USG debates scrapping Diversity and Inclusion Committee

Shreyas Banerjee, Executive Editor

The main job of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) of Case Western Reserve University is to represent the interests of the student body to the administration. To address the various needs of CWRU students, much of USG’s work is broken down into different committees, all with different focuses and all headed by different vice presidents. Currently, the committees consist of Finance, Academic Affairs, Student Life, Communications and Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). However, if proposed amendments to the USG constitution go into effect, the D&I Committee may no longer exist.

Currently the D&I Committee exists to seek, advocate for and resolve concerns of marginalized students and promote an inclusive campus. The D&I Committee works closely with the administration, campus offices and student organizations to ensure these values remain steadfast within our community. The committee is headed by the Vice President of D&I who is responsible for pursuing this advocacy and facilitating the collaboration between all aforementioned entities. The VP’s role centers around gathering feedback from the student body and pursuing advocacy as it relates to this feedback. Currently the position is unfilled, with elections happening at the next General Assembly.

This all sounds good on paper, but the D&I committee has historically been understaffed. Since participation in specific committees is voluntary for USG representatives, representatives often drop out mid-semester to switch to other committees. This often leads to the VP of D&I being overworked and unable to effectively complete the tasks that the university requires of the committee. USG President Ananya Hari contends that in order to truly promote these values, D&I’s organizational structure must be overhauled. Instead of having a single committee focusing on the needs of disempowered and vulnerable student groups, she feels that every committee should be trying to promote these needs.

“[D&I is] not isolated to one sector of campus,” Hari says. She then went on to say that while other committees have specific focuses, such as the Academic Affairs committee only dealing with issues in the academic sphere, “D&I affects every aspect of campus … It is impossible for one person to be well connected enough to handle all the issues that fall under D&I.”

“I want to ensure that all D&I issues are being handled with the utmost efficiency by maximizing USG involvement. I think each VP should be responsible for promoting D&I initiatives in their own sphere of influence. A VP of Student Life is better connected with the administration to handle D&I initiatives that fall under the student life domain. A VP of Academic Affairs is better connected with the administration to handle D&I initiatives that fall under the academic sphere. A VP of Finance should be responsible for ensuring that clubs are promoting D&I.”

To this end, the USG constitution will also be amended to say that “The standing committees of [t]he Undergraduate Student [G]overnment shall actively promote the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion at all times.” The new amendments also ensure that new clubs being recognized by the USG abide by the newly added “non-discrimination, diversity, equity, and inclusion clause.”

Hari pointed out several examples of how other committees are better equipped to handle issues of D&I within their fields, citing how D&I initiatives such as Swipe Out of Hunger, which allows undergraduate students to donate meal swipes to food insecure students, and the Physical Resource Center, which offers students free clothes, kitchenware, supplies and food, both involved the Student Life Committee. Having previously been VP of Student Life, Hari states that since she was better connected to certain areas of campus compared to those on the D&I Committee, those initiatives were able to be pushed forward more successfully.

To ensure that the remaining committees truly commit to D&I values, the constitutional amendments also propose creating the new position of Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Officer. This position would have the responsibility of “ensuring that the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion are upheld in every facet of the USG and CWRU community.” 

“The position is the same [as VP of D&I] without the burden of having to lead a committee,” Hari says. She states that the new Chief DEI Officer would also have the ability to call on other VPs to focus on D&I issues. They can still create a temporary issue-related committee to target particular issues if needed. The intention, however, is that by freeing the officer from the responsibility of leading a committee at all times, the officer will have the time to go to other committee meetings to discuss D&I issues in their particular sphere.

“I hope this gives the position the flexibility and time required to better pursue initiatives that fall under this sphere,” Hari says. “By decentralizing these issues from just one committee to every committee, we hope for it to be something every committee is thinking about.”

While there is internal debate in USG around scrapping the committee, specifically surrounding the optics of carrying out this plan, former VPs of D&I Ussaid Ishaq and Jennifer Ngo have both come out in favor of the change. Once the new VP of D&I is elected, they will also have a say as to whether these changes should come about.

To be enacted, the USG General Assembly will have to agree to the proposed changes, and then it will go into a full student body referendum, though the timeline for when this might happen is not clear. 

“One thing we know for sure is that the D&I position as it is now is not optimized and it is our responsibility to address this issue,” Hari says. “The D&I position should not be about optics, but rather how it can actually help people.”