Joss Whedon: Advocate for Equality

The following was written for an undergraduate course at the University of Kansas called “LGBT Perspectives.”

“Always be yourself, unless you suck.”

This quote illustrates the brash and empowering spirit of Joss Whedon. From the 1990s to today, Whedon has written, produced and directed multiple movies and television shows that include LGBTQ persons. The most notable examples are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Dollhouse. Fans also know him for his creation of Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, which features an openly gay actor and encapsulates the LGBT themes of isolation and non-validity. Most recently, Whedon directed both The Avengers and Much Ado About Nothing. Suffice to say, he’s an awesomely varied man. His characters have been applauded for their complexity, his storylines noted for their poignant accessibility. In his life and work, Whedon promotes positive views of LGBTQ individuals by creating engaging characters and advocating for progressive change.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 04:  Honoree Joss Whedon speaks onstage at Equality Now presents "Make Equality Reality" at Montage Hotel on November 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Equality Now)

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 04: Honoree Joss Whedon speaks onstage at Equality Now presents “Make Equality Reality” at Montage Hotel on November 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Equality Now)

Whedon, born in the early 1960s, said that his gender studies education began at a young age under the influence of his mother, Lee Stearns (Whedonverse). Stearns raised him to be a radical feminist, which clearly shaped the portrayals of female and LGBTQ characters in his later work. Whedon has used both major and minor LGBTQ characters throughout his works to affirm the idea that – to put it plainly – people are not defined by their sexuality; worth is defined by humanity. For example, Inara Serra in his TV series Firefly is portrayed as bisexual. Because she is a companion – a kind of space-escort – her sexuality is identified, but she is not defined by it. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow Rosenberg begins as a lovable nerd and ends as a power-hungry super witch. She is in relationships with men when she is in high school and then with women in college. Whedon, however, does not associate her sexual orientation with her evil power. It is correlated, but not caused by her changing sexuality. Smaller characters in Buffy, like Jonathan in the seventh and final season, is suggested to be gay, but his behavior is not tied to how he identifies. Whedon also uses themes of isolation and loneliness throughout The Avengers, Buffy and Toy Story, for which he also wrote the screenplay.

Whedon’s own experiences amalgamated to his use of these accessible themes. “I’ve lived my life feeling alone. That’s just the way of it. I always did,” Whedon said in a 2003 interview. “I always felt different from the people around me. I’ve always felt that I was the outsider in every group I’ve ever been in” (Buttell).

From Malcolm Reynolds, the non-conformist space cowboy in Firefly, to Dollhouse’s Echo, a woman who is programmed with a temporary personality and skills, Whedon has also explored issues of validation in a society that does not recognize an individual or group’s value. Recently, Whedon directed a modernized version of Much Ado About Nothing. He is noted to have said that there are a number of homosexual themes throughout the play as well as in other Shakespearean works. “[P]art of why Shakespeare works now is that he’s so open to interpretation. It all comes from a time when men could talk about their feelings and love each other, which has sort of fallen out of the vernacular,” Whedon said in an interview with The Advocate’s Tom Lenk, another of Whedon’s favorite actors (Lenk). His commitment to showcasing positive images of LGBTQ people is clear in his work, and is further cemented through advocacy in his personal life.

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Whedon consistently chooses to work with many of the same actors, writers and crew – all people who have demonstrated support for progressive politics. In fact, the entire writer’s room of Buffy was recently highlighted in the NoH8 campaign, a non-profit “whose mission is to promote marriage, gender and human equality through education, advocacy, social media, and visual protest” (NoH8 Campaign). Whedon has always been clear that he is interested in writing an “out-and-proud” male character, and though he doesn’t always create shows with the intention of raising awareness, he is thankful that the LGBTQ community supports his work (On Top Magazine).

