The Student Assembly considered adding a non-voting veterans representative to the assembly on Thursday. If passed, the resolution would amend the S.A. bylaws to grant a liaison from the Cornell University Veteran Association an ex‒officio position in the assembly.
The S.A. tabled the resolution, as assembly rules prohibit a vote on bylaws amendments during the same meeting in which they are introduced.
The new position would give voice to veterans who are “an underrepresented population … [struggling] with inclusivity as well as knowledge of organizations, support centers, and resources across campus,” according to the draft resolution.
CUVA president Luke Opyd ’18 said that a veteran position will represent a fast-growing veteran population that the University aims to quadruple in size by 2020.
“Currently at Cornell there are 23 student veterans in the undergraduate community,” Opyd said. “The provost recently released an initiative to get a minimum of 100 veterans here by the fall of 2020. I believe that this position … in the future will be a representation of a bigger student body.”
Gabe Kaufman ’18, S.A. vice president of finance and University Assembly chair, opposed the resolution because he believed instituting veteran representation will be a slippery slope that would force the Assembly to grant representation to the many other student populations that are currently not represented.
“Twenty-three [veterans] is like 0.16 percent of the student body. And if someone can just come up with an argument for like why Haven, … ISU or Women’s Resource Center do not deserve organizational liaison, then I would retract my opinion,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman’s opposition to the resolution drew sharp rebukes from several S.A. members, with Olivia Corn ’19, S.A. College of Arts and Sciences representative, calling his stance “very problematic” and Joseph Anderson ’20, undergraduate representative to the U.A., “disagreeing with Gabe’s logic that this is going to be like a sliding effect.”
“I am not going to expect the Cornell Consulting Club to be like ‘I want my ex‒officio seat.’ That’s not their purpose,” Anderson said.
Mayra Valadez ’18, S.A. vice president of diversity and inclusion, supported the resolution because the “unique experiences” of veterans preclude them from representation by anyone but themselves.
“No one can understand [veterans] other than themselves,” Valadez said. “In terms of undergraduate veterans, typically they are older. … How can we advocate for something that we have no experience for?”
Corn said she would be “perfectly fine” if the proposed veteran representative had voting rights, a privilege an ex‒officio position lacks.
However, S.A. executive vice president Varun Devatha ’19, who sponsored the resolution, said that granting voting rights would allow non-veterans to run for the position.
“At-large positions, which [a veteran seat with voting privileges] would be, would be a position that anyone can vote for. Considering there is only 23 veterans … having an at-large position allows for non-veterans to run for a seat. … But with the ex‒officio position … CUVA will be designating the organizational liaison,” Devatha said.
Jaewon Sim ’21, S.A. freshman representative at-large, raised concerns that a veteran seat will not fully represent non-US veterans. Instead of creating a specific seat for veterans, he suggested creating a “seat that represents people coming back to Cornell in a long time of absence.”
Opyd argued that the seat will adequately represent non‒US veterans as CUVA is open to veterans of all nationalities, but admitted that there are no international students formerly part of non‒US militaries in the organization at this time.
Devatha did not support Sim’s proposal, as he suspected it would create a seat that represents too diverse of a constituency to be an effective voice in the Assembly.
“What you are proposing is [an] unconventional seat. It’s for individuals who came to the University through an unconventional process,” Devatha said. “The issue with that, is that individuals that are coming from so many different backgrounds won’t be able to understand the struggles of other individuals coming from other backgrounds that are so unconventional.”