September 9, 2014

Cornellians: Student Assembly Diversity Initiative Unlikely to Influence Legislation

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This article is the final part of a series regarding changes to the Student Assembly’s United Student Body initiative.

In the wake of changes made to United Student Body — the Student Assembly initiative passed in spring 2013 that requires several student groups to outline Diversity and Inclusion Plans to receive funding — many students have voiced support for the S.A.’s pledge to increase diversity on campus through face-to-face collaboration.

Some students, however, voiced concern that this emphasis comes at the cost of United Student Body being unable to affect S.A. legislation.

The Slope Day Programming Board is an example of a byline-funded organization that has fallen under United Student Body’s requirements since last year. Garrison Lovely ’16, executive director of SDPB, said he believes USB’s framework strikes the “difficult balance” of encouraging diversity within individual organizations.

“Diversity on campus and in student organizations is a very difficult issue to address,” he said. “Doing nothing can lead to insular, isolated student organizations that don’t represent Cornell’s composition. Doing too much can lead to backlash and accusations of overstepping authority.”

Lovely said that while SDPB does not have a selective membership process, under United Student Body it will look for cross-programming opportunities to make Slope Day a more engaging and inclusive campus event.

“We did identify areas to improve diversity in the event itself,” Lovely said. “We will be seeking partnerships with the Multicultural Greek Letter Council and Cornell Bhangra for events during SlopeFest. We also analyzed composition of our day-of volunteers to identify areas to improve inclusion.”

Megan Rodrigues ’15, president of the Cornell Fashion Collective, said she appreciated the S.A.’s focus on face-to-face interactions when it comes to drafting Diversity and Inclusion Plans.

“While it may seem like yet another thing to add to our plates during our busy academic lives, meeting face-to-face allows clubs to make a conscious effort to incorporate diversity initiatives,” she said. “Otherwise, I could easily see how clubs would neglect this effort.”“USB is a framework that is long-term and requires the representatives to look at the bigger picture.” Ulysses Smith ’14

Olivia Obodoagha ’15, president of the ALANA Intercultural Programming Board, said she commends USB’s more clearly laid-out goals and structure in comparison to last year’s, but said she had reservations concerning the initiative’s “feasibility and scalability” going into the semester.

“Last year the first round contained about 30 DIPs to review [and] there were major issues with getting DIP feedback late into the year,” Obodoagha said. “Now that the amount of DIPs have drastically increased from last year, I’m unsure how thorough [the Student Assembly Committee on Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives’] recommendations will be.”

Lisa Liu ’15, undesignated at large for the S.A. and previous chair of SACIDI, said that though she initially had similar concerns regarding the expansion, she has since put faith in its collaborative model.

“Originally, I was not absolutely sure that it was a good idea to expand the DIP process one year after it was established,” Liu said. “Now that the DIP process has expanded, I am nothing but hopeful for the process and I am sure that with the right leadership, it will succeed.”

Ulysses Smith ’14, who served as the S.A. President last year and was one of the original writers of the United Student Body resolution, said he believes the organizations that submitted Diversity and Inclusion Plans last year brought United Student Body to a productive start.

However, he added that he is concerned the S.A. may have lost sight of what USB was originally supposed to accomplish — to set student groups and the assembly in a direction that emphasizes “engaging different people once they are in the room” and the production of legislation that is directly responsive to those dialogues.

“My biggest concern now is that the S.A. and USB seem to be in conflict,” Smith said. “The plan was always to administer USB for one full year and then edit it based on feedback. In introducing those amendments last year, it was very apparent to me that USB was, unfortunately, becoming the victim of S.A. politics. Coming right after the tabling of R.72 and the subsequent sit-in, it seemed like many of the representatives still did not quite understand why it was important that the S.A. be invested in USB.”

Smith said he believes this semester, USB has become more of a talking point for individual representatives than an examination of the “hurdles” of participation and perception among student groups.

“I would challenge the S.A. to shed its reputation of being completely out of touch with students, and use USB and other initiatives to actually better understand the groups that they are supposed to be serving,” he said. “USB is a framework that is long-term and requires the representatives to look at the bigger picture — positive change that they might not be here on-campus to see.”

Obodoagha agreed, saying that United Student Body may not actually influence S.A. decision-making to the extent for which it was originally intended, due to SACIDI’s role in the S.A. as “student-oriented rather than operational.”

“In theory, review and enforcement of USB should only account for a fraction of [SACIDI’s] overall resources,” she said. “I’m uncertain how they will be able to fulfill their larger role of creating new ideas to improve diversity of the student body on campus if they are preoccupied with implementing and reviewing the DIPs throughout the year.”