Among the complaints voiced during Senate, the overwhelming voice was that the committee had been biased in their choosing of the theme houses for next year. Four of the committee members applied for houses; three were granted their houses, and remarks were made about personal relations between the committee and several of the groups who applied for theme housing. Without a doubt, there was bias involved. We believe that the committee conducted the process in a way that was disadvantageous to both Senate and the student body. The committee defended itself by saying that the members applying for houses turned around in their chairs during the voting, thus eliminating their bias towards the process. It is still unclear whether or not the members took part in the discussions about the houses that they were applying for.
Objections to the list of houses approved by the committee ought to be completely detached from the bias of the committee; partiality from the committee is one aspect; the merits of the theme house applicants are another. Though Feminist House, Queer and Ally House and Co-House were at the center of the debate, they should not be called into question because of the problems suffered in committee, but rather because of the way Senate feels about their place as a theme house on campus.
Theme housing has been contentious for several years now. Last year, a fair was held so that the student body as a whole could offer suggestions. That option was not presented this year. Despite that, Senate review is required. Senate is the authority for the students. While we value the work that the committee has done, we also recognize that serious changes need to be made.
We propose that members with potential conflicts of interest remove themselves from the discussion of that house and abstain during the vote. No member of a proposal should ever be present for the discussion of his or her own house.
A second solution could be to hold informational sessions during winter term for theme housing. By having an informational session the expectations of the committee as well as interested parties would be well announced and clear. Such informational sessions would benefit the student body by clarifying the entire process.
Another proposal was to bring back the housing fair next year, so as to ensure that the opinions of all Knox students, not just Senate, are heard with regards to theme housing. We believe that student feedback is vital to the process of theme housing. As Craig Southern, Director of Campus Life, pointed out, the point of the houses is programming. Students ought to be able to give voice to their views on the houses that will be programming for them the following year.
Creating a guideline handbook should be considered to direct the proceedings, ensuring clarity and a consistent, standard process. Major reforms are needed to give validity to the system and make the entire development of theme housing less contentious.