Op-ed: In the spring election, tell SU to value diversity and inclusion

Kirk Linam | Class of 2022

This past weekend, our Student Union met to allocate roughly $3.6 million—a culmination of every undergraduate student’s $542 activities fee. Most students, including me, were unaware of this event. Luckily, SU livestreamed and publicly released the entire discussion. So, when a friend told me about a specific part, a 50-minute segment where senators and Treasury representatives discussed a $4,000 allocation to the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), I took a look.

What I found shocked me. I expected to see Treasury representatives and senators alike agree that this $4,000 fund (officially called the Affinity Group Event Fund) was a valuable resource to our students. I expected to see excitement that the fund would give any student group an opportunity to program for more diversity and inclusion events. I expected to see confidence in the CDI, especially in light of the reported success of last year’s version of the same fund.

Instead, I saw numerous Treasury representatives question why a fund like this should even exist. According to them, diversity and inclusion initiatives are funded adequately under Treasury’s purview. Why should diversity and inclusion groups all of a sudden get too greedy and request more funds? Not only more funds, but funds outside the purview of Treasury? You know, the governing body whose last election cycle witnessed 10 uncontested candidates automatically take office.

According to some Treasury representatives, this fund would discriminate against groups that are not focused on diversity and inclusion. (Yes, the word “discrimination” was used multiple times to characterize diversity and inclusion groups receiving an advantage over sporting and other activity groups.) I consider this rather ironic, especially since diversity and inclusion groups are granted 10 percent less of what they ask for in budget appeals compared to sporting groups. And let’s not forget that this fund was proposed to be open to all student groups.

As a member of Teaching Racial Understanding Through Honesty (T.R.U.T.H.), a diversity and inclusion group, I understand how tough it can be to get adequate funds through Treasury for the events we would like to hold. We are fortunate to have institutions like the CDI provide us with those funds. Because they aren’t just beneficial to our group, they also work to provide Washington University with a greater sense of social justice and inclusion.

Putting this all into context, I am well aware that $4,000 may seem like insignificant amount of money to write an entire op-ed about. But SU elected officers spent an entire 50 minutes on this line item. When the session finally progressed to other funding topics, like the Social Programming Board, some of these same Treasury representatives applauded its work, noting its contribution to “morale” and looking favorably upon its $650,000+ budget proposal. Shouldn’t it be concerning that Treasury representatives initially refused to budge in allocating a diversity and inclusion fund making up about 0.1 percent of the general budget?

Let me be clear. I am in no way suggesting that any individual Treasury representative does not value diversity or inclusion. I am confident that our representatives aim to make the best use of our student activities fee. Treasury representatives are under constant pressure by many student groups, and they cannot satisfy everyone; there is a limited amount of funding. But at the same time, I refuse to ignore the unnecessary and frivolous debate over whether to prioritize such an important initiative.

I also want to mention that, for the record, the CDI was ultimately allocated the $4,000. But this was only after a series of tied votes and a failed first proposal of the general budget.

While the last Treasury election was uncontested, this next one is not. Many of these Treasury representatives are up for re-election. So, vote. Tuesday, March 5. And vote intentionally. Don’t just approve all incumbent candidates.

I know that a lot of my statements may be controversial, so watch the general budget session yourself here. The discussion of CDI’s Affinity Group Event Fund starts at 1:06:00.

In addition, the candidate forum is on Sunday, March 3. I encourage you to come and ask questions. It is past time to start holding our elected officers accountable.

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