December 4, 2013

DINEEN: Don’t Make an Exception for ALANA

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When we left off with ALANA’s funding controversy two weeks ago, the message communicated by the Student Assembly was that they wouldn’t make an exception for ALANA, but must follow process and cut ALANA’s budget … as if that is what granting ALANA its proposed budget increase would be — nothing but an exception.

I’m writing this column because even if  “justice had been done” and the S.A. had decided not to cut ALANA’s budget, I am terribly nervous that the S.A., and the general student body, would continue to see this supposedly “just” decision as only an exception. An exception that needs to be made for a “fiscally irresponsible” group. Why? Just because it represents minorities? Well, if that’s how people are seeing this, then that’s not justice in the slightest. That’s offensive. And we need to deepen our consideration of this issue to truly find the just solution.

Let’s start by not taking it as a given that ALANA “messed up.” Whoa, back the fuck up. What if, instead, the problem is that the process that determines how ALANA presents its past and future budget, and the process that determines how the Appropriation Committee (Apps Comm) analyzes this data, is structured in such a way that it leads us to conclude that ALANA is fiscally irresponsible? I work for a byline-funded organization, so I can tell you from experience that this is what’s happening to ALANA.

Apps Comm operates under the assumption that the same expectations for spending and efficiency can be applied to each byline-funded organization uniformly. I argue that these expectations were made and applied without being sensitive to the needs of cultural umbrella and programming organizations like ALANA. I say this from an insider perspective because my own organization, Haven: The LGBTQ Student Union, is a cultural umbrella and programming organization that’s operations are also hindered by the Apps Comm’s expectations.

Consider what these organizations are aiming to do: We are trying to fill the void of cultural spaces for our communities on campus; we are trying to educate our peers when the University fails to do so; we are trying to make everyone on this campus feel safe. Our budgets are reflections of the vast realities of our missions. Our operations are necessary to the safety of a large portion of the student body, and to expect us to adhere to the same guidelines that regulate byline-funded groups like the Slope Day Programming Board or Athletics and Physical Education is absurd.

Why, whenever it comes to money, do we have to operate according to the same age-old principles that govern investing?  The environment within the Apps Comm does not encourage people to bring in the necessary new perspectives that would allow our diversity initiatives to flourish.

So, no. Don’t make an exception for ALANA. That’s not what is needed here. If the process in place was not created to consider the operations of cultural programming boards, you don’t just make an “exception” for those groups. Rather, you reform the process so that these boards are not held to the same expectations as groups like Cornell Cinema or the Cornell Concert Commission. You create new expectations that account for the challenges these groups face. Recognizing the necessity of these groups on campus and granting them the respect that they deserve requires that we rewrite those guidelines for receiving byline funding.

When we inherit structures, rules and processes, it is easy to forget the degree to which change is possible. It’s hard to think outside of those limitations even when the situation demands we do so.  But when process is inherently unjust we need to overcome our paralysis in the face of seemingly immortal institutional values and confront the possibility of systemic change.

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