In addition, Whedon has used his celebrity influence in advocacy-related media as an actor. He appeared in a satirical advertisement mocking 2012-presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a proponent of anti-marriage equality legislation (Rosen). He has appeared in Buffy writer Jane Espenson’s web show Husbands, which features Brady, the first openly gay professional baseball player, who finds himself married to another man after a drunken night in Vegas (Zakarin). Whedon has continuously defended his friends and actors, Sean Maher and Neil Patrick Harris, who have “challenged the stereotypes about whether good actors can sell good characters no matter who they are in real life” (Rosenberg) (Nussbaum).

Joss Whedon’s commitment to uphold positive images of LGBTQ individuals, in his career and personal life, have profoundly affected this community. By providing complex characters and sustaining themes of isolation and loneliness, Whedon has crafted a world that helps people who identify in a variety of ways. He has created a place to find validity.

Social Structures: Tools for Political Development or Stagnation

The following was written for an undergraduate sociology course at the University of Kansas taught by Professor Lynn Davidman.

In our country, politics directly influence institutions of power, which thereby affect how people act and work within their own social classes. I am a white female with well-educated parents, who graduated with honors with further higher education already lined up. I have healthcare and a very small amount of debt. Arguably most important, I have a huge family and a proportionally sized safety net. Essentially, I’m never going to work at Wal-mart.

The upper-middle class institutions that I have been socialized to thrive within have allowed me to better understand our national political landscape. This understanding gives me the access to our government that people of lower socioeconomic classes do not have. Thus, I am more likely to not only participate in the political system, but to affect policy in a way that is advantageous to my way of life and to act in such a way that will keep me on this hierarchical level.

Growing up, I truly believed that I could be the Secretary of State, the president of the National Organization for Women and/or a world-class mom. I was not tied down by my own colloquial vocabulary, as it is the same language that those in power use. I never believed that my economic status could determine my career, because my family’s income allowed me the opportunity to attend college. We had the necessary resources to enable me take out loans and attend graduate school if I wanted to. My good fortune, though, is not attributed to my dedication to schoolwork or my skill at speaking to professionals in my field. I have adopted these personal traits because of the social institutions in which I was raised.

Government in the United States determines certain social structures and lays the groundwork for institutions that either open doors or deeply burden the people of America.

The policies that our elected officials choose to make are only advantageous to the people in their constituencies that have been able to make their voices heard. For example, the voter identification laws in our country were implemented with the hope of eliminating fraud, but have had the detrimental effect of lowering the number of people who are able to vote. Senior citizens and low-income individuals often have trouble finding forms of valid identification, and thus their opinions are often unable to be heard in the electoral process. Interest groups, like Higher Ed Watch or the Heritage Foundation, promote the opinions of their members by lobbying policymakers. These officials then are in a position where they are able to vote for or create legislation that works for the benefit of these people. Subsequently, this legislation affects how people interact with others and the types of careers to which people have access.

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Institutions, created by policies and upheld by the power elite that formed them in the first place, affect how people get certain jobs and achieve levels of success that correspond to their socioeconomic level. For example, the daily dynamics of Wal-mart workers are determined by the social structures to which they belong. If an employee is from a low socioeconomic class and is thus used to working long-hours with minimal pay and potentially no healthcare benefits, working at Wal-mart might not be a problem. If a woman has experienced rigid gender roles and oppression by men for her whole life, working in a place where workplace sexual harassment is a noted norm like Wal-mart might seem like a suitable job, particularly in a rural town where any type of career is difficult to come by (Laubich).

How employees treat and are treated by their managers and Wal-mart as a corporation is affected by the policies implemented by the federal and state governments. With the Affordable Care Act, Wal-mart may force its employees to work less than 40 hours a week so that they do not need to provide healthcare (Heller). This directly affects job satisfaction and performance, as the employer is essentially telling employees that their wellbeing does not matter. Employees of corporations, just like citizens of the United States, form reference groups that influence how they interact with their peers. When role-sets are in place, people are more likely to conform to what their peers will do. In the case of Wal-mart, if no one speaks out against workplace harassment or healthcare injustices, no change will occur. These practices then become institutionalized and the next generation of workers is likely to act just as the former did. They have no plans to create positive change because these practices have been presented to them as their only possible reality. Just as politics created institutions, the effect that institutions have on people affects policy. Or, in this case, not affect policy.

