Diversity Bill: ASCSU senate to allow seats for underrepresented groups

Erin Douglas

A diversity bill two and half years in the making was approved Wednesday by the Associated Students of Colorado State University as a result of a surge in student organization input and the concerns surrounding ASCSU office culture in recent months.

ASCSU senate approved the diversity bill to create nine senator seats for representatives of the Student Diversity Programs and Services offices and to allow the creation of senator seats for identities that may not have an SDPS office. Though the bill was passed, any bill that amends the ASCSU constitution requires two consecutive two-thirds votes from the ASCSU senate. The final vote on the legislation will occur March 2.

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Offices that will be allowed one senator seat and one associate senator seat:

  • Adult Learner and Veteran Services (ALVS) office
  • Asian/Pacific American Cultural Center (APACC)
  • Black/African American Cultural Center
  • El Centro
  • Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Queer Questioning & Ally (GLBTQ2A) Resource Center
  • International Programs Office
  • Native American Cultural Center (NACC)
  • Resources for Disabled Students (RDS) office
  • Women and Gender Advocacy Center (WGAC)

The bill also allows official student organizations to petition the director of diversity to create a senate seat. Eligible organizations must represent an identity that is not currently represented by the SDPS offices and must represent an identity that has been historically underrepresented. Such seats will be created by a two-thirds vote by the senate.

The amendment to allow for these open seats was a defining moment of the discussion, as many senators initially opposed Bill #4514 on the grounds that it did not account for certain underrepresented religious groups on campus.

“My concern is that (this bill) defines who gets to be at the starting point,” Senator Sarah Bruce said during the discussion on Feb. 24 before the amendment was made. “I don’t think we have a right to define who gets to be at the start.”

Around 20 representatives from SDPS offices attended senate Wednesday to advocate for the passage of the bill.

“For many of us, the Black/African American Cultural Center is a second home,” said Vance Payne, a mechanical engineering junior. “(It’s a place) where the peers in that space understand my experience, my goals and who I am. When I found out my home was not represented here, it was very concerning.”

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Kwon Atlas, an author of Bill #4514, spoke to ASCSU senate Wednesday night to advocate for the passage of the legislation. Atlas has been working to obtain a “yes” vote from senate on similar legislation since fall 2013. (Photo credit: Abbie Parr.)

The diversity bill has been proposed to every senate body since the fall of 2013 by the author, Kwon Atlas.

“There’s an atmosphere of elitism in ASCSU, that students of color and ethnicity don’t necessarily mesh well in,” Atlas said during an interview with the Collegian in December. “If the body has been historically white, the people getting recruited continue to be their friends. If they’re only working and recruiting in their limited social group, it continues to be the same representation. That’s why I think it’s important to step outside of the normal process.”

Opponents to the legislation argued that any student is eligible to go through the typical process of becoming a senator: becoming a representative for their respective college council and then being elected by that council to represent their college at ASCSU.

“What I see here tonight is a lot of people who weren’t here last week, the week before that or the last semester,” Senator Kassie Prochazka said in response to the large amount of students in the gallery. “What I see is a lot of people who are only here because they heard there was a bill about diversity. The job of a senator is not to be here when it is convenient for you. … We are here to make sure our voice is heard and represented whether it pertains to us or not. If someone isn’t willing to come here and sit through the hard nights and (is not willing to) discuss bills that won’t affect them, but will affect their peers, then they should not get the opportunity to represent those same peers.”

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Other opponents stated that creating a different process is unfair or unnecessary and initially opposed the bill when it was presented Feb. 10.

“I can’t full-heartedly get behind this based on the assumption that the group of people here (in senate) is not inclusive,” Associate Senator Landon Wright said during the first presentation of the bill on Feb. 10. “When people say they’re afraid to come here, I just don’t know why. Is it because there are white people in here? Is it because we have conversations that don’t always go the direction everyone wants? I’m not going to say I can understand everyone’s perspectives, but I think that having this option (to become a senator) is not a way to fix senate.”

During the first presentation of the bill, the authors, Kwon Atlas and ASCSU President Jason Sydoriak, argued that there are social and institutional barriers that prevent certain minorities from attaining a senate seat through the normal process.

“You’re doing great work, but the people you’re inviting (to join ASCSU) still think like you and look like you,” Atlas said during the presentation of the diversity bill on Feb. 10. “(With these seats), bills would look vastly different. We have a gap, but we can close it in the next few weeks if we get on the right side of history.”

Proponents also claimed that while one piece of legislation will not “fix senate,” the bill was a step in the right direction.

“We can always do more,” Darrie Burrage, a CSU alumnus and employee, said during gallery input on Feb 24. “When I think about the things I’ve seen on this campus regarding gender, pay equity and other issues, it’s always said that, ‘We’ll do more research.’ I call that a diversion tactic. It’s time to move. The only way to start running is to start crawling.”

Mo Wells, an ASCSU member who currently works at the front desk and previously served as the 2014-2015 director of diversity, advocated for the passage of the bill by sharing personal experiences on campus and at ASCSU.

“As an African American student, I have been harassed physically and verbally on this campus, to the extent that … I was unable to go to class,” Wells said during gallery input on Feb. 23. “When I came out as a pansexual, that harassment multiplied. I jumped at the opportunity to be the director of diversity … (but) I felt like I was fighting a constant battle in this organization. I had to talk to people in the office daily about why something hurt somebody.”

Office culture at ASCSU has become a topic of concern for the organization over the past two semesters. The senate passed sexual harassment training legislation, as well as an official mission statement, during the fall semester.

“Even at the desk now, I have individuals who only come in the office when I am there,” Wells said. “By not offering a seat at the table in this room, you are keeping very pertinent voices out of the conversation. The University is ready to make a change. So, I have one question for you all: Are you ready to jump on board?”

Sydoriak, recently announced 11 initiatives to make a “concerted effort … to change the culture within ASCSU.” Multiple senators, including Senator Kenny Hilaire, Senator Alexis Harrison and Associate Senator Zoe Austerman, stated that perception of the culture at ASCSU is dependent on individual experiences.

“Just because something isn’t your truth doesn’t mean that it isn’t someone else’s truth,” said Zoe Austerman, an associate senator. “This (legislation) sets a really important precedent both at CSU and around the nation.”

A majority of the proponents reiterated that Bill #4514 is “a start” towards improving the culture at ASCSU.

“The fact of the matter is that we need to start somewhere, and this is a beautiful start,” said Clayton King, the director of governmental affairs. “In the last two years, we could have come so far and had so many voices in this room to figure out where we should be going. But instead, we’ve been fearful. Looking back, I’m afraid of what we haven’t done.”

Burrage also urged the ASCSU senate to consider the “kind of party they are throwing.” Burrage argued that the senate must be welcoming and concerned with retention of new representatives.

“There’s a difference between policy and practice,” he said. “When you pass the bill, it’s not the end of the story. I’m really concerned about the experience (of those who) fill these (new) seats.”

Because of the amendments made Wednesday night and as a result of gallery input, the bill received a strong majority yes vote from the senate.

“I came in here and had some pretty staunch opposition to 4514,” said Taylor Bryan, an associate senator. “I work at the state legislature, and in the two years that I have worked there, I have never had an experience where I’ve walked in there, knowing what a representative’s vote is going to be, and then seen testimony change their mind. So, kudos to (the gallery input speakers) because that is exactly what you did. Tonight proved to me that the people have a problem with what is going on right now in our organization. I came in here staunch against this bill, and I’m leaving here in support of it.”

Collegian ASCSU reporter Erin Douglas can be reached at news@collegian.com or on twitter @erinmdouglas23.