On November 12th, a typically smooth meeting of the ASWC Senate was interrupted by a fierce debate over a proposal to make the Diversity and Inclusion Director, Meg Rierson, a voting member of the body.
The Executive Council position, which was formalized in Spring 2017, has been expanding in scope in recent months, with Rierson assembling a committee to support her work as Director. The new amendment, composed by Rierson with help from President AnnaMarie McCorvie, would have changed the position from an appointed one to an elected one; as with other elected Executive Council positions (such as the Finance Chair), the next Diversity Director would be elected in April by the entire student body, and would thus be granted voting power in Senate meetings.
In the deliberations, most Senators agreed with the logic of giving the Diversity Director voting power. However, controversy arose over the prospect of when the change should occur. Had the amendment passed, Rierson would have been extended voting rights without a direct vote of the student body. The result was a dramatic debate that left the Senate deeply divided.
On one side of the debate, questions were raised as to the ethicality of giving voting rights to an unelected member of the body. Senator Sophie Grossman described the amendment as “twisting [ASWC’s] own by-laws,” while Senator Ari Louise saw it as “self-serving.” Many Senators argued for changing the amendment into an act, which would have prevented the position’s voting power from being enacted until the next election, or holding an (unprecedented) referendum to legitimize Rierson’s authority.
On the other side, there were concerns that denying Rierson a vote constituted a deprivation of minority representation. As Diversity Director, Rierson’s duty is to voice the interests of underrepresented members of the student body, and many at the meeting criticized the amendment’s opponents as prioritizing technicalities over students’ rights. The idea of changing the amendment to an act, or holding a referendum, was perceived as an unreasonable delay. WEB Director Tehani Louis-Perkins criticized the opposing Senators as “all talk, no bite” and claimed “at the end of the day, we [minority students] are still gonna be underrepresented.”
The amendment ultimately failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority, leaving the future of the Diversity and Inclusion Director position uncertain. McCorvie, who elaborated further in a Whitman Wire op-ed, expressed deep concerns about the divisiveness of the debate, offering senators time outside of Senate to discuss their feelings on the issue.
“We will argue until we can agree on what it means to be a senator,” McCorvie wrote.