July 18, 2019 | 74° F

On student government's diversity question

I write to you as a black woman who ran for the position of, and served as, the first corresponding secretary of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, alongside Dana Jackson, the first vice president of the assembly — also a black woman — and James Kline, the first president of RUSA — openly gay. I was originally drawn into student government in 2006 by Celeste Baretto, a Latina, who was the president of the Douglass College Governing Association, now known as the Douglass Governing Council, led by President Mangelin Rivera, also Latina. While the information I provide to you above may seem unnecessary and is not even a complete list of people from various cultures or special populations who serve in student government, it is the basis for my utter annoyance with the current petition about cultural umbrella organizations' and special populations' lack of representation in the proposed RUSA constitution.

Under the current RUSA structure, cultural umbrella organizations and special populations are guaranteed one seat each on the RUSA body. This means that the students who serve these seats do not have to run a campaign or participate in a large-scale election. Rather, they are asked by their respective cultural umbrella organization or special population to "volunteer" to be their organizations' RUSA representative. In the few instances where there is more than one person willing, these specific cultural organizations or special population groups elect someone to fill the seat.

This process is very similar to the way in which governing councils elect their RUSA representatives presently — known as an in-body election. The difference is the students elected to RUSA already ran a campaign to be elected onto their councils within their campus or professional school; they did not simply sign up to be a part of an organization and then volunteer to be its RUSA representative.

The proposed constitution seeks to address this inherent flaw in the present structure of student government: a lack of competition in the election process on all accounts — campus councils, professional schools, cultural umbrella organizations and special populations — which translates into a lack of commitment once elected to the assembly. The proposed constitution asks that RUSA members be elected directly and calls for the current positions given to special population and cultural umbrella organizations such as the United Black Council, Latino Student Council, Asian Student Council representatives, etc. be abolished.

The proposed constitution does not propose that members of cultural umbrella organizations or special populations cease to be involved in student government. It merely asks them to run for other positions — perhaps president of the assembly like Jim Kline, or vice president like Dana Jackson, recording secretary like Eleanor Okubor, corresponding secretary like I was, chairperson of a committee, or even a class year representative.

What we have now, and what the Rutgers United Coalition constitution proposal asks for, is a system of affirmative action by which certain special population and certain cultural umbrella organizations are guaranteed seats. I am a strong supporter of affirmative action policies when I believe they are needed and they are more helpful than harmful. The system proposed by the coalition fails to meet both parts of my criteria.

I do not believe the climate at the University is hostile to diversity. Evidence of this can be gleaned from the history of RUSA's elected officials and the popularity of the misleading petition being passed around by the coalition. Clearly those who signed the petition believing that cultural umbrella organizations were going to be abolished or that there would be no diversity in student government otherwise would also be willing to sign a petition asking for signatures to elect a member of one of these special population groups or cultural umbrella organizations to the assembly.

I believe having these seats has been more detrimental to the cause of diversity than helpful. Many of the students who fill them are uncommitted to the assembly because these seats have been guaranteed. Attendance of members who fill the special population and cultural umbrella seats has been embarrassingly low, with a few exceptions. After running a campaign, perhaps members of such groups will be invested in the assembly and actually be there to represent those they claim to.

This leads me to my final question: Who has represented people from these communities if the members who filled their guaranteed seats hardly showed up to meetings? People like me who did not fill the various cultural umbrella organization or special population seats, even though we may belong to a special population or culture. People like me who decided to take on a different position, in many cases, e-board positions instead. 

Crystal Coache is a Douglass College senior majoring in political science.

Crystal Coache

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