Vas Mathur / Sun Staff Photographer

Maha Ghandour '17 discusses restructuring decisions at the SA forum in Willard Straight on Thursday.

April 8, 2016

Cornell Students Call For Increased Representation in Student Assembly

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Correction appended

The Student Assembly hosted a forum discussing ways to restructure the S.A. to better represent minorities and underrepresented groups on Thursday evening.

Maha Ghandour ’17, S.A. vice president for public relations, said discussion of representation began when a group of students approached the S.A. in March with the aim of increasing representation for first-generation college students.

Ghandour said this conversation evoked questions about how the S.A represents all students. As a result of this discussion, the S.A. will add a first-generation representative seat, which has been approved by Acting President Michael Kotlikoff, according to S.A. President Juliana Batista.

“How can we better represent our students?” Ghandour said. “That’s why we’re having this conversation, because we think that we, as the Student Assembly, need to be more representative. We acknowledge that we’re not perfect.”

Students subsequently raised the issue of the under-representation of minorities, students with disabilities, veterans and other groups.

Seamus Murphy ’16, President of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association, asserted that veterans — who he said make up .1% percent of the student population — are also an underrepresented group on campus, often representing “the intersection of many groups the University seeks to help,” including first generation students and students of lower socioeconomic status.

“We’re a very small group on campus and it’s very hard for us to lobby the issues that we face,” Murphy said.

Kianna Early ’18 suggested supplementing the S.A. minority representative position, arguing there should be representatives for different minorities like Hispanics and Asians instead of just one minority representative.

“My main problem with the representation as it stands right now is that a minority representative is a broad term,” Early said. “There are so many different minority communities on this campus.”

Julia Montejo ’17 — who will be one of two S.A. minority representatives next academic year — agreed that the minority community must have better representation.

“We had a pretty hard race running for minority liaisons, and that’s because the minority community wants to be represented,” she said.

Montejo added that the S.A. has difficulty filling the seats of representatives for the different schools.

“I don’t need to hear statistics in order to know that people feel underrepresented because I hear those stories everyday,” Montejo said. “As someone who is a Latina student, I felt very underrepresented on this campus up until my sophomore year when I started seeing more people of color running and more people reaching out to different people.”

Alex Iglesias ’17, who will be the representative for the College of Human Ecology next year, stressed that school is a component of identity, adding that the S.A. should make changes so each representative must get to know its constituencies.

“By establishing minority specific positions, we may marginalize other groups on campus if they aren’t included,” Iglesias said.

Some students suggested that the minority representative should only be elected by minority students.

“As someone who is graduating this year and has seen multiple minority representative elections, this is something that comes up time and time again.” said Noelani Gabriel ’16. “It’s not a race of how well you understand the issues of your community, it’s a race about how many white folks you know and how many you can get to vote.”

Some students said this problem has to do with changing the quality of the work the S.A. does — not quantity, or adding more S.A. representatives.

“This is a fundamental problem with quality versus quantity. I’m also very interested in seeing a quantitative study of just how well these minority groups are represented in the current structure,” said Will Stone ’18. “We have 28 members right now, and I’m not sure how this matches up with the current Cornell population.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that veterans compose 10% of the Cornell student body. In fact, they make up .1% of Cornellians, according to Seamus Murphy ’16, President of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association.