February 24, 2011

Student Assembly Creates Seat for Women’s Issues

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After a month of debate, the Student Assembly passed a resolution Thursday that would convert one of three undesignated at large S.A. seats to a women’s issues seat.

The final vote passed 16 to one with one abstention and four members not present, according to S.A. President Vincent Andrews ’11, who does not participate in voting.

This year’s election campaigns have already begun, so students will not be able to run for women’s issues representative until spring of 2012, according to Natalie Raps ’12, co-sponsor of the bill. Additionally, President David Skorton must approve the resolution before it takes effect, she said.

Andrews expressed his support for the seat and said he looked forward to hearing about its impact, since he will have graduated once the women’s issues representative actually takes office.

“It’s an important addition to the assembly,” Andrews said. He added that women’s concerns deserve particular attention on campus due to recent forcible touchings and other safety issues.

The women’s issues representative would work with the Women’s Resource Center and the S.A Committee on Women’s Issues to address problems such as safety and sexual harassment, Andrews said.

“This addresses a community with a decent amount of issues that we need to deal with,” Andrews said, adding that he hoped the resolution would encourage more women to become involved with the S.A.

Andrews called the current dearth in female participation “discouraging,” with only two women among the 23 members this year.

Raps, former chair of the Committee on Women’s Issues and co-sponsor of the resolution, said the committee has been unable to adequately address specific problems in the past because of under-staffing.

The committee had no chair last semester, though Matt Danzer ’12 — another of the resolution’s co-sponsors — will take over its leadership in April, according to Raps.

“This decision is going to make sure that the administration always has one point-person who can bring these issues to the forefront,” Raps said.

Raps and Andrews also emphasized the nondiscriminatory nature of the new seat, which can be occupied by anyone interested in the issues, not just women.

Andrews noted that all S.A. positions are open to any interested candidate, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other affiliations.

“We have never delineated any seat for a specific group,” said Andrews, adding that to have mandated that the women’s issues representative be female “wouldn’t have been in the spirit of the S.A.”

Executive Vice President Ray Mensah ’11, who cast the sole vote in opposition to the proposal, said he felt that a women’s issues seat would marginalize the concerns of a huge group of students.

“Women are 50 percent of this campus. They are all of our constituents,” he said, adding that the existence of the new seat might discourage other representatives from addressing women’s issues and “stepping on the toes” of the new member.

“At the end of the day, I feel that we shouldn’t need a seat designated for this purpose,” Mensah said. However, he expressed hope that “good things will come” out of the project.

Roneal Desai ’13, minority representative at large, was among the resolution’s supporters.

“I have no reservations with the seat and am actually a strong advocate of it,” he said.

Desai emphasized that instead of marginalizing women’s concerns, the new seat will simply bring attention to important issues affecting a large portion of the student body.

“Like all of the other at-large representative seats on the assembly — LGBTQ, minority, international —  it recognizes that a constituency exists that has issues that need be dealt with, and assigns that constituency a liaison by which they have access to the Student Assembly,” Desai said.

Raps said she was pleased with the support from fellow S.A. members and from the student body in general, and speculated that if the entire 23-person membership of the S.A. had been present, the resolution might have passed by a wider margin.

Pausing in the midst of describing safety issues she hopes would be addressed by the new representative, Raps described her excitement for the proposal’s victory.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a resolution pass,” she said, noting the lack of political self-interest in the proceedings. “This was the time that we all came together … We did this for the student body. That’s a great success in any government.”

Original Author: Eliza LaJoie