Discourse / Editorials / Student Senate / April 23, 2009

Senate’s regrettable message to our community

As the Residential Quality of Life Chair of Student Senate, I led my committee in the Special Interest Housing selection this year. We worked tirelessly for two weeks, reviewing applications, holding interviews, and having in-depth discussions about each house. We took great efforts to make sure that we did not allow for any bias, asking people to leave the discussion and abstain from voting if they had a personal interest in the outcome. In spite of our great efforts to achieve fairness, last Thursday we were met with a barrage of abuse from Senators and groups who were denied a special interest house. Untrue allegations about secret meetings were raised. Disrespect was a tactic used by numerous senators, with demands such as, “Raise your hand if you were on the committee and had either a best friend or a girlfriend who applied for a house.” Certain Senators still claimed the committee was biased even after Craig Southern, Associate Dean of Students for Campus Life, stated that he had observed ‘no bias at any time in [our] discussions.’”

What was most telling, however, about last Thursday was what houses Senate brought to the chopping block. Even though Humor House had a member in their applicant group who was also on Res. Qual., not a single person in the Senate claimed that this was a conflict of interest or said anything about favoritism with that house. Many members of Senate, however, went against Feminist House and Queer & Ally House (a GLBTQ house). Furthermore, they attacked me for promoting bias, even though I had recused myself from that segment of the deliberations to guard against even the appearance of impropriety. It did not matter that the rest of the Res. Qual. committee thought that this house had the strongest application and interview (they were the first house unanimously recommended by the committee for placement). The same was true for Queer & Ally house, which had a Res. Qual. committee member as part of the applicant group (again, this person sat out for the discussion and vote on this house, which was also unanimously approved by the committee).

So one must stop for a moment and examine the concerns of the Senate majority. They charged the committee with “bias,” but only against those houses that wanted to provide safe places for minority groups on campus. But when it came to the Humor House, which has some great goals but nothing controversial about it, Senators did not concern themselves with making allegations of bias.

Interestingly, many Senators also claimed that Feminist House was simply an extension of SASS, and that Queer and Ally house was simply an extension of Common Ground. This is equivalent to telling the members of Casa Latina that they are simply an extension of Lo Nuestro, and therefore they don’t need a house, despite the fact that the two are distinct and serve different purposes. However, many members of the Senate told feminists, queers, and allies last Thursday that they already have clubs and don’t need a house. This logic seems to assume that these individuals are only feminists or queer one hour a week during their club meetings and thereafter cease to hold these identities. This shows an alarming lack of understanding. Whether you call this sexism or homophobia or attribute it to extreme ignorance, the end result is the same, and it shows that lack of knowledge surrounding these groups on our campus is pervasive.

Furthermore, it is very disheartening that some people think that game/fun houses are more important than human rights houses. Houses like Humor House and Tree House (a game house) are neat ideas and serve a niche, and I approve of them. However, for Senators to think that human rights ought to take a backseat to these kinds of houses is despicable. I, along with countless others on this campus, feel ashamed of many of my peers on Student Senate. While these individuals will attempt to defend themselves by trying to paint those who they attacked that night as oversensitive, the fact remains that they need to realize they have sent a message to the greater community that feminists and queers are not welcome on our campus. These people also need to understand that dedicated special interest housing, where the concept of “safe space” is respected, shows a commitment to diversity on our campus, and I am disappointed that many Senators were more concerned with attempting to make up claims of bias and use these as a red herring, rather than acknowledging this fact.

Michael Leon

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