The Augustana Student Association (ASA) approved a dedicated Diversity Committee at its Feb. 24 meeting, taking a step toward inclusion.
At the meeting, senators Tsegab Arega and Mekhi Moore introduced the Diversity Committee amendment, which created a sixth ASA committee devoted to diversity, equity and inclusion both on ASA and across campus. The amendment passed 25-to-1 with two abstentions.
According to Arega, the one of the main purposes of the committee will be to provide a safe place for systemically non-dominant students on campus to have their voices heard, which she said has been a large issue in the past.
“Students, especially those that are systemically non-dominant, their issues have not been prioritized,” Arega said. “[Now] we’re going to have senators with those kinds of experiences really changing the perception of the campus and ensuring that those who are voiceless have voices and those without power have power.”
Another purpose of the committee will be to educate the Augustana community about diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as the issues systemically non-dominant students face.
“I see the Diversity Committee as a teaching committee,” Moore said. “It’s going to be a lot different than the other committees where they have specific jobs to get done.”
Arega and Moore said this committee is a next step in making ASA an inclusive organization that prioritizes diversity and equity, referring to the Affinity Senators amendment that passed last year, which guarantees systemically non-dominant student organizations seats in ASA.
Both Arega and Moore said that there’s still work to be done and that ASA needs to keep improving to be a diverse and inclusive organization. They said they’ll continue working towards progress.
“I think we’re not there yet,” Arega said. “Equity is not served until everybody’s equal, so we’re willing to change that narrative.”
Willette Capers, the assistant dean of students for diversity, equity and inclusion who was the guest speaker at the Feb. 24 meeting, also said that ASA needs to keep improving.
“We can all do better, and we all play a role. But how do we do it together?” Capers said in an interview after the meeting.
Capers also said she hopes this amendment will “get students to understand that they play probably the most crucial role in creating [an] inclusive environment.”
While nearly the entire senate voted in favor of the committee, multiple senators brought up concerns and questions regarding the content of the amendment. One of the main concerns was how encompassing the definition of systemic non-dominance was.
The amendment defines systemically non-dominant as students who are “Black, African American, Asian, Indigenous, Indian, Hispanic, Latino, and LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, two spirits and more+), and those with disabilities.”
During the discussion of the amendment, senator Fahd Nazir mentioned that the definition does not include any mention of religion. He said he was worried that not having religions covered in the definition would restrict some people from being appointed roles in the committee, as the amendment says the chairperson must be “systemically non-dominant and/or an international senator.”
As a result of Nazir’s concerns, definitions in the amendment were changed to include people of “minority religious groups.”
Moore said that while working on the amendment, defining these terms was one of the hardest parts of the process. Both he and Arega said they wanted the definitions to “represent the campus” and mentioned that they got help from many other senators, as well Augustana staff and faculty, to do so.
In response to the questions and concerns raised during the meeting, Moore also said afterwards that, although the topics were hard to talk about for some, they needed to be addressed.
“It was constructive dialogue. It was uncomfortable dialogue, I like to call it,” Moore said. “Some [senators] were uncomfortable with talking about diversity, which we completely understand. […] That’s something that we’re open minded for.”
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