A proposal to create a racialized student representative (RSR) on UMSU council has been deferred for the time being.
The deferral was the result of a motion passed at an UMSU council meeting on April 21 to defer discussions of the creation of the new community rep.
UMSU president Camilla Tapp explained the deferral was primarily because the policy & bylaws committee did not have enough time to thoroughly review it, but also because of the “unwarranted controversy” surrounding the proposal.
Tapp said it was ultimately up to the policy & bylaws committee to decide if the RSR position would be created. The UMSU executive has not taken a formal position on the proposal, but they support expanding representation on council.
This year the UMSU policy & bylaws committee will review the proposal again. UMSU will also create a program of membership education on issues of racism and racialization.
The creation of the racialized student representative was originally proposed by Sean Gee, a student in the faculty of arts, in March. Gee said he was in favour of the deferral and felt it “should not substantially harm students in any way.”
Gee felt there were many misconceptions regarding the creation of the position and that the deferral would allow time to educate students on the idea. While Gee said he wanted the proposal to raise debate, he also said the reason the debates became so complicated was due to a lack of awareness of the details of what the position would offer the university community.
How to define a racialized person was a significant question when the proposal was first publicized. Gee defined it as “the arbitrary categorization of a person into a non-dominant group by physiological features.”
A second issue was how to successfully represent the students of such a large category with one representative.
“One person cannot perfectly represent such a broad community, but having one representative is better than none,” Gee said.
Students the Manitoban spoke with had mixed reactions to the idea for the new UMSU council seat.
Peter Mueller, a second-year law student, felt that the creation of the racialized community rep was, overall, a positive one.
“The issue of overt and systematic racism is important enough to warrant a voice for those students who identify themselves as racialized,” he said.
Mueller also said that “unequal treatment on the basis of race” is a common concern among racialized students and should be enough to entitle them to representation.
“UMSU should pursue adopting a racialized student representative despite any perceived logistical issues,” said Mueller.
Third-year law student Andrew Sain applauded the idea, but felt it “could be a potential minefield.”
Sain said this position could provide an opportunity for a variety of under-represented groups to bring their concerns to council, but he also questioned the position’s effectiveness in representing the interests of a large group of students from different cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds.
“I think that a ‘visual minority’ representative [ . . . ] would represent such a large and diverse group of students that they could not adequately speak with one voice for all of them,” Sain said.
UMSU is hoping to be able to make a decision on the RSR proposal before the 2012 UMSU elections.