Discourse / Editorials / Student Senate / April 23, 2009

An executive order banning free speech

Under the misdirection of President Elaine Wilson, Knox is increasingly becoming a prejudicial and petty dictatorship. Her opposition to freedom of speech in the fallout from last week’s Student Senate special interest housing discussion and her brutal inconsideration for the well-being of her constituents are intolerable and shameful acts that should be immediately addressed by Student Senate.

This year, the Residential Quality of Life Committee recommended the Asian Cultural House, Queer and Ally House, and Feminist House, among others. These houses were the most controversial and debated on the Senate floor last Thursday. While many senators were critical of the houses for at times valid and logical reasons, a sizable group of senators exhibited what I deemed to be prejudicial attitudes.

When condemning the need for an Asian Cultural House, Senators claimed we already had an Asian Club on campus, completely ignoring the reality that there are many clubs on campus representing distinct cultures related in some way to the Asian continent. The fact that leaders on campus are not aware that there is more than one “Asian group”and of the multitude of events hosted by the Asian Cultural House this past year, shows a lack of curiosity in other cultures. As the Knox student body does heavily participate in and support such clubs, this attitude further demonstrates the disconnect and lack of true representation in our Student Senate.

More disturbing were several statements to the effect of, “Don’t they already have Casa Latina, ABLE and the Human Rights Center?” It is offensive to assume that the Asian Cultural House should not exist because other cultural groups are already represented. It is the other-ization of everyone that does not fit into the typical mainstream mold that members of our Student Senate apparently seek to create at Knox.

Along those lines, Senators denounced Queer and Ally House and Feminist House because, “They already have the HRC, isn’t that good enough for them?” and “Why do we need both a ‘SASS’ House and Queer and Ally House? Aren’t they the same thing?” Assuming the feminist and the GLBTQ and ally communities are the same thing, and that identifying with these communities automatically makes people members of SASS or Common Ground, is ignorant. While having similar goals, the two houses had distinctly different activities and purposes. Thinking “they” should be collectively entitled to one lead-poisoned bungalow with limited hours on the far reaches of campus, is the epitome of prejudicial thought.

At another point, a student told the Senate that as a gay male he did not feel safe at times on the Knox campus. Instead of demonstrating sensitivity or compassion for the student, and without asking the student any further questions, several Senators proceeded to assure the student that, for them, Knox was safe.

When I came to the Faculty Diversity Committee in order to simply discuss the misconceptions and biases of the Senate, Wilson e-mailed an insensitive, cowardly and unbecoming letter to the Senate list on April 20. In it, she reduced my complaints of intolerance to simply speaking out “…due to the fact that they were not given houses.” She made this assumption without contacting any person involved with the complaints to investigate our motivations. Had she, we would have told her that our grievance was not our defeated houses, but rather the underlying prejudicial attitudes of the student body that were revealed during the last session of Senate. What I wanted was simply a productive discussion on subtle prejudice and stereotype at Knox College. I felt it was time to truly evaluate these issues on campus.

Wilson however, does not believe we can talk about racism, sexism or homophobia. Instead of investigating the issue she immediately stated in the email that she rejects my characterization of Senate, and called it “cowardly to hide behind these ideologies and disparage the Student Senate because of a vote that you felt personally slighted by.” Clearly, our Senate president believes combating racism, sexism, and homophobia is “cowardly” and that all students recognizing these societal diseases do so only for their own self-profit. I do not believe, that claims of bigotry were, as Wilson wrote, “unfounded by the facts surrounding the situation.” I cannot speak for the whole student body, but I am personally ashamed to have somebody of this mindset represent my school.

Alison Ehrhard

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