CSA Board Seats - Let's set the record straight
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Local Affairs Commissioner, Erika Gates-Gasse
At last fall's AGM, November 23, the first by-law that came up for discussion (By-law 1) grants the Women's Resource Centre (WRC), the Aboriginal Student Association (ASA), the International Student Organization (ISO), the CJ Munford Centre, and Guelph Queer Equality (GQE) each the right to appoint an individual to the CSA Board of Directors to represent their organization. This by-law, which has stood for two years without quarrel, quickly became the subject of heated discussion.
The arguments presented here do not address why these seats are important to the CSA Board (check out Alya Saab's opinion piece in the first December issue of the Ontarion for a great argument). Instead I would like to address some of the misconceptions that are circulating about them.
"The minority will dominate the majority!"
This concern makes a good sound byte, but isn't based in reality. First of all, one of the seats in question represents a majority group on campus - women. These seats are for marginalized groups, not minorities. Second, we're talking about 5 seats out of 33 - hardly enough to rule the Board with an iron fist.
Moreover, this objection ignores the context of the rest of the Board. There are 3 seats per college, regardless of how many students belong to it. For example, while CSAHS represents over 38% of the student population, OAC only represents 9%. Yet they both have 3 seats, to ensure that they both have an equal voice. This is a good thing. If concern with giving special rights to 'minorities' is a factor in the decision on the marginalized group seats, then the entire Board structure should be revisited. If not, this is a discriminatory argument.,
"The seats are appointed - they should be elected."
Concern was raised that representatives to these seats are appointed and thus unaccountable to their constituents. Hence, they should be elected "like all the other seats on the board". However, this fails to take into account that not all seats on the board are elected.
The CSA Board of Directors has 33 members. There are 3 seats per college, 1 of which is appointed by the college government, making for 6 appointees whose presence on the Board generates zero controversy. There are also organizational seats which are appointed by Student Senate Caucus, Guelph Campus Co-op, Interhall Council, OPIRG-Guelph, and the Board of Governors (BoG). Thus, out of 33 seats, 17 are elected and 16 are appointed. And to boot, at-large college seats not filled by election can be filled with college appointees. This happens every year. When it comes down to it, unless one takes issue with all appointed seats, it is discriminatory to take issue only with the 'marginalized groups' seats.
In response to the 'appointed-elected' controversy, some students took the position that these marginalized group seats should be elected by the whole student body. This doesn't make any sense. If these seats are voted on by the whole student body, then all students should vote on who represents the College of Biological Science, for example. The point of the CSA Board of Directors is to represent student interests through representation chosen by those groups. The people who represent you should have experienced the issues you deal with as a member of a group - college or otherwise.
Ultimately, if you take the time to talk with all the appointed representatives, you'll find that almost every one of them had to run for their seat within their organization. For example, the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences Student Alliance currently has 3 students vying for that college's appointed seat. The collective members of the WRC came to a consensus on choosing 2 representatives that share that group's vote. The student who received the most votes for the 2 BoG student seats was appointed to that group's seat on the CSA Board. In reality, appointed reps are democratically chosen. Furthermore, the appointed board reps are accountable to the organizations they represent and report to them regularly. They can be easily de-appointed for failing to carry out their duties. In my experience, appointed board reps have more direct contact with their constituents than some at-large reps.
"When does it stop?!"
Another concern took the form of a slippery slope argument - "if we allow these 4 seats, why not create a seat for the Jewish Student Organization? Or the Indian Student Association? Where do we draw the line?"
The proposal to create the 5 seats was based on CSA policy, which contains a section listing the Rights of Students. This is a policy which echoes the Canadian Federation of Students, our national student union. Within this policy, the Rights of the Woman Student, Students of Colour, Queer Students, International Students, and Aboriginal Students are specifically listed. The only group included in this list that does not have representation on the Board is Students with Disabilities. So based on the rationale behind the by-law, that's where the line is drawn.
But most importantly, we should not let the slippery slope argument influence our opinion. The question of whether or not more appointed seats may be proposed in the future should be dealt with at that time - there's no point in indulging in conjecture. Our opinions should be shaped by the issues here and now - will these seats benefit the Board and the students it represents? Will they help the Board of Directors, and thus the CSA as a whole, better fulfill its mandate as set out in our policies?
I say yes, loudly and insistently. While other initiatives meant to challenge systemic racism and oppression, such as leadership programs for marginalized groups, are a step in the right direction, they are not enough on their own. The 5 organizations that represent these marginalized seats act as resource and support centres for members of their communities, and are thus in a unique position to help ensure that the CSA adequately addresses the issues that many members of these groups face. I know that i want to live in a community that seriously challenges the racism and oppression that continues to exist. What kind of community do you want?
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