Campus / News / Student Senate / April 30, 2009

Follow up: Theme housing

At the latest Senate meeting, the ad hoc committee that had been formed on the April 16 Senate meeting announced their recommendations for the remaining two special interest housing slots. Queer and Ally House, as well as Co-House, made the cut. F.I.R.E. House and Best of the Midwest were recommended for early block housing. Feminist House and The Studio were not recommended for select housing options.

The ad hoc group made the final decisions based on an interview with one to two applicants present and with the names of students not attached to the proposal. Senior Heather Kopec chose to remove herself from the decision on Feminist House as she felt she had a bias towards their inclusion on the theme housing list, but the senator did participate in application review of the other houses participating.

The theme house choices themselves were not the only things to stir Senate. Several Senators were accused of bigotry. At the April 23 meeting, some students who were not part of Senate decided to video-record the meeting in an effort to hold senators responsible for their comments at the meeting. Additionally, junior Alison Ehrhard, Student Senate representative to the Diversity Committee, sent an e-mail to the Faculty Diversity Committee Friday, April 17, the day after the Senate meeting. In the e-mail, Ehrhard writes that ResQual was not able to respond to comments made by senators directed towards Asian Cultural House, Queer and Ally House and Feminist House.

“After an hour and half of being grilled by Senate and having to hear bigoted, ignorant, and unfounded remarks that the Housing Committee was not allowed to respond to during the last half hour, Senate was allowed to decide which houses it didn’t want to approve […] Asian Cultural House was not voted against but there were racist comments made. I’ve never been more ashamed of my peers,” wrote Ehrhard.

She ended the e-mail with, “What I’m asking of the Diversity Committee is help understanding what power structures are going on and why people were so bigoted.”

This was Friday. On Saturday, Ehrhard sent out a follow-up to clarify her position. She wrote, “In no way do I want Diversity Committee to get involved in Student Senate housing or do anything political really. Simply, as a student but especially as a student leader, I figured the Diversity Committee would be a good place to turn to considering many of the members are experts on race and gender issues, have experience in this field, and are involved in diversity on campus. I simply would like to meet with anyone who wants to, in order to make sense of what happened and at least to gain some kind of educational experience, since right now all I feel is anger and extreme disappointment in my peers.”

While it is part of Ehrhard’s responsibility as Senate representative to Diversity Committee to report acts of discrimination within Senate, some felt as though Erhard’s actions and other student’s actions who had gone to outside sources to discuss the issues that came out of the senate meeting were doing so out of spite at not getting approved for housing rather than a concern about bigotry on the part of Senate. Ehrhard was a member of the group of students applying for Feminist House.

In an e-mail sent out to Senate, senior President Elaine Wilson wrote, “It has come to my attention that some students involved in the recent Theme Housing issue are leveling allegations of racism, sexism, and homophobia at the Senate at large due to the fact that they were not given houses and I thought it would be wise to bring it to the attention of Senate. These students have contacted the Faculty Diversity Committee, TKS, and other students in an effort to discredit Senate and advance their own personal goals by making these allegations … It is cowardly to hide behind these ideologies and disparage the Student Senate because of a vote that you felt personally slighted by — it does a disservice to everyone involved.”

While Wilson sent out the e-mail to let senators know what was going on, she did not meet with Ehrhard to discuss the specifics of the concerns raised with the Diversity Committee. Wilson believes that the problem was with whom the issue was being brought up. She believes Ehrhard’s concern has more to do with special interest housing, than bigotry on the part of Senate.

“[That] she went to the Diversity Committee to raise an issue with [them] about a large systemic problem in Senate is totally within her prerogative, but she was bringing it up in relation to the special interest housing. Housing falls into the student life committee […] If it had to do with a true feeling of bigotry then that’s fine and she’s a member of that committee and she can do that, but she never sought to meet with me to clear up this issue with this whole special interest housing thing,” said Wilson.

Wilson has also been accused of stifling discussion and using e-mail to intimidate students into not speaking out on issues of discrimination. Ehrhard believes Wilson, “overstepped her power by sending this e-mail out by intimidating students for speaking up for what they believe is wrong,” and that the act was in violation of part IV, section two, article C of the Senate constitution which states “the President shall have the executive power in terms of Senate resolutions and shall be the chief spokesperson for student rights and student empowerment on campus.”

“I was really careful with the e-mail. I tried not to name anyone and I didn’t set out to pit Senate against her. The e-mail was meant to let senators know what was going on. She did go to the Diversity Committee and if I’m misinterpreting her, I’m sorry, but she also leveled some pretty weighty comments about all of Senate. At the April 16 meeting, sure, there were some insolent comments made, but I think it was pretty heavyhanded to make the comments she made,” said Wilson, denying that she was trying to intimidate senators from speaking up. “She was able to share her comments, she got in the newspaper and shared at the meeting,” said Wilson.

“For the Student Senate special interest housing is done, if they want to discuss a larger systemic issue of bigotry that’s fine. I’m absolutely open to having that dialogue open during community business,” said Wilson.

Klayr Valentine-Fossum

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