Despite all the publicity the Student Government Association (SGA) has had regarding this week’s referendum for the creation of a position of Vice President of Equity and Diversity, not one student attended an information session held last week to educate the student body about the proposed position.
Nevertheless, Joanna Holguin, SGA senator at-large, Holguin presented the tasks of the proposed position at the session.
Holguin said the responsibilities of the position include managing monthly cultural displays, analyzing student survey results from the office of Equity and Diversity and addressing those results, managing the Diversity Ambassador Program, assisting with diversity training needs and developments, communicating with other student organizations in regard to current diversity issues or possible programs and assisting in planning campuswide events.
The goals for the position also include increasing students’ leadership abilities in a diverse society, identifying and enhancing processes that create an inclusive community and creating an environment where “diverse opinions and backgrounds are valued and treated with respect and dignity.”
“I wanted to set up an infrastructure for equity and diversity issues within SGA and the campus community,” Holguin said.
Lee Whitesell, newly appointed vice president of Academic Affairs, argued that the position would not adequately address the problem.
“The position implies that the rest of SGA does not take seriously a commitment to either equity or diversity,” he said. He added this implication is “on the border of insulting.”
Whitesell also argued that the position insults the students it would represent. He said, “Just like affirmative action, this position may be construed as saying, ‘Here, you can’t do it yourself, so let us help you by passing some legislation to help you get up to speed.’ The more we play to misperceived disadvantages, the more credence we lend to them.”
In response, Holguin said, “I don’t think it’s so much an insult. It’s more like we found a weakness in the SGA and we are working on ways to improve it.”
She added that the debate is “not related to affirmative action because this position does not focus solely on racial issues.”
During the debate Thea Schoenberg, senator of education, proposed an amendment to change the position from vice president of equity and diversity to director of equity and diversity. The change to director would mean that the position, in addition to carrying out senatorial duties, would address issues of equity and diversity.
Schoenberg’s formal proposal for the amendment was voted down by the senate.
Supporters felt the amendment would enable SGA to first identify what the problems are and then address those problems.
Whitesell criticized the sponsors of the bill for being “unwilling to compromise and create a director or commissioner position first, to demonstrate the existence of such problems and the need for such a position.”
“I don’t think I was unwilling to compromise because there were some amendments made. Any amendments I refused would have taken away from the goals,” Holguin said.
Of Schoenberg’s amendment, Holguin said that changing the position from a vice president to director would “spread the person too thin.”
Annelise Catanzaro, student trustee, showed support for the position by saying, “This new vice president position would constantly be thinking in a mindset that focuses on issues of equity and diversity.”
Student referendum voting on the position began yesterday and continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Brower Student Center.