BREAKING: Senate votes unanimously to keep diversity coordinator position

Last week, SGA proposed cutting the position to save money. At this week's meeting, dozens of students and faculty showed up to protest.

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Photo Courtesy of Biola University

Lacey Patrick, Ashley Grams, and Micah Kim

This article was updated on Feb. 27 at 6:16 p.m. with coverage from the senate meeting. 

The senate voted unanimously to deny the proposal to cut the diversity coordinator position. The diversity coordinator position will remain. 

DIVERSITY MATTERS PROTEST

Students stood in the hallways outside the senate meeting holding “Diversity Matters” signs. Once Vice President Seth Gladysz announced the meeting was public, around 40 protesters and students crammed inside the office to witness deliberation.

“We were able to rally up some students who really care about this to come in and stand and hold up the diversity matters sign because we wanted to let SGA know that we’re serious about this,” said junior psychology major Kinsey Makkar. “People need to be represented of all races of all ability or disability and everything that goes along with that.”

President Renee Waller said SGA desires to support all students, and this is one of the ways SGA will be able to do so, as it puts more money in their budget to support student proposals. 

Waller also stated that this proposal has been encouraged by students and administration, and would later be followed by other budget cuts. 

Since Waller proposed the cut, she was asked to leave the room during deliberation. Current SGA diversity coordinator Loraine Ho was also asked to leave the meeting.

Thomas Burgess, vice president of finance, IT and HR, said this cut would add $2,000 to the budget each semester. However, Stewart senator Nathan Jensen questioned whether this position is more important than an extra $2,000. 

COMMUNITY INPUT

Protesters at the meeting then shared their thoughts on the issue. 

Senior political science major Jasmine Teeny believes the decision to cut the diversity coordinator will ultimately rupture the trust between students and SGA. 

Associate Professor of Anthropology Kevin Pittle expressed his concern over the removal of this position, in light of the swastika incident in 2016. He encouraged senators to invite others to help brainstorm a solution, connect with faculty and try to fund the position with the help of grants. 

“As a faculty member of Jewish heritage, I am deeply concerned that a move to remove this position—which was created in response to the swastika incident of 2016—could be seen by the wider Jewish community as a form of symbolic violence towards the Jewish community,” Pittle said. “So it was important for me to be present to let the SGA know that there might be unintended consequences that they might not be considering at this time.”

Hart senator Jesse Creasman argued that this is the most applied-for position in SGA. He questioned if there is a way to fundraise for this position.

Burgess argued that this situation is not “money versus diversity.” Last semester, according to Burgess, $5,000 was given to the SCORR conference. He said $5,000 is more than will be in contingency two years from now. He also explained that SGA’s budget is public, and funding SEID and SCORR took priority over this position. 

SEID intern Elisa Sanchez said that the diversity coordinator advocates for clubs like SEID. She also said that students are having to run to anonymous social media pages like @biiola_tea to feel heard.

Sophomore kinesiology major and Black Student Association executive board member John Butler explained that this discussion, no matter the outcome, should not feel like a win or defeat. Instead, he said students should be ready to act and try to be a part of this discussion. 

“I think it was a very successful meeting and we were able to voice our opinion freely,” Makkar said. “[We] didn’t feel pressured at all because, the position that we debated on keeping, she left the room and then the president who posed the questions of whether we should keep it left the room, so I felt very free.”

VOTING RUNDOWN

Everyone except for senators, an SGA office assistant and a Chimes reporter were asked to leave the room while voting commenced.

After the others had left the room, Horton Hall senator Keren Godwin said she had previously spoken with Tamra Malone, Biola’s chief of diversity about the proposal. According to Godwin, Malone believes this proposal works against the message SGA wants to send out, as “actions speak louder than words.” She proposed to find a task force to aid in finding a different solution.

