This past week has been filled with misinformed and misguided accusations of sexist, anti-gay, and racist behavior in regards to the Senate decision to reevaluate Feminist House and Queer and Allies House. The primary motive behind the Senate decision was not one of discrimination, but rather one of oversight. In this regard Senate did its job and did its job well.
Procedural mistakes were made by the Residential Quality of Life (henceforth ResQual) committee, the first of which is not informing the Executive Board that members of the committee who were approving and denying houses were also involved in some of the houses that applied. This is a crystal clear conflict of interest. Miss Ashley Atkinson herself states in her editorial that Chairman Michael Leon is “a feminist and a queer ally.” We’re human and bias exists when there are personal interests involved, however, preferential treatment is not acceptable in a democratically elected, student run organization on this campus. There is also little doubt in my mind that members of the committee also knew what made up a good application and had some knowledge of what was going to be asked in the interviews. An education gap exists because of this and an edge was gained by members of the committee who were applying for houses.
The second and perhaps largest mistake is that unlike last year (which was not without its own problems, but they pale in comparison to the problems faced this year) no housing fair was conducted. According to former ResQual Chairman Mo Harris, feedback from the housing fair played an important role in their decision-making. This makes quite a bit of sense—the housing fair is the one time that the general student body can give support or air their grievances about the houses being proposed. Because there was no housing fair this year, Senate had to represent the student body and question the merits of every house, which is exactly what it did. Every house was questioned contrary to what Miss Atkinson alleges in her letter. The membership of the ResQual member in Humor House, too, came under fire, as evidenced by the minutes.
As a result of these procedural errors, Senate made the correct decision in having the houses (with the exception of the three approved houses—Humor House, Tree House, and Asian Cultural House; and the two completely denied houses—Tea House and Basketball House) re-interview under a committee composed of two current ResQual members who had no conflicts of interest and three non-ResQual members who also have no conflicts of interest reconducting the housing process. These three members were chosen at random (names were pulled from a hat by a prospective student) from a list of people who volunteered to serve on the ad-hoc committee. This was done to ensure a non-biased evaluation of the houses and does not deny any of the houses that were either not approved or outright denied a chance to get a house.
It’s difficult to decide whether themed houses should be niche-filling organizations or extensions of existing clubs. Personally, I feel that diversity should be encouraged and thus themed houses should be aimed towards being separate entities from clubs. Common Ground and SASS are two clubs with some of the largest budgets on campus. The additional funds granted through themed housing would be a drop in the bucket when compared to their club funding. Based upon this, they would benefit equally from applying for block housing and basing it around a theme. It may not be quite as easy to hold events in these locations, but not impossible if the proper regulations and guidelines outlined by the school were followed. It would also not be unlikely that these block houses would not be able to receive some sort of funding through either Senate or members of the administration. Senate again was in the right when it came to re-interviewing and reconsidering the houses.
Senate was put into an awkward position last week due to errors made by ResQual. The reaction, for the most part, was exceptional and should be applauded rather than criticized and attacked. While there were a handful of off-color comments and actions made by some Senators, they are hardly representative of Senate as a whole and in many cases received unfavorable responses from the elected body. If the students want democracy to flourish on this campus, then we need to hold our elected leaders to standards of equal treatment and not allow favoritism to exist.