Furthermore, how people interact with one another within social structures affects the legislation that is produced. In an ideal world, elected officials would attempt to represent their constituents to the best of their ability, but this is not always true. Social hierarchies may help create status, which influences how people interact with the government and work for the advancement of their own needs. In particular, the power elite works to create tax policies that best benefit the wealthiest members of our society because they themselves are the top one percent.

In this way, the party in power always works to make policies that best reach their own public while the minority party attempts to fight the policies that conflict with the views of their own constituency.

In lower class communities, reaching the party in power, or any party for that matter is made more difficult because of their socialization into a lower social hierarchies. If someone does not grow up learning legal terminology, who their elected officials are, or the “proper” channels to reach politicians, they will not be able to effectively participate in their own governance.

In the song “Where I’m From”, American rapper Jay-Z brilliantly illustrates one of the key differences between elected officials and lower-income individuals. He says that people “from the street” believe that, “Your word was everything, so everything you said you’d do / You did it, couldn’t talk about it if you ain’t lived it” (Hancock). Unlike many politicians, who often make exaggerated or entirely false claims in order to get elected, trust and action is essential for people from low-income communities. When people must rely on others to protect, house or even feed their children, this trust is essential for survival. Therefore, people from low-income communities have a barrier between participating in their own local, state or national government. When there are ideas of mistrust or elitism, neither group seems to want to cooperate to create policies that benefit both groups. Thus, the cycle of poverty remains as the power elite continues to affect policy that benefits wealthy factions the most and enshrouds both groups into a social hierarchy that they cannot escape from unless some fiscal upset occurs.

The inability of certain communities to participate in government creates a cyclical system that continues to disadvantage them both economically and socially. People from all social hierarchies are often unable to understand or break into other levels. For example, in Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich is unable to commiserate with her fellow employees at the diner due in part to her advanced vocabulary (Ehrenreich). She cannot transition to a lower class, just as it would be difficult for me to work at Wal-mart. As incredibly classist as it sounds, I would simply not be prepared for any type of manual labor because I have been socialized to believe that I will never need to perform such acts. Conversely, a lack of money or manners and therefore social status would not easily allow a waitress at a diner or an employee at Wal-mart the ability to run for political office.

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The way that they have been socialized to act affects who they interact with and the way in which they accomplish their goals, however low or lofty. This concept is supplemented when status and power prevent people from realizing the injustices within their current situation because they have rationalized their experiences. The status quo is their only reality because it is seen as organic and non-unique. For example, if Ehrenreich was having trouble finding a job, she might think it has something to do with the high unemployment rate in the United States and wouldn’t think that it had anything to do with her over-qualification or lack of blue-collar experience.

In such a way, people’s perceptions and preferences are shaped so that they often accept their role in the existing order of society and internalize elements of policy that may not be in their best interest. For example, in recent years Chicago city politicians have advocated for looser gun control laws, though fewer firearms could contribute to a lowered gun-death rate in a city that has over a thousand gun deaths in 2010 (Jeffrey). The people who these laws truly effect – individuals who live in poverty and who are unrepresented on the city council – either see their situation as unchangeable or as something that they are unable to affect. This directly evidences the utter disadvantages of our capitalist system. When wealth is too directly tied to political power, people without wealth do not have voices and so this disastrous cycle continues.

As Karl Marx noted in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, “[m]en make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past” (Marx). The way that individuals are socialized into institutions directly influences how accessible the state is to them and therefore determines how easily they are able to direct policies that benefit their way of life. Social structures can be tools for either political development for all or political stagnation in which the system in power continues to make archaic policies that only favors the top one percent.

My abilities – gained because of my privilege – have led me to achieve internships with the federal government, a national policy institute, a gubernatorial campaign, a state legislator, and a legal non-profit. As someone who yearns to work in public service and has easier access to government officials – I know that I will be able to work for policy change in the future. From a sociological perspective, however, I am concerned that future priorities will be skewed. For when I have lived in relative comfort for the duration of my life, will I truly be working for the benefit of those who need representation or to preserve my own upper middle-class way of life?

