April 5, 2016

EDITORIAL: Toward a More Representative Student Assembly

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Nearly half of the accepted students in the Class of 2020 are students of color, the University proudly announced last week. While the University’s focus on increasing student diversity is commendable, promoting diversity must extend beyond admission statistics and include efforts to support minority students once they step onto campus. Following this line of thinking, on Thursday, the Student Assembly will host a public discussion on how to restructure to become a more inclusive and representative entity. “Underrepresented students’ voices remain absent due to the systematic exclusion within the current structure,” the S.A. wrote in the discussion’s event description.

“Systemic exclusion” is a problem that can only be adequately addressed with systemic changes. Recent initiatives, like the addition of a first-generation representative, are crucial steps toward promoting diversity, but they are slow and incremental changes. Underrepresentation of minority interests is an issue embedded within the S.A.’s current structure for representation. For example, the minority representative position may allow the responsibility of addressing minority issues — issues that will be relevant to nearly half of the Class of 2020 — to fall to the few elected to minority positions. Increasing the number of minority representatives can help bolster the voice of often underrepresented groups. However, we must also remember that every person elected to the S.A. is called to act as an advocate for minority students.

Deeper structural issues lurk behind the S.A.’s structural struggle with representation. Issues like the $350 student health insurance fee and the College of Business highlight the S.A.’s limited ability to convey student concerns to the University administration, contributing to disillusionment and apathy within the student body. If the S.A. is to become a more productive and effective advocate for student issues — especially students who are continually underrepresented on this campus — S.A. representatives must recognize that their work should go beyond passing resolutions and include maintaining connections with minority communities to more effectively shape and implement reform.

In recognizing a need to restructure, the S.A. takes an important, but frustratingly slow, step to engage more students and become a more representative entity — and thus a more powerful voice for students. Before Thursday’s forum, students should think critically about the structural issues that produce “systematic exclusion” and think imaginatively and boldly about productive solutions. We urge the S.A. to seek to better understand the student populations it represents, to listen openly and to respond promptly to the ideas suggested at Thursday’s forum. We also urge the student body to attend and actively participate in this discussion. Problem solving is most productive when it happens from the bottom up, and the responsibility of crafting a stronger and more representative S.A. falls on not just elected representatives but also on every undergraduate student.