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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Why I blew it

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The Carleton Student Association (CSA) Senate has a big gender problem and a big race problem. Winter Term’s CSA diversity survey indicates that the senate was about 60% male and 70% white, both overrepresented in comparison to the campus population. But even more than this, white folk (whether by identity or role in sustaining white supremacy) and men (with similar caveats) dominate the discussion and debate at CSA meetings. The fairly diverse executive board notwithstanding, white folk and men still speak out of proportion to their (over)-representation even in CSA. The dominance of men and white folk in conversations and discussions has, of course, a long history. Even to this day, from as early as primary school boys, men, and white people of all genders dominate classrooms, boardrooms, and legislatures, including our own CSA Senate.

The dominance of men and white folk in Senate first came to my attention in discussions with friends, who were angered by the continuing control of conversation exerted by a few select Senators. They felt like their input, when they gave it, was ignored or overwhelmed by the contributions of a few, and felt increasingly uncomfortable with the entitlement of the white men in Senate. Especially given the comments by a CSA senator last term, it is easy to see how the unwelcoming environment presented to women and people of color impacts the campus as a whole.

So I blew it. I took a recently acquired air horn to Senate, determined to at least call attention to the dramatic inequity on display in an average CSA meeting. I hoped to disturb the course of the meeting and the pattern of white and male dominance of student government. I determined, after some thought, to interrupt every 4th man and every 5th white person who spoke in a row, both relatively low probability events (assuming equal speaking time for all members). The blast of an air horn, I thought, might at least draw attention to the issue, and maybe, just maybe, would get some of those responsible to step back and allow others to speak.

Was it loud? Yes. Was it rude? Of course. Was it aggressive and with complete disregard for the normal process of CSA meetings? Absolutely. But more of the same has enabled the ongoing alienation and othering of women and people of color in CSA. Did it cause undue anxiety to members of CSA? From what I have seen and heard, yes, and I hope those affected will believe me when I say that I am deeply sorry. Do I still believe that the air horn was necessary? Absolutely. If two blows on the horn can bring about a real change in the white and male dominated culture of CSA, then I think we could spare the comfort and peace of mind of all involved for the hour or so at hand, (including myself as I waited for the threatened security officers to arrive). Did it decrease the participation of women and people of color in the CSA meeting? It’s possible. But given that after the horn blasts, the proportion of women and people of color who spoke increased dramatically, and noting that my presence at this one meeting could hardly discourage those who might speak at the next, it would seem that the direct impact of stress or anxiety caused by the blast was limited and, if present, acted in the desired direction.

What’s more important, however, is the role CSA should play in directing student responses to racism, sexism, and other forms of violence on campus. As the most direct voice of the student body to both the administration and faculty, CSA is uniquely positioned to effect substantial and permanent change in the policies and climate of our school. After election to office last term, Foster portrayed the CSA and its executive board as a group of progressive activists. I’ll take her word on progressive, but I, and many others, are waiting for some activism. If Foster and the other Senators are, as they said this past Moday, concerned about the dominance of men and white folk over debate and discussion in Senate, then what are they waiting for? It’s time for CSA to show some leadership on issues of social justice at Carleton, starting with the privilege on display at its own meetings.

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