Referendum 3 and Referendum 4 are about more than just community representation. In fact, I would argue that they are less about community representation and more about how we operate and function as a Tufts community. We are re−evaluating how we elect community representative positions with two proposals which seek to enhance the influence of these individuals. We are seeking to bring more legitimacy to this position on the Tufts Community Union Senate, because frankly, it is necessary.
So why is one better than the other? I believe that the answer to that question is found in the ever−present inquiry, “Why do we need them in the first place?”
Unfortunately, the answer to the aforementioned question about necessity is not one that we like to deal with at Tufts. Fruitful conversations about racial progress, inclusion and functional diversity are often discredited as superfluous. Despite our ability as students to grapple with complicated texts, speak fluently in an academic setting and stretch our understanding in seemingly limitless ways, it seems that the issues of race and representation have this student body conspicuously confused and paralyzed. We would rather make fun of our seemingly annual, large−scale reported bias incidents and ignore the ones that go unreported than engage with them. Those who promote a meaningful conversation about race and representation on this campus are often typecast as oversensitive or misguided.
This brings us to our referenda, which, in my opinion, once again are more about community than community representation. I hope everyone will choose to cast a vote and, in doing so, think about the community that we wish to create. In Referendum 4, community representatives are not voted onto the Senate by the entire campus, nor are they allowed to vote on fiscal matters. In Referendum 3, community representatives are voted onto the Senate by the entire campus and have fiscal voting powers. On a campus that has already identified these positions as essential to a functioning Senate, why would we then turn around and stifle their ability to contribute? Why, when we have a chance to provide underrepresented communities on campus with a voice on the Senate, should we force them to have a lesser role than any other senator?
I have heard the argument from proponents of Referendum 4 that it would be a conflict of interest if a community representative voted to fund an initiative that directly affects his or her community. This argument unfortunately implies that a community representative would somehow have less capacity to be objective than any other heavily involved student on campus.
I have heard the argument that minority students would have “extra” representation on the Senate if Referendum 3 passes. For those who have those concerns, I would ask that they first look at empirical data based on Senate demographics for the last (insert number here) years.
My favorite argument against Referendum 3 is: “Look at the Senate now — it’s diverse!” My response to that is: Good, let’s keep it that way. Let’s foster a community in which minority voices are not only accepted, but also encouraged. Let’s support the existence of a community that would rather have a surplus of racial and cultural dialogue than none at all.
When it comes down to it, there are students on this campus who walk into classrooms every day and feel that they stand alone as the sole member of a minority group, or that they are only one of few with whom they can share an identity. Those students are often asked to speak on behalf of their entire minority group and are expected to function as an isolated body in those settings. Then, when they leave their classrooms, they are told that they are self−segregating if, at the lunch table, they choose to sit with those who share their identity. And if that weren’t enough pressure, they are told that they are too sensitive if they choose to speak up about their lack of representation on campus.
The conversation around Referenda 4 and 3 is about community and not community representation. We have the opportunity to create an environment in which everybody has somebody to represent him or her and no voice goes unheard. Today, we have the unique opportunity to vote for a community in which all voices on the Senate are equally important. We have the capacity to send a message that we value our community representatives. While Referendum 3 does not solve all of the representation issues that we have at Tufts, it does start the conversation and moves us one step closer to achieving the functional diversity we all believe we can attain on this campus.
Matthew Kincaid is a senior majoring in American studies.