The Legal and Governmental Affairs committee of the Student Government Association (SGA) voted in favor of sending a bill calling for a vice president of equity and diversity to SGA’s general body meeting today.
Although the bill passed 10-1-1, it brought more debate from the Legal and Governmental Affairs committee at their meeting last Thursday than the numbers suggest.
Senator at large and sophomore journalism major Joanna Holgu?n and junior psychology major and Alternate Student Trustee Stefanie Nieves sponsored the bill for a new position that would inform appropriate SGA representatives of equity- and diversity-related grievances and work to create an inclusive campus community.
“We have this culture where we feel comfortable with people who are like us,” Holgu?n said. “I want to try to bring people out of that shell, to make people more aware of what it is to be gay, Indian, or a woman.”
In addition to working with the College’s office of Equity and Diversity to organize diversity workshops for new SGA members, communicating with internal SGA committee senators and chairing an Equity and Diversity committee, the new vice president would be responsible for communicating with “the activities of student organizations who focus on issues of students’ creed, national origin, ancestry, race, age, gender, affectional or sexual orientation, color, marital status, familial status, disability, nationality, liability for service in the Armed Forces of the United States, sorority or fraternity affiliation, or political affiliation on the college campus,” according to the proposed amendment to SGA’s constitution.
The vice president would also keep students aware of College policies dealing with any of the listed issues.
“In the executive board, it is essential to have a person on this position,” Nieves said in the debate last Thursday. “A lot of students have issues pertaining to equity and diversity. It’s open for expansion – it’s not just for the five protected groups.”
Some debaters in support of the bill at the meeting suggested a vice president of equity and diversity could communicate with the campus about insensitive flyers, a Latin American studies department, black and Jewish history months, possible police discrimination against fraternity and sorority members, and insensitive or unfounded comments in the Signal.
“In the state of the campus address, Paul Harris said members of BSU (Black Student Union) only feel like individuals in the George Jackson center,” Holgu?n said. “Also, for anyone in GUTS – that’s not an organization where everyone in it has proclaimed their sexual orientation to the campus community. That tells you maybe they don’t feel that they are included. Different opinions, religions, and sexual orientations should be accepted.”
Freshman open options major and associate member Dan Beckelman voted against the bill.
“I think it’s ensuring that a person with left-leaning political views is on the board,” Beckelman said. He later added, “I don’t see anything good about it. It’s an empty position, an empty suit.”
“You can’t get someone who is open to every single facet,” freshman English major and senator at large Kevin Kelly said. “You run the risk of getting a student who would only represent a single group’s interest.”
Kelly voted for the bill because he, along with others at the meeting, thought the general body should debate it further and make changes. He said he would vote for it if the “vice president” title were changed to “director.”
Holgu?n began considering the bill in September 2004. She researched colleges like Rider University and Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, which both have similar positions or committees.
She talked with her SGA advisor, Director of Equity and Diversity Jerusalem Howard, and former SGA presidents, including Matt Manfra. Manfra was SGA president in 1999 when the organization overhauled its constitution, scrapping a vice president of multicultural affairs position.
“They felt that the issues of multicultural students are addressed through the different schools (under the current constitution),” Holgu?n said. She said one of the glitches she had to work out in forming the bill was making sure the vice president would be constantly working on the campus, and not just manning an empty position.
The bill needs a two-thirds majority vote in SGA’s general body meeting today and a two-thirds majority vote from the campus to be added as an amendment to the SGA constitution.
“I think that this bill will ultimately receive a passing vote in the general body meeting and will pass in referendum,” Eric Pasternack ,sophomore political science major and vice president of Legal and Governmental affairs, said.
Pasternack did not vote on the bill because he led the meeting. “I think the only question now is what the form of the bill will be,” he said. “There will naturally be many amendments to this bill, like most others, during the course of debate in the general body meeting.”