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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Student Union and equal representation

Published: September 7, 2007
Section: Opinions

When I first learned about the position of Senator for Racial Minority Students it was the middle of second semester, last year. Someone I was sitting with said Hmm, I dont know any of the people running for Senator for Racial Minorities. I was rather confused, since I had just finished voting and didnt see the position listed. A little investigative journalism on my part revealed I was sitting with someone who was Asian, whereas I was white. Hence, no vote!

At that moment, I was taken aback. Whereas my votes count towards the positions of three senators, two for my class and one for my quad, anyone registered as a racial minority has an extra representative. Hence, per person, some people have more voting power over the composition of our senate than others, based on their race. A similar disparity occurs on the F-Board there is an F-Board Member for Racial Minority Students. Giving people of some races more voting power per capita than others is, by definition, racial inequality. Such things, especially in the context of voting, are typically considered a bad thing.

I first wrote this article with the intention of arguing for the dissolution of these positions. What surprised me is how my interpretation changed as I conducted interviews. Senators lauded the positions as helpful to having racial minority issues voiced. Individuals expressed genuine concern for racial minorities being overlooked without a strong advocate. I was hoping for information with which to make a concise argument and instead found myself conflicted.

Suddenly, the position was valid, and only the execution was improper. I went through options. I arrived at the idea of the Union making the F-Board and Senate seats non-voting, advocacy positions, so that someone to represent minority interests would still be present to voice opinions. But, if the teeth are removed, would the positions become too weak to properly serve their purpose? Having the entire student body vote for whoever they think can best represent minority interests came next. But that would have the very hegemony-of-the-majority-complex which the positions are designed to mitigate.

Regrettably, I find myself unable to suggest a simple solution. I won't hesitate to say that it is fundamentally wrong to give people variable amounts of voting rights based on their race. But many people believe these positions help our campus and foster a diverse and accepting environment – I've seen strong arguments that they're right. It seems as though the current system and power structure for the Senator for Racial Minorities and the F-Board Member for Racial Minority Students represent unfortunate means to what is a good end.

As students at a university with such a strong dedication to social justice, we have an obligation to find a better way. The position has been around longer than any current undergraduate. I spoke with Christina Khemraj, who held the position of Senator for Racial Minorities last year and is this year's Director for Campus Life. She says that there are ongoing discussions about the nature of these positions within our student government.

Perhaps it's time to have an open dialog about how best to ensure representation of racial minorities on our campus. We need to be sure that our choices uphold all of the tenants of social justice Brandeis claims to demonstrate.