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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Legality of racial minority senator position questioned

Published: November 9, 2007
Section: News

In light of concerns regarding the legality of the senator for Racial Minority students, the Student Union is discussing possible changes to the position. It has been brought to the Unions attention that the position may be a violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights act, which stipulates that organizations receiving federal funding cannot discriminate based on race.

As it stands, only students registered as racial minorities or other with the registrar can run for or vote for the position of Senator for Racial Minority Students. It is this stipulation that has raised the questions of legality.

Last year this issue came up at election time, said Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer in an email. It was students who raised this issue because the limitations of who can run and who can vote for the senate seat was challenged. For me to be better versed in the issue, I sought legal clarity, which I got and passed along to the [Student Union] E-board. Judith Sizer, Brandeis legal counsel, could not comment on the situation because of ethical rules regarding confidentiality of legal advice given to clients.

In regards to a Title VI violation, Student Union President Shreeya Sinha 09 said, We had heard from Rick [Sawyer] that there is that possibility. She added, were looking into understanding the issue thats been raised by the administration.

According to former Union Secretary Michael Goldman 08, the E-board as an entity is aware that two lawyers have said [the Senator for Racial Minority Students position] is illegal. While Goldman explained that the E-board did not seek any official legal opinion, weve discussed it at length as an E-board.

Sinha explained that no outside legal council has approached the Union independently.

Different people [within the Union] are engaging their communities about how we can best represent them in the senate, said Director of Union Affairs Jason Gray 10. Current Senator for Racial Minority Students Gabe [Gaskin 08] is spearheading an effort to talk to people about what representation means, he added.

We want to make sure that our government is representing voices that need to be heard, said Sinha. She explained that members of the Union are going to the ICC Sunday to discuss what kind of representation is needed.

Theres no need to make a rash decisiontheres no reason to eliminate any options at this point, Gray remarked.

Sinha said that discussions regarding this position will continue next semester.

Now that the Union has the information, theyre acting to improve how the position exists, just to get it correct, said Associate Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams. You want to get it correct, but at the same time not lose the spirit, which is about representation. Adams added that he believes it unlikely that the RMS position will remain unchanged.

[The position] was created the way it was to ensure some representation, said Adams, and were at a point in time when we should revisit it.

Senator-at-large Andrew Brooks 09 also believes the racial minority senator position needs to be examined.

The position needs to be looked at in terms of dissolving it, he said. Everyone Ive spoken with feels the position is discriminatorythe Union is definitely not united behind it.

Our voting rights are being inhibited, continued Brooks. The purpose the position was created for is no longer necessary.

Were really trusting and believing in the Union to do well by this, said Adams. Theyre not taking it lightly, and theyre being very considerate of how the campus community is involved with the position.

Sawyer said, We remain ready to assist the Union in trying to find a solution to the apparent problem caused by the current structure and constitutional description of the [racial minority senator].