Op-Ed: Why Did Legislation to get the Diversity and Inclusion Director a Vote Fail?

AnnaMarie McCorvie, ASWC President

At ASWC Senate this weekend we considered a piece of legislation that would see the newly created position of Diversity and Inclusion Director become a position elected by the entire student body. This change would enable whoever holds the position to have voting rights in Senate. The debate was difficult and heated, and while we were able to avoid personal attacks, moral justifications and comments dilatory or irrelevant to the topic at hand, we did struggle to have a productive debate. The legislation tried to do something that we haven’t done before, but many of the real challenges and concerns around it were left unanswered as the debate failed to reach a place of compromise.

In my three and a half years on Senate, everything from The Wire name change, to pleas for divestment, to the use of savings fund monies have been hotly debated. Like any political body, these debates have not always been as productive as we might like. Critical moments of disagreement have been seriously hindered by personal relationships, time restraints, biases, or faulty systems and rules, problems that we have worked through time and time again.

To be clear, switching a position from appointed to elected is unprecedented. ASWC Senate as it exists today is young, and every position that is elected now (President, Vice President, Finance Chair, Nominations Chair and senators) has been an elected position since our current constitution was written. So even the most experienced among us weren’t quite sure what we were doing or how we would do it, leading to several frustrating missteps in the road to get the legislation to make the Diversity and Inclusion Director an elected position to the Senate floor. By the time it arrived in front of senators it had already challenged precedent, the By-laws and weariness of change. This, I expected.

What I did not expect was a debate between very legitimate perspectives on the legislation to become so seriously contested that neither side could come to terms with the other. On one side, a fear that giving a vote to a position held by someone who I hired unilaterally went against our directive as a democratically elected body, and on the other side an urgency to bring issues of diversity and inclusion to the forefront at a critical time for ASWC, for our college, and for our country.

The issue at hand then was not if the position should have a vote, but how, and it is in this debate that an unwillingness to recognize each other arose. In this conversation we lost what we agreed on, that the position should have a vote, and instead became caught up in details on which we were divided. These details are the stuff of politics, to parse out and deliberate and pull apart has always been our process and I am not particularly interested in changing that. However, in this debate senators struggled to speak to constituent opinions, doubted their own ability to represent, and found there wasn’t a common idea of what ASWC stands for. Members of Senate left that room believing that those who did not vote with them were not just people who held different beliefs, they left the room thinking they were wrong. The optics are bad here, with half of the Senate believing their peers don’t care enough about diversity and inclusion, and the other half concerned their colleagues don’t care enough about process, democracy and fairness. People left this Senate uncertain of how to move forward.

However, we will move forward. We will pursue alternative legislative routes to give the Diversity and Inclusion Director a vote and to bolster the position. We will argue until we can agree on what it means to be a senator. We will rewrite bad By-laws. We will not simply complain about faulty systems, we will fix them.