March 30, 2022

STUDENT ASSEMBLY VIEWPOINT | Making Space for Disagreement

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Now is an especially difficult time to be involved in government. Everything is politicized, everyone is expected to have an opinion and every point must always be countered. After a year of serving on the Student Assembly — something I never thought I’d do — and the University Assembly — something I never thought I’d be ready for — I have felt the growing pains of our current political climate, yet have also seen unprecedented success in answering our community and finding solutions to these concerns. The key to this is undoubtedly an ability to listen and an ability to learn — not despite disagreement, but in the face of it. We must continue this in the Student Assembly, and we can’t expect anything less if we want the soon-to-be-elected next assembly to get things done, too.

Back in November, I wrote “I Dare You to See What We Could Get Done,” an edition of the Student Assembly Viewpoint about how powerful community engagement has been an invitation for students to direct our assemblies to the issues they care about. Back then, I focused on the 15 resolutions that I have sponsored and the great work of committees that I have served with, highlighting that there is room for all of us to make an impact at Cornell with a little collaboration, but today I am looking forward to next term. In light of the upcoming elections and the beginning of the new campaign season, I want to dare the Student Assembly to disagree.

My journey to student government has been rooted in demanding more representation. Both my elected position and my past come out of struggles for increased accessibility and the optimistic inclusion sought in diverse representation. We Cornellians make up a diverse student body; it’s an unprecedented strength of community and a powerful part of campus, yet the challenge of representation in governing bodies like the Student Assembly is bringing voice to it all.

A single seat can only go so far, so the easy solution is to make room in our institutions for more than just a spot at the table, but space to direct our conversation. This year has involved everything from student organizations pushing for improvements to public infrastructure like pools and mental health services, to forming committees that include more marginalized voices in some of our greatest areas of inequality and deepest injustices. Community engagement has been great for getting things done but is also very much the essence of combating divisiveness in government. The most successful initiatives have come out of many of the conversations that focus less on what we think we know and more on what we can learn — that have aimed at listening to the community then enacting resolutions, followed by not just talking but doing.

A successful Student Assembly connects to who it serves and then is judged by how it acts. We can only truly represent, we can only act, if we create space for more than just ourselves: this involves accepting the inevitability of disagreement. We must build solutions around the conversations we have, not the stories we wish we could tell. This requires a commitment to always focusing on what we can do to help strengthen the Cornell experience and staying true to what our assemblies can do to support these journeys. This honesty is how we build a more accessible campus, this honesty is how we elevate those who are systemically marginalized and underrepresented and this honesty is how we answer everyday problems while also progressing Cornell as a whole. I dare the SA to keep making space, I dare the SA to be honest, I dare the SA to disagree.

Duncan Cady is the Students with Disabilities Representative to the Student Assembly and an Undergraduate Student Representative to the University Assembly, and a junior in the ILR School. Duncan is this week’s author of Student Assembly Viewpoint, a rotating column written by members of the SA. Comments may be sent to [email protected] Student Assembly Viewpoint runs every other Thursday this semester.