February 6, 2011

Equal Representation

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THE STUDENT ASSEMBLY will decide this week on a resolution to create a designated women’s issues representative. Many have criticized this proposal, claiming that it will open the door for other special interest groups to demand representation on the S.A.  This concern, however, does not undercut the need for a women’s issues representative. In light of recent violence against women on and around campus, many feel that women are not being adequately advocated for. This underrepresentation essentially makes women –– approximately half the student body –– a political minority on campus.While a wide breadth of designated women’s issues interest groups exist on campus to voice women’s concerns, there is a breakdown in communication between these organizations and the S.A.The S.A.’s internal structure makes a women’s issues position necessary. Though the Assembly’s representatives sit on various specialized committees, those committees often lack continuity from year to year and are subject to the strength and commitment of its chairs. This became especially apparent with the women’s issues committee, which has fluctuated in and out of existence since its inception. With no designated representative position to chair the committee, its efficacy has relied on whether an S.A. representative was willing or able to organize it.Adding a women’s representative would address these problems by establishing a permanent chair of the women’s issues committee who would continually advocate for the concerns of women on campus. The S.A.’s history suggests that if no one representative is responsible for a certain set of issues, they can often fall to the wayside.Creating this position, however, still raises many questions.While many have cited concerns about campus safety, sexual assault and consent in light of recent incidences of violence against women as reasons for infrastructural change, framing the debate in terms of these problems obligates the S.A. to address all similar special interest issues in a similar manner. If violence breaks out against Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Atheist students, will a position on the S.A. be created to address religious concerns? As the effects of global climate change hit closer to home and environmental awareness spreads, will a sustainability representative ultimately be necessary? Where does one draw the line, and what kind of precedent is the S.A. setting?Ultimately, the S.A. needs a women’s issues representative because half of the student body is underrepresented without this position. In practice, this may mean affirmative action by the student body in electing more women as representatives to the S.A., or increasing attention to women’s issues by designating an advocate — male or female — to continually raise women’s concerns. But without this position, the S.A. is incapable of holding itself accountable to Cornell women.We call on the S.A. to frame this debate in terms of a structural change to improve representation of the student body, not as a means of elevating one group’s special interests over another.