Work Pay Equity is Not a Zero Sum Game

The following was written for an undergraduate political science course at the University of Kansas called “Women, Gender and the Law.”

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to speak with the controversial, but empowering Sheryl Sandberg and the similarly infamous Lilly Ledbetter, which exposed me to the persistent gender wage gap in America. In the United States, the lack of work-pay equity threatens the livelihoods of men and women alike, as it affirms damaging patriarchial structures in our society. Because of issues stemming from long-term sexism, women – particularly women of color – are not paid the same as men for the exact same work. Thus, this issue represents and intersection of gender, sexuality and the law but further involves elements of class and race.

Wage issues can be awkward to speak about publicly. In her speech at the University of Kansas last fall, Lilly Ledbetter pointed out that a large reason why women do not bring up issues concerning wages is because speaking about earnings is not socially accepted. This sparked my attention. As a senior in college, I questioned what I would experience post graduation, as statistics show that a women in the exact same job as a man will still make less. Currently, full-time working white women are paid only 78 percent of what white men earn and a pay gap exists in almost every occupation – from teaching to engineering (AAUW). In addition, this is an ageist issue as the pay gap grows as women grow older. As previously noted, this is also an issue concerning race and class, as the pay gap is much worse for women of color. Hispanic women, for example, make just 54 percent of white men’s earnings. These lost funds, which could be used to end the cycle of poverty in the United States, instead make it worse.

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In recent years, policymakers have used the law to change the current system of inequality. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 amended the Civil Rights Act to protect the time limit for equal-pay lawsuits. In less progressive news, Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act for the fourth time just last week (Daily Kos). This bill would put a higher standard on employers for wage discrimination, puts stronger penalties in place, and allows women to gain access to financial records more easily. Some Senate Republicans believe that the act encourages useless lawsuits, but I hold the belief that a lawsuit that protects a women’s livelihood cannot possibly be useless.

The reasons for a lack of equal pay for women are rooted in personal and institutional sexism. As women began entering the workplace after World War Two, the jobs open to them were not the same types of jobs available to men. Because of the perceived notion that women are weaker than men and that they must be the primary caretakers of children, careers often included work that could be done at home. Conversely, for the women in the workplace, society thinks that careers – like nursing or teaching young children – are more suited to women because of their maternal nature. Secretarial or cleaning work was thought to be more suited to women because it did not involve as much creativity or critical thinking skills, of which society thinks men solely possess. Thus comes into play the argument that is most common in American society – that women simply choose jobs that are low paying.

And this is exactly the point: the structures and institutions currently in place both encourage women to choose careers that are historically lower-paying and pay less for specific careers that society considers are more suited to women. This system devalues women and allows employers even today to further this sexist, racist, classist and ageist agenda.

The ramifications of a system that does not treat all genders fairly in one realm – equal wages – instills the same sexism in all other areas of life.

If women are mistreated in the workplace, chances are high that they are being treated poorly personally as well. As previously stated, when poor women are not being paid the same sum as men, the difference in funds adds to the cycle of poverty already in place and women can be unable to care for children or provide adequate healthcare for themselves.

In addition, if a woman is aware that she is paid less than her male counterpart in the workplace, she may not pursue higher education or training opportunities, which could help her climb the ranks. Psychologically, this system of inequality hurts women because it tells them that they are less valued, and it provides men the idea that they are somehow worth more than women. Though the wage gap may seem to some a small problem, this system perpetuates long-term oppression.

Questions still exist in the work-pay equity movement about the reasons why women are paid less than men. Is it because they choose lower-paying jobs? Or maybe it is due to the fact that women are caretakers and work more part-time jobs than men? Regardless of these questions, the facts remain: in the exact same, full-time job, a wage gap exists to which society must be held accountable. Gender, sexuality and the law coincide on this issue and though many policymakers are working to improve the status quo, advocates must continue to advocate for positive change.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research has more statistics on pay equity, available here.

