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. 

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