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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Jargon no substitute for historically ‘under-discussed’ position

Published: March 12, 2010
Section: Editorials

In April 2009 the Student Union Judiciary (UJ) was unable to come to a majority opinion in a case that questioned the legality of the Racial Minority Senator position.  The UJ instead ruled that the fate of the Union position created in the early 1990s should be decided by the Union’s Constitutional Review Committee this year in order to “adequate[ly] gauge student opinion or the needs of the community.”

Unfortunately, the committee did no such thing in its 11 proposed Constitutional amendments released Monday.  Instead, the committee made the baffling proposal to merely rename the Racial Minority Senator position the Representative for “Historically Underrepresented Races.”

This attempt to quell campus racial strife by altering constitutional jargon is unacceptable.  In the weeks leading up to last spring’s UJ trial, the campus was engulfed in racial tension and hurt. Racial minorities saw the suit brought against the Union by a white student as disrespectful and ignorant, while some white students suggested that the position was a form of reverse racism and akin to political affirmative action.  When the trial came, the court room was filled with spectators, many of whom had to stand.

Renaming the position cannot change the underlying racial tension.

The name change might be understandable if it had been accompanied by deliberative racial dialogue, but it was not. All meetings of the Constitutional Review Committee were closed to the public. Though the Committee held four “open house” forums on the review process as a whole, there was no attempt to specifically talk about the Senator for Racial Minorities position.

While the committee’s proposal states that the name change has been cleared by Brandeis racial minority students approached by the committee representative from the intercultural community and the current Senator for Racial Minority Students, asking permission to change the name is not the same as fostering open discussion.

The one meaningful change the Committee did make was in who is able to run for it.  If approved, any student will be an eligible candidate (as opposed to only racial minorities), but only registered racial minorities will be eligible to vote.

Again, the committee failed to discuss the change, writing only that the switch was a response to “controversy [which] has ensued in the past over who can run for these positions”–completely understating the widespread tension of last spring.

This is an insult to the social justice- minded students of Brandeis, many of whom chose this university because they are interested in learning how to find solutions to uncomfortable social and political situations like affirmative action and race in politics.

The extraordinarily vague name selected to replace the “racial minority senator” of “representative for historically underrepresented races” only further underscores the idiocy of this proposal.

Nowhere in the 61 page document was a “historically underrepresented race” defined, leaving constituents to wonder why the committee would bother to change the name at all.

Without an open dialogue with all constituents about what role race should play in campus politics, the committee’s proposal regarding the racial minority senator is as meaningless as its new name.