Affirmative Consent: Positive Game-Changer or Regulatory Minefield?

The following was written for an undergraduate political science course at the University of Kansas called “Women, Gender and the Law.”

Institutions have passed laws, regulations and policies regarding sexual conduct with increasing popularity in recent years to include definitions of affirmative consent. Affirmative consent, or the yes means yes standard, means that “you have to give your enthusiastic consent, not just at the very beginning or at one point in the act” (PBS Newshour). Despite the standard’s ability to be enforced, heavy regulation and normalization of sexual conduct, the societal benefits of a system based on the outward, mutual agreement of the parties involved is worth examination in a legal context.historic-california-rape-law-tells-college-campuses-yes-means-yes-1412038758

Dan Subotnik’s Hands off: Sex, feminism, affirmative consent, and the law of foreplay first outlines the history of regulating non-consensual sexual conduct. While the author asserts that a more sex-positive culture is the end goal, he presents reservations about traditional affirmative consent laws. Only by outlining the historical development of the words that describe sexual assault can the status quo of sexual conduct regulation be understood. All laws regarding sex proscribe an either/or situation. Either you consent to sexual conduct or you do not. William Blackstone, an English jurist in the eighteenth century, defined rape as “‘carnal knowledge of a woman forcibly and against her will.’ Over the years this definition expanded to include threats of force” (Subotnik 268). Though one might estimate that more progress would have been made in almost three hundred years, the Women’s Movement in the 1970s once again shifted the definitions of consent. Until then, women required corroboration witnesses during sexual assault trials and even still “some sixteen state statutes criminalize nonconsensual sex without use of force, half of them treating such behaviors as misdemeanors” (Subotnik 269). Affirmative consent laws then, are a likely result of the legal nonchalance of a system that essentially encourages rape.

From an affirmative standpoint, Subotnik asserts that communication during sex is important, and having to give a partner enthusiastic consent when moving from act-to-act can be a positive way to inspire this type of positive sexual encounter. Some sexual relationships are compared to “the relationship an employer has with a tradesperson” (Subotnik 273). Thus a clear, verbal contract must be agreed to in order to result in a positive transaction for the parties involved. Though this sounds as if it eliminates the romance sometimes involved in sexual relationships, it truly focuses on the emotional impact of sexuality. In a hookup culture with no or unclear expectations of a future relationship, clearer terminology may be needed, particularly if the individuals do not know each other well enough to recognize these sexual desires. Despite these positive bolsters of affirmative consent, Subotnik offers numerous other exceptions.

First, he questions whether the legal system should be involved in the regulation of sexuality, when they are not experts in human sexuality and the repercussions of sexual relationships (Subotnik 251). Though Subotnik brings in additional research about the carnal nature of sex, I have decided to focus on the legal regulation in recent years to narrow the scope. The legal system cannot possibly reform how individuals think about sex and affirmative consent policies fundamentally shift the current standard for evidence. These policies “put the burden of proof on the person who has been accused to prove that they obtained consent, not on the person who was objecting or not giving consent. So…the person who is accused will no longer be sort of assumed innocent until proven guilty” (PBS Newshour).

11110858_10152927694993517_348370968486017472_nIn regulating how individuals interact when engaging in sexual activity, the sexual contract theory provides an exception for when an affirmative consent policy would still not be enough to result in a positive sexual relationship. During sex, the thought is that “the man will have to ‘make himself a more agreeable companion, or promise [the woman] more mutuality of pleasure, or agree to forgo sex with others, or use a condom,’ and thus produce a better sexual deal for women” (Subotnik 273). Though both parties would be adequately verbalizing their desires, the situation is still not necessarily healthy nor representative of true internal consent.