The senate voted unanimously to keep the position and are continuing to brainstorm another solution. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful conversation of people that care deeply about a topic,” said Student Missionary Union Short Term Missions Director and business major Colton Stoody. “As I was in the conversation, I was thinking, ‘This needs to continue.’ At the end I was saying, I just have this image of a round table conversation continuing to happen.”

This segment was originally posted before the senate vote, on Feb. 27 at 3:58 p.m.

SGA STATEMENT

This morning, president Renee Waller of the Student Government Association posted a statement on its Instagram page about the proposal of cutting the diversity coordinator position that was proposed at last week’s senate meeting.

The statement comes shortly after a petition opposing the cut, which was posted yesterday on the Black Student Association’s Instagram page, with 655 signatures as of this afternoon.

The proposal will be voted on at SGA’s senate meeting today, which began at 3 p.m. Students are invited to attend and voice their opinions.

PETITIONING

The diversity coordinator is the assistant to the vice president of diversity and inclusion. This role is also responsible for ministering to underrepresented individuals and researching underserved communities, including: First Gen students, students with disabilities, students with food insecurity, student veterans, students with dependents, students with mental illnesses, Catholic students and student athletes, as listed on the petition. 

“A lack of devoted institutional space for these groups puts these students at risk of continued marginalization,” the petition stated.

THE STATEMENT IN BRIEF

SGA is currently undergoing a financial crisis due to low enrollment, a low contingency and increasing minimum wage, making it difficult to fund Global Student Programs & Development and Student Enrichment and Intercultural Development. The budget cuts, according to SGA’s statement, are necessary to fund these programs.

Waller argued in the statement that the cut adheres to requests made by underrepresented students. She states that the cut will enable SGA to provide more direct funding and give students more representation in the Marketing & Communications team.  

If the proposal to cut this position passes, senators would take the responsibilities of this position, Waller said at last week’s senate meeting and reiterated in her statement. The statement argues that the senators could add more passion, investment and a variety of voices. 

“I have faith with the proper structure [senators] would do this well, and in fact, add more variety and diversity to our inclusive efforts as a team,” Waller said in an email to the Chimes.

In addition, Waller suggested that an intern could take the responsibilities currently held by the coordinator. 

SGA’s current diversity coordinator Loraine Ho said she opposes the cut.

“While I personally would love the Senators to assume more responsibility in the work of diversity and inclusion, I also understand that that is not entirely realistic,” Ho said in an email. “Senators are already pressed for time, so asking them to add more responsibilities to their plate would be a challenge. Additionally, it’s unrealistic to expect Senators to come into the role caring deeply for the work of Diversity and Inclusion the way that the Coordinator does.”

THE PURPOSE OF THE DIVERSITY COORDINATOR

According to Ho, the position was created after a swastika was found on a whiteboard in Blackstone Hall in 2016.

“These heightened racial tensions still exist, evidenced by the email sent out last week by Tamra Malone and Sandy Hough,” Ho said, referring to an email from the university addressing recent racist vandalism in Horton Hall. “This position was created not simply because we had the money to do so, but because there was, and still is, an active need for student voices, specifically voices of color, to be heard in our student government.”

Waller said in an email to the Chimes that SGA denounces the racial slur incident and that the timing of the proposal was “unfortunate but merely coincidental.” She said the proposal had been delayed to gather information and deliberate before making the decision.

Waller ended her statement by urging students and senators to seek the truth about the entirety of the situation and make decisions based on the information they have. 

In an email to the Chimes, Caleb Strauss, SGA’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, said he believes the cut will result in a “loss of synergy and diversity in a department that requires a diversity of perspectives” and a “loss of a position dedicated to the student focus of diversity and inclusion.”

“There do need to be difficult budgetary decisions made, however, budgeting decisions do reveal people’s priorities,” Strauss said.

 

Editor’s note: This article was edited on Feb. 28 at 12:07 p.m. to clarify and correct Burgess’s comments on the potential savings and SGA’s contingency.

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