April 17, 2013

Plan Pushing Diversity in Organizations to Face Student Assembly

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A new resolution that could require every student organization to submit plans detailing how they will encourage diversity and inclusion in their group will be discussed, and possibly voted on, at a Student Assembly meeting Thursday.

If passed, the resolution, tentatively titled “United Student Body,” would require every student organization to come up with three separate initiatives to “strengthen organizations and the activities they carry out by connecting communities and bringing activities and events to different places on campus,” according to the resolution.

“[United Student Body] is essentially Toward New Destinations for student organizations,” S.A. President Adam Gitlin ’13 said, referring to the University’s plan to increase diversity and inclusion around campus.

Gitlin said that he thinks most student leaders will be in favor of having a “more diverse experience and activities that reflect a diverse student body.”

Because Cornell is such a “decentralized campus, [however], a lot of organizations might not know where to start,” Gitlin said. “[United Student Body] is giving student organizations a framework to begin that process.”

Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students and director of intercultural programs, said although the resolution is a good idea in theory, it needs an intense focus on its execution in order to be successful.

“I am struck by the broad vision of the resolution,” Alexander said. “It aligns very nicely, strategically, with the University’s Toward New Destinations. I think it really shows courage and insight to see a student role. That said, you can’t take on a thousand organizations.”

For the initiative to be successful, Alexander said, students and group advisors must “take a piece of it.”

“We have to find a way, get good heads around the table and find a realistic, practical way of taking a piece of this and making sure that it’s successful,” Alexander said.

If “United Student Body” is passed, it will be implemented gradually, with approximately 50 student organizations taking part in the initiatives outlined during the first academic year.

According to Gitlin, the Student Assembly Finance Commission tier system — which allocates funding to student organizations based on the tier they qualify under — was a guide to determine which organizations would come under United Student Body first. Under the current draft of “United Student Body,” the lowest-tier organizations will not be affected by the resolution until the 2017-18 academic year.

“It would affect a very small number of student organizations next year,” Gitlin said. “The key thing is we’re saying this is a value — appreciating diversity and being an organization that includes all communities on campus is a value of the diverse student body.”

Last Thursday, the most recent draft of the United Student Body resolution was presented before the Student Assembly. While many Student Assembly members supported the intentions behind the plan, some had concerns about logistical issues, such as how a single, student-run council would be able to accurately evaluate the diversity and inclusion plans for every student organization.

Ulysses Smith ’13, vice president for diversity and inclusion for the S.A., said the draft is an unfinished document and its contents have been continually subject to revision.

“The whole point was to go in unfinished,” Smith said. “Every week, something has changed about the document based on the feedback that we’ve gotten both from organi­zations and assembly members. That was the goal: to create something with students.”

Despite this goal, some said that a change of this magnitude for student organizations requires more students to be involved in the process.

“We don’t have enough input from students and student organizations,” said Cameron Pritchett ’15, S.A. minority liaison at large. “It is absolutely essential that we get as much input from them as possible. At this point, it just seems like the discussion was kind of preliminary as it relates to how student organizations feel about it, and it’s moving very fast.”

Pritchett, who is the incoming V.P. of diversity and inclusion, stressed that the resolution as it stands may represent too many sudden changes and logistical challenges.

“With something of such a massive scale, we really need to be careful,” Pritchett said. “We really need to be confident that this is something that’s feasible, and something that the students want.”

Some assembly members supported the idea of holding a public town hall meeting to discuss the potential resolution with student leaders.

“I think that [United Student Body] is a work in progress, and it’s raising a lot of questions that a lot people are very shy to talk about,” said Juliana Batista ‘16, S.A. freshman representative. “I think the Student Assembly should be getting more student input, even though we have gotten a lot already … a Town Hall meeting would be very important for us to schedule.”

According to Alexander, the assembly should also focus on getting students on board with the plan and make sure it does not move too quickly with the resolution.

“When you’re shifting the paradigm, the way people think, it takes time. It takes persistence,” Alexander said. “The time is right, but now we have to do the follow-up. A growing movement on campus of students who think this is the right thing to do will help this initiative get launched and be successful.”

Student participation is the only effective way to get lasting changes in diversity and inclusion in student life, according to Gitlin.

“At a certain point, students have to be the ones to stand up and say ‘we want to make these changes,’ ‘we want an inclusive student body that engages all communities,’” Gitlin said. “We have to implement initiatives on our own as students if we want student life to be a more diverse experience.”

Original Author: Noah Rankin