A recent post on Overheard at Carleton has roused several students, who are concerned about diversity on the CSA Senate.
The post is a screenshot of the Jan. 19 CSA Senate minutes, in which senators discuss a new survey to measure senate diversity.
Two comments are framed in the screenshot: The first speaker, Senator Luke Hellwig, thanks his colleagues for devising the survey. He says the Senate has long been dominated by white students, and it should be more diverse.
The next speaker, Senator Robert Kaylor, responds: “I believe we should represent Carleton proportionally. Carleton is predominately white. It makes sense that the Senate should be majority white.”
Students voiced their unease with Kaylor’s words on Facebook (“It is important to be proportional, but we also do not want to fall into the trap of succumbing to a majority-only senate,” Hillary Barbetta ‘15 said.) and at the Jan. 26 Senate meeting.
“These comments are very concerning,” said Tiffany Thet ‘17, who spoke during the public comment session. “It is grossly unfair that any community should be silenced because it is not represented in high numbers.”
Kaylor said the CSA minutes misstated his point. He told The Carletonian that he doesn’t think the Senate should have any particular ratio of white students, as the minutes suggest. On the contrary, he said categories like race and ethnicity are unimportant. He said the senate should be more concerned with representing a variety of values, extracurricular interests and goals for the school.
Although he voted Jan. 19 to add the new diversity survey to the CSA by laws, he’s skeptical that the survey will have much benefit.
Beginning this year, senators will take a survey every two years, and the aggregated results will be posted online. The specific questions haven’t been finalized yet, said Senator Ben Strauss ‘16, who, with Treasurer Matt Cotter, first proposed the survey last fall.
He said the survey will likely comprise 21 questions, including questions about race, gender, financial background, academic discipline and political orientation. It will also measure senators’ satisfaction with the Senate’s diversity, and how important they feel diversity is to their mission.
Strauss said the Senate has had an adversarial relationship with student cultural groups. Until it amended its bylaws last year, he said, Budget Committee often denied requests to sponsor food for cultural events, like Diwali celebrations.
He said having specific data about diversity will be valuable to students as they work toward a senate that represents all students’ interests. Specifically, he said, senators could consider diversity data while appointing students to fill vacancies, which open at least once per term.
Of Carleton’s latest batch of incoming freshmen, 23.5 percent identified themselves as people of color and 52 percent received financial aid, according the Carleton Admissions website.
Data for the CSA Senate will likely come out before eighth week this term, Strauss said.
Thet said numbers can’t tell the whole story. The Senate includes several students of color, but “whose voice is the loudest in the room?” she asked rhetorically. The number of senators of color, for instance, reveals nothing about their influence in discussions, she said.
Although senators have, in part, responded to student concerns about Kaylor’s words by blaming incomplete meeting minutes (Beginning Feb. 1, Senate meeting minutes will be reviewed by the senate before they are posted online), the Senate has also formed two working groups to focus on diversity. One is planning a town hall discussion about diversity for students. Another is planning a diversity training for senators.