In addition, examining the language used during sex is important in determining the possibility for a verbally required consent policy. In a 1988 study, 39 percent of women stated that they sometimes said ‘no’ to sex when they meant ‘yes’ (Subotnik 282). Women cited the “‘fear of appearing promiscuous,’ ‘nature of the relationship,’ ‘uncertainty of the partner’s feelings’ and ‘situational problems’” as reasons for not verbalizing their true feelings (Subotnik 282). Finally, some individuals expressed a desire for game playing, which is defined as “wanting the man ‘to beg’…or ‘to get him more sexually aroused by making him wait’ (Subotnik 283). Some of these situations might violate an affirmative consent policy that required verbalization, but would in fact be positive sexual encounters.

In contrast to Subotnik’s rather negative view of affirmative consent laws. Nicholas J. Little focuses entirely on the positive repercussions of imposing regulations on sexual activity. He asserts that “…only a standard of affirmative consent can effectively grant women control over their participation in sexual encounters” (Little 1323). These standards would shift how society views women’s role in sexual relationship while revolutionizing how the legal system examines the process of consenting to sexual intercourse. Little says that affirmative consent will not destroy spontaneity or romance because it will allow women to not simply concede to sex, but to openly enjoy it (Little 1347). Further, “it announces to women that their opinion of whether sex should occur is equally valid in the eyes of the legal system as the man’s” (Little 1347). The author was clear to note, however, that decisions must be made about whether consent must be verbal or understood.

For example, New York’s state university system recently adopted a sexual assault policy for all 64 of its campuses. It reads that affirmative consent requires “clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed, and voluntary agreement among participants in sexual activity” (Campbell). The University of Kansas, in comparison, does not have the same textbook definition of an affirmative consent policy, but it is consent nonetheless. It states that “sexual violence” means any physical act which is sexual in nature that is committed by force or without the full and informed consent of all persons involved” (Policy Library). In examining sexual assault, it must be noted that the most well-intentioned words are often used against or for a complainant in a legal case. The difference between the policies in New York at the University of Kansas may seem minute, but can be the difference between a conviction and a not-guilty verdict for a victim of rape. In Little’s terms, “[p]ermission is demonstrated when the evidence, in whatever form, is sufficient to demonstrate that a reasonable person would have believed that the alleged victim had affirmatively and freely given authorization to the act” (Little 1343). Still, Little’s lexicon can still use improvement as “giving authorization to the act” still has a connotation of passivity, not active participation.

Lucinda Vandervort provides further nuance to this issue as she draws parallels between the Canadian legal system and America’s burgeoning affirmative consent obsession. Under current Canadian law, “consent means that the complainant not only communicated agreement by her words or conduct, but also did so voluntarily; that is, subjectively, in her own mind, she actually did want the sexual touching to take place” (Vandervort 150). This system brings the complainant’s state of mind during the sexual act into play, not just her verbal agreement, which points out a potentially harmful result from verbal sexual consent policies. If an enthusiastic verbal agreement is the only necessary bridge to sexual activity, how might individuals in non-normalized sexual relationships be able to cope? Vandervort further asserts that policing sexual conduct forces the legal system to recognize only “normal sexual behavior” and disregard any sexual act whereby verbal consent is not wanted or necessary (Vandervort 147).

Most academic and legal experts agree that consenting sexual activity is necessary in society. The importance of open communication, enthusiasm and emotional well being during sex cannot be understated, but when one examines non-normalized, but still healthy sexual acts, one finds problems with affirmative consent standards. Regulating sexual conduct clearly has problems and the precise words used when writing policy must be chosen carefully in order to remain inclusive to all types of sexual citizens. Whether a system attempts to regulate the internal or external components of an individual’s mind – or both – provides yet another complex element into the sex regulation game. The regulation of sexual conduct is a dangerous game, just as sexual relations can be if both parties are unsure about the other’s perceptions about the situation. When it comes down to it, drawing up a contract might just be the simplest means to the end. But, as Subotnik points out, where’s the fun in that?*

*Just for clarification, a sexual contract is not necessarily the most adequate means to an end. Verbal communication may not be sufficient either. Work with your partner(s) to engage in a positive, safe and fun time.

