Students approve diversity resolutions to administration


Sarah Muller/Iowa State Daily

Curtis Richards, junior in electrical engineering, represents Frederiksen Court and transfer students as he is sworn into his new position as a senator. 

Michaela Ramm

Senators in Student Government have approved a list of initiatives to be sent to administration at Iowa State University to continue the conversation to improve the experience multicultural students have on campus

Student Government Senate voted unanimously to pass a bill to send initial recommendations to university administrators for initiatives regarding diversity on campus.

The bill was sent to the Senate floor after concern for the safety and well-being of multicultural students, faculty and staff at Iowa State were brought forward on campus. Discussions have also taken place on campus, including an open forum that took place between university administration and multicultural student who lead Students Against Bigotry on Sept. 30.

In the Senate bill, the list of the suggested initiatives for administration to make include: the creation of a multicultural Safe Zone Program for faculty, staff, graduate assistants and student leaders; addition of a multicultural liaison officer and sensitivity training for Iowa State Police officers; the addition of a diversity awareness course for incoming students similar to that of the Title IX and AlcoholEDU training; the improvement of existing cultural centers and consider the needs for others based on student feedback; and the establishment of multicultural based, non-residential, learning communities in each college and provide the sufficient resources for each community.

According to the senate bill, this is not a finite set of solutions, but rather a starting point.

Some specific items of the resolution were focused on during the debate, including the addition of a diversity awareness course for all students. This would affect all incoming students, including freshmen, transfers and graduate students.

On the open forum that took place on Sept. 30, Vice Speaker of the Senate Michael Snook said it was very eye opening for a lot of students.

“A diversity awareness course would help students be more conscious of their words and actions,” Snook said.

Sen. Robert Dunn proposed an amendment to the bill that would make the implementation of the course voluntary for students. This amendment failed 37 to 4 after a vote from the Senate.

Sen. Meredith Cook said she understood that time for college students was very precious, but the training needed to be mandatory because students would not take it otherwise.

Dunn argued that if senators are serious about having something about diversity, they need to do something else other than a mandatory course.

“That’s why we think it should be voluntary and that we should highly encourage students to learn,” he said. “If you want people to understand where you are coming from, you can’t force them to do it.”

Some senators argued that students would not pay attention to the online course, much like many other students do not absorb a lot from the other online training courses incoming students are required to take.

Sen. Conner Tillo said if the training gets through even to one person, then he felt like this will be a success.

An amendment was also proposed that changed the resolution so it did not specify that the course was taken online. This passed unanimously from the Senate.

On the bill as a whole, several senators pointed out that Student Government was not making the decision on these solution, but rather offering suggestions.

President Dan Breitbarth said the resolutions are not perfect solutions, but will spur conversation and positive change.

Several gallery members spoke at the meeting and expressed their opinion of the bill.

Gallery member Nigel Hanson, president of the ISU College Republicans, said he believed this bill was a sham and would not prevent bad people from doing bad things.

“This is something we can pat ourselves on the back and say we’ve done a good thing,” Hanson said. “This bill will not fix any real issues.”

Hanson critique several items of the resolution, including the addition of a multicultural liaison officer for ISU Police Department. He said this would only tie the hands of police officers and prevent them from doing their jobs.

Hanson also said multicultural centers only serve as a way to separate students from one another and that they should work to bring them together.

The discussion on the bill from the senate also talked about diversity as a whole, and the importance of diversity inclusiveness for everyone at Iowa State.

Sen. Robert Dunn said he was against the bill because he believes the conversations on diversity is to make white students feel good about themselves. He continued that the issue of diversity is something they cannot come to a solution.

“On principle I stand against diversity because it is a crux and it is whitewashing the real issues,” Dunn said. “I do not support forcing people to accept one another. I think it needs to come naturally.”

Sen. George Weston pointed out that historically, change hasn’t happened naturally and was caused by action.

“I think it just needs more promotion,” Weston said.

Bryony Lovatt, co-director of student affairs, said that the bill was about each individual person.

“We need to raise awareness about each individual’s experience and we need to help each individual person feel like they are welcome here,” Lovatt said.

Sen. Jacob Zirkelbach said he would often walked away after being exposed to something different thinking ‘huh, I never thought about that.’

“A lot of the problems created from just a lack of knowledge,” Zirkelbach said. “This resolution is creating a way to spread that knowledge.”

Sen. Maria Archevald said multicultural awareness is not something someone believe in, it’s something that happens at Iowa State and after a student graduates and will follow them wherever they go.

Archevald said the conversation is necessary because people feel at risk and don’t feel safe on campus. 

“I’m very sure this will not solve the problem, but this is a start and it’s a step in the right direction,” Archevald said.

Some senators pointed out that their student constituency included a majority of students from predominately white, rural backgrounds and had not had any experience with racial diversity.

Abijit Patwa, gallery member, said as an international student, coming to Iowa State was his first time experiencing something outside of his all Indian high school.

Patwa said there is many types of diversity, such as diversity of opinion or diversity in untraditional students. He said even having a conversation about baseball with one of the senators is diversity.

Several senators shared their own personal stories of experiencing diversity. They said they grew up and attended school with a predominately white population, and only came to learn more about those from a multicultural background after they came to Iowa State.

Everyone has their own personal experience, Sen. Steven Valentino, and each one of these things allows everyone to engage and learn more.

Sen. Elizabeth Chitty said she believed it was great senators talked about their own personal experiences. However, she said, it was important senators remember that they are not there for themselves, but for the students they represent.

“My constituents were in full support of this bill, so that’s how I voted,” she said.

After the vote from the senate, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Martino Harmon, who was present during the whole debate, said he appreciated the discussion the senators had.

“I don’t think anything is perfect, but I think you’ve made a statement that Student Government is in support for reform,” Harmon said. “Whether you agree or not, you’ve given administration the support to make resolutions.”