October 11, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Towards a More Inclusive Restructuring

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To the editor:

Resolution #44: Creation of the First Generation Student Representative is, without a doubt, the greatest piece of legislation to go through the Student Assembly during our time on the Hill. This resolution is unique in that it did not come from a member; instead it came from members of the First in Class Advocacy Team. Through meetings with the First in Class Advocacy Team, it became crystal clear that the Student Assembly, our student government that is tasked with representing all students, is inaccessible and excludes many communities, with regards to transparency, communication, engagement and membership. All too many times, we have heard from people who try to challenge that notion, questioning why they (underrepresented communities) “don’t reach out to us more,” “why don’t they come to meetings?” Well, “they” don’t come to meetings because of exactly what you witnessed last Thursday from 4:45-6:30 p.m. When you aggressively defend a viewpoint rooted in hypotheticals that invalidates the experiences of your peers, why would anyone want to be present? When you state that if you hold an open forum the public “might be confused” and might not “understand” what is going on is quite condescending, as it implies that the people who are not elected do not have the capacity to understand how the S.A. works. Well, the burden of informing and educating students rests entirely on the shoulders of the S.A. membership. The burden of speaking with communities that are currently excluded from the Student Assembly rests upon the shoulders of the S.A. They must also discuss restructuring plans and rationale in plain language, so that the entire student body can understand and prepare to voice their concerns at upcoming forums. Using uncommon language that people don’t understand is very elitist, and it excludes and harms Cornell’s most vulnerable members. The Student Assembly must go through a transparent and inclusive restructuring process in order to fully represent the student body.

“How do we restructure the Student Assembly to become representative of the entire undergraduate student population?” is the question the Assembly is currently debating. One proposed solution involves the creation of a “restructuring committee,” largely composed of members of this poorly staffed body. This exclusive body does not have the means to restructure while meeting the needs of the students whose voices are currently silenced. They will continue to be silenced. A restructure of the Student Assembly by the Student Assembly will yield a stagnant, unchanged assembly. There is an undeniable logical fallacy in the methodology with which the restructure is being approached. If the S.A. truly cares about the best interests of the student body, then they would be well served to speak with their constituents, instead of relishing in the comfort of internal conversations.

An argument made by many S.A. members who are in favor of this committee relates to the fact that the discussion about restructuring has lasted too long, that the SA has not done anything else to move this project forward. Why does the duration of a process matter? Is it not the outcome that matters? If the goal is to create a truly representative body, the restructuring process must equitably allow for the input of students who currently feel excluded. This will not happen overnight. The S.A. must not hastily pass an internal resolution in order to move the issue off the table. This issue will only be resolved by one outcome: the creation of a truly representative structure.

In conclusion, we believe there is no need for the creation of yet another inaccessible, elitist body tasked with “investigating restructuring.” Why do students, elected to the S.A., feel the need to “investigate” their peers? Rather than spending entire meetings ineffectively debating the composition of a body that will “investigate” restructuring, we recommend that members take a step back and engage in dialogue with the students they represent. Members of the S.A. are elected to be public servants. It is time to embrace that task and serve the public.

Jaelle Sanon ’19
Mayra Valadez ’18, S.A. first generation liaison at large
Julia Montejo ’17, S.A. vice president for diversity and inclusion
Nicholas Karavolias ’18
Matt Indimine ’18, S.A. executive vice president
Paola Muñoz ’17