Section: News

Diversity and Inclusion committee bylaw faces backlash from nominees

This semester, Student Council will fill the long-vacant chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. After lengthy conversations between Student Council and students representing marginalized and affinity groups, Student Council will propose significant edits to their bylaw about the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at their next meeting on Monday.

The original bylaw, approved on Sept. 30, was intended to help fill the chair position on the Committee. The recently approved bylaw called for the Chair of the committee to be drawn from a pool of current Diversity Advisors (DAs). However, since no one from the DAs responded to Student Council with intentions to run for the position, the Student Life Committee sent out a Student-Info email requesting nominations for the position.

Attached to the email was the Sept. 30 bylaw, which some nominees felt was hastily put together—the list’s numbers jumped from two to five to nine—with little input from the people who would actually be assuming the position.

“It very much [felt] like a box-checking situation because the original language in the bylaw was like ‘tasked with handling [diversity] issues and also what Student Council addresses,’” Micah Smith ’22, one of the nominees, said. “Student Council doesn’t have the time, or the effort or the mental dedication to handle these issues that we’re always handling 24/7 and they were like ‘well, we’re going to make a little committee for y’all, and you get a vote, kind of, maybe,’ and it just felt very tokenizing.”

Some nominees also took issue with the hasty method in which the role was being filled.

“[Usually], it’s like ‘hey, if you want to hold a leadership position on this campus apply, give us your statement’ and then the school would vote, but now there’s a blind nomination process, which—in my opinion—feels pretty passive,” Senior Class President and nominee for the chair position Jodi-Ann Wang ’20 said. “All of a sudden I get this email that says ‘hey, you’ve been nominated for this position, let me know if you accept or decline your nomination and we’ll move forward [to] the next step, you have three days to decide,’ and pretty much all of us who got nominated have been doing diversity and inclusion things on campus already.”

The nomination emails sent out last Friday asked the nominees, of which there were over 25, to accept or decline by Monday, Nov. 4. The combination of the apparently rushed selection process and the lack of space for input led to a large number of public declinations, with the first and most visible coming from Teddy Hannah-Drullard ’20.

“I want people to stop delegating work and start listening to concerns, and I don’t like the feeling I have that this position is work being delegated to me and other minority leaders so that we can filter concerns up to the people who would not / could not act in the first place,” Hannah-Drullard wrote on Facebook.

After the public declinations, Associate Director of Student Engagement Kim Wallace sent an email to all the nominees on Monday afternoon informing them that the nomination process was being delayed “to allow for further Student Council discussion about the position.”

A coalition of students including Smith, Hannah-Drullard and Wang took their issues with the bylaw and the election process to the open Student Council meeting that day, where—despite initial pushback from the Council, due to bylaw discussions being on the agenda for Wednesday—the nominees expressed their concerns for over an hour.

On Wednesday night, a smaller group of Student Council representatives met with Smith, Hannah-Drullard and Assistant Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Timothy Bussey to rework the bylaw. Entering the meeting, Student Council President Delaney Barker ’20 was optimistic. “I’m glad that Student Council has a chance to prove that we care about this issue specifically and think it is very important,” she said.

The Student Council group, which included Administrative Advisor Sam Filkins, along with the group of Smith, Hannah-Drulland and Bussey, made several proposed changes to the bylaw regarding the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. One modification was the change of the committee name to “The Committee for Diversity and Inclusion” to avoid creating an inappropriate acronym.

More substantial changes included the addition of a Vice-Chair to take on separate roles and to make the Vice-Chair and Secretary appointed by the Chair rather than be elected by the student body. Another proposal was to remove language requiring the Chair to be a DA. Instead, future candidates will be nominated by the previous year’s committee and run for election during the same timeframe as the other Student Council officer elections.

The groups will also continue to work together; towards the end of the meeting, Bussey and Student Council worked to revise the Committee’s statement of purpose, though they have not yet settled on specific wording. For Smith and Hannah-Drullard, one of the most important additions was requiring a Student Council Officer other than the Chair to serve as an ex-officio member on the Committee as an advocate.

However, the process for amending bylaws is still time-consuming. According to Filkins, it will take at least three Student Council general sessions to complete. Therefore, the election of the next chair will happen next week, after a one-week delay.

After the meeting on Wednesday evening, some of the nominated candidates who previously gave public declinations now appear to have reconsidered.

“I’m really optimistic about [our meeting] … I feel like I have a much better understanding of what the position is, first of all, and how it relates to Student Council,” Hannah-Drullard said.

When asked if they would amend the part of their declination statement on Facebook that called campus government “a black hole where concerns go to die,” Hannah-Drullard said, “I will rescind my declination and I will run for Chair, and I hope that if I get that position I will be able to at least a little bit change that … but we know the long, long process that bureaucracy causes.”

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