for underrepresented students. CIA worked extremely hard to bring forth the amendment, but we accept that having a task force is another way in which we can work together. We must step out of our comfort zone to bring awareness to our campus. We cannot let this task force be idle, but one that effectively and intentionally works to solve the issues at hand.
The Council of Inclusion & Awareness
(Composed of student members of:
African Student Association
Asian Pacific Student Association
Black Student Union
South Asian Student Association
Spanish and Latino Student Association