Diversity, Inclusion & Student Senate

Tonight was my last Student Senate meeting, as I’m graduating at the end of this semester. As someone involved at KU during my three-and-a-half years here, I have some comments. I’m not sure if its my place to share them and I’d like to recognize my privilege as someone who has been able to enter this space, be respected by administrators and understand much of the process.Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 1.42.37 PM

First, I am proud that the members of our Student Senate voted 47-1-0 to approve a Director of Diversity and Inclusion to address the voices of the student body who have been silenced. I hope that this is not simply a bandaid to a wound, but a start to a change.

As Former Vice Chair of the Student Rights Committee, I voted against the Social Equity position when the bill went through my committee in early October. For clarification, the Vice Chair and Secretary of the four standing committees have voting rights, the Chairs have rights during a tie situation.

  • I did not vote the bill down for funding reasons, because I do believe that, as one individual at the #SenateForum pointed out, we need to create a safe space for ALL students on campus. Our silence – my silence – is unforgivable, and we as a student body need to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations even if those conversations end with frustration.
  • During discussion on the bill, it was never explained how the proposed Senate Executive Staff position would work with the Vice Provost for Diversity and Equity and other actors within the Multicultural Affairs Committee, Office of Diversity and Equity and the OMA.
  • I felt that a trial-and-error period where the job responsibilities for the proposed position would be given to other executive staff members during this year was necessary – at the least –  to explore the overlap referenced above. Only by fully understanding the position and what the individual within it would do, did I believe that it have been funded at the end of this year. I would hate to begin funding a position without ensuring its continuation.  I do not believe in passing legislation when I see loopholes or flaws that could hurt its intent in the future, even if I wholeheartedly agree in the reasoning behind it.

However, I, and some other members of my committee, made errors following that committee meeting.

  • For me, the conversation ended there. I relied on the other members of Senate to come up with another version that explained the overlap. For clarification, due to Roberts’ Rules of order (which the Student Senate follows, with some exceptions), legislation cannot be duplicated during the same session. This means that – without violating established rules – no one could simply push through the piece of legislation again, without writing significant changes. These significant changes are what happened with the creation of the Director of Diversity and Inclusion tonight.
  • I did not have the necessary uncomfortable conversations with the related student groups. I did not attend a meeting of HALO, BSU, AASU, etc.
  • I relied on my past social justice experience,  relationships with my committee members and understanding of Student Senate (which I realize has clear flaws) to guide me to make good decisions.

I was super wrong.

I have confidence in that decision that I made at the time and am proud of the new bill generated on the floor this evening. I realize that not explaining my vote sooner was an error that I now seek to correct. Last year as the All Scholarship Hall Council Student Senator, I wrote up a monthly report and explained each and every vote I made, which I believe is a necessary part of the political process and one that more senators should take part in. I hope that by explaining my vote, we can continue to have constructive conversations about diversity and race at the University of Kansas.

I’m graduating tomorrow and I don’t know exactly what I can do about this. I can’t use Senate as a vehicle for change in the same way as I have in the past. I know that I can push others to have these conversations and I can speak with those who are in positions of power. I’m sorry that the conversation tonight was one where individuals had to come into the space of Student Senate to be heard, instead of Senate coming into the spaces where others felt safest. That wasn’t the way to get things done. Senators were disrespectful and that’s inexcusable, but I hope that those who were listening will act.

I haven’t always had faith in the system that is Student Senate and the University at large, but I have faith in the students who give their time to this cause. For most, Student Senate is not a resume padder. It is a learning experience where students gain a dedication to public service and how to adequately represent a set of constituents. At least, that’s what I hope it has done for me.

Senators: Speak to your constituents, be proactive and get your shit together. Just because 47 of you voted to approve the Director of Diversity and Inclusion does not mean that this conversation is over.

Students of Color: I’m not going to begin to tell you what to do because I don’t share your identity or lived experiences, but thank you for demanding change.

If you have questions about this process, what happened tonight, or anything else, please ask. Tweet me @natkparker, email the Student Body President at sbp@ku.edu or reach out by any other means. Senate will be working on ways to better disseminate information, but in the meantime, these are the best sources of contact.