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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

RMS role ignored in UJ case

Published: April 24, 2009
Section: Front Page

The Union Judiciary’s decision to hear the case Klionsky and McElhaney v. Student Union yesterday sparked much debate about whether or not the position of Racial Minority Senator (RMS) is necessary for minority involvement in student government or if it is a form of reverse racism.

At the trial, where Gideon Klionsky ‘11 claimed that his inability to run for the RMS seat as a white student was harassment and therefore unconstitutional under the Union Constitution, the debate focused on whether or not the position should be dismantled.

However, the trial glossed over the background of the position or what responsibilities the RMS holds.

The RMS position was created in the 1993-1994 school year. Prior to the creation of the position, there had existed an Executive Board position for Director of Community Relations that was responsible for reaching out to the racial minority community but the position holder was not required to be a racial minority.

While the University Archives do not have any documents explaining the reason for the switch from an open, appointed Executive Board position to an elected Senate position, the position was created at a time where the nation as a whole was forced to rethink its race-relations in the wake of the Rodney King trial in Los Angeles and the race riots which followed.

The RMS is a senator elected to the Student Union Senate by students who have registered as racial minorities with the Registrar. In order to run for the RMS position, a student must also have declared themselves as non-Caucasian to the Registrar.

International students are not eligible to run or vote for the position of RMS regardless of what race they identify with. Spokesperson for the Registrar Andrew Marx wrote in an e-mail to The Hoot that “race and ethnicity data is collected on international students but the data is excluded for reporting purposes because we follow the standards required by the federal government.”

He added “the Registrar’s Office is not responsible for determining international students’ eligibility for voting on the Student Union positions.”

Any student can, however, change their race with the Registrar’s office regardless of their phenotype.

In fact, two years ago, Jon Kane ’10, who is ethnically Caucasian, ran for the position by changing his race to “other” in the registrar’s office. Kane, whose candidacy received mixed reactions in the racial minority community, lost.

Kane declined to comment on his candidacy.

Currently, five senators represent all students regardless of race: two senators at large, two class senators and one quad senator.

Racial Minority students are eligible to vote for all five of those senators and also for the RMS.

While neither the Union Constitution nor the Union Bylaws give any guidelines for how the RMS should operate differently from their fellow senators, because of the unique guidelines laid out for who can run for the position and for who the constituents are, the RMS is largely seen as an advocate for racial minorities in both the Union and the greater Brandeis community.

Traditionally, RMS has served as the student representative to the Provost’s Diversity Steering Committee, which examines race relations at the university and is responsible for conducting surveys on racial diversity.

Currently, the position of RMS is held by Kamarin Lee ’12 who was not called to testify at the trial on Wednesday.

Lee told The Hoot, however, that his position has also been used as a vehicle for dialogue to take place within the Union about racial issues, saying that “a student who experiences racism might not feel comfortable going to a non-racial minority senator and telling him or her about it.

JV Souffrant (TYP), who hopes to run for the RMS position if the UJ does not choose to dismantle it, agreed, saying that “a lot of people think of racism as occurring in the rest of the world but not at Brandeis, so they might not think that a racial issue at Brandeis is an issue unless they’ve experienced it themselves.”

“When I walk back to my dorm at night, there are people who step aside as if they are afraid of me because I am a black male,” he said. “I know what it feels like to be discriminated against.”

While Ryan McElhaney ‘10 and Klionsky argued during the trial that white students could be receptive to hearing about issues concerning race, Souffrant said in an interview, “that’s not the point.”

“You can say you are open to hearing about racism on campus, but if your race deters victims of racism from talking to you, then the position isn’t working,” he said.

During the trial, neither side brought up the possibility of allowing students of all races to run for the position and then allowing only the racial minority community, to decide who they felt comfortable representing them.

Out of the 22 senators on the Union Senate, nine, including the current RMS, identify as a racial minority.