Student Senate debated for an hour and 15 minutes on whether or not the UNITY Roundtable should be able to appoint a senator.
The UNITY Roundtable is a collaboration of student leaders from advocacy, religious and multicultural organizations that aims to improve inclusion opportunities through open dialogues and programs at Drake University.
The roundtable was not informed of the decision to change the Equity and Inclusion Senators to two at-Large positions.
In the past, one diversity interest senator was elected by an at-large position, and the other diversity interest senator was appointed by members of UNITY Roundtable.
The appointed Equity and Inclusion Senator would be the only senator appointed by a group rather than elected from an at-large election.
Changing the name from Diversity Interest Senator to Equity and Inclusion Senator was not an issue, but the changed voting procedure was widely debated.
Kenia Calderon, one representative from UNITY Roundtable, spoke to senate about this change.
“My issue is that when it comes to voting, I don’t think our student body is voting with the mentality of, ‘I want to vote for someone that best represents La Fuerza Latina or CBS,’” Calderon said. “I feel like minorities and everyone that’s in UNITY Roundtable, that’s the attitude that we have for these positions. Even though we’re not a large group of people deciding who to have a voice around this table, it’s still extremely important that we have that power to decide who is going to work for senate.”
The small change in electing this position brought about a much bigger picture discussion on diversity, equity and inclusion at Drake University.
“I think the consensus that undoubtedly and undeniably is that UNITY Roundtable cannot lose its voice around the table under any circumstances whatsoever,” Treasurer Trevor Matusik said. “Now, the issue arises when … including the senator that is appointed by UNITY Roundtable itself goes directly against our oath in saying that we will not cater to the interests of any organization.”
President Kevin Maisto also argued for electing both senators as at-large positions but for different reasons.
“The people that were elected to the position at-large… are very passionate individuals and were dedicated to what they were doing,” Maisto said. “To say that this would be lost at an at-large position would be devaluing the previous four people that I know of.”
Sen. Russell White believes that since minorities need more of a voice on campus, electing a senator from UNITY Roundtable would be the best representation of that voice.
“These organizations represent cultural minorities, ethnic minorities and religious minorities, so considering that, it’s not just one minority issue,” White said. “(The appointment process is) giving those minorities a little extra voice to put around the table. I think that’s incredibly important if we’re going to be serious towards our commitment to diversity, inclusivity and equity.”
White also mentioned the history of the original process.
“So far, (the appointee process) seems just fine. I don’t think we should fix something that isn’t inherently broken,” White said.
Sen. Olivia O’Hea directly disagreed with White, saying that the election process is the inherent issue that needs to be changed.
“Anecdotally, I saw last year so many fantastic candidates run for diversity interest senator and wished that we had more than one position elected,” O’Hea said. “I don’t see why having two elected positions would necessarily mitigate a candidate’s commitment to this position.”
O’Hea also compared UNITY Roundtable’s appointment system to the Residence Hall Association and the Community Action Board, both of which are not allowed to have a representative on Student Senate. She said she wanted every election process to be reflective of the rest of the senate table.
Calderon spoke about the issue at hand. “I’m not even going to apologize, I’m going to make this about race,” Calderon said. “I do not think that a white student knows what I need as a Latina.”
Calderon said that she is irritated when senate refers to UNITY Roundtable as a small group of students because the members of UNITY Roundtable represent organizations with 20 or 30 more members each.
Since senate was mostly discussing the procedures of how the senator would be elected, Jackie Heymann, another representative from UNITY, suggested a compromise between senate and UNITY Roundtable.
“We can create voting procedures on how UNITY Roundtable elects the Senator … I would be happy to help out with that,” Heymann said.
Senate ultimately decided to keep the structure as it currently stands, which means electing one Equity and Inclusion Senator at- Large and appointing another Equity and Inclusion Senator from UNITY Roundtable.
Senators Matusik, Jared Freemon, O’Hea and Kerstin Donat voted against this motion.
No matter the conclusion of the decision, Associate Dean of Students Jerry Parker was pleased by the conversation around the table.
“I’m very proud to see to have been in the room tonight to observe the discussion,” Parker said. “Again, no matter where you stood on it, you guys actually spoke about something that is extremely important to this campus community.”