Jake New, Inside Higher Ed, May 3, 2016
A common complaint among minority students participating in campus protests in the past year has been a lack of representation in their student governments. Last month, students at the University of Kansas came up with a possible solution: create a separate government to represent students of color.
The move has drawn criticism from those who argue a parallel government is a form of segregation and that students would be better off seeking election to student government. The move has also drawn praise from researchers who study race on college campuses and from activists who say minority students are frequently shut out of student government.
Those behind the creation of the new Multicultural Student Government at Kansas say the change is necessary after years of neglect and discrimination. Inaction on those issues, including concerns that the government’s election code was biased against low-income students after the Senate raised the spending cap for candidates, led to an intense meeting between activists and the student government, the Student Senate, in November. The meeting ended with the Student Executive Committee asking that the senate’s president, vice president and chief of staff–who, along with most of the executive branch, are white–resign over what was seen as a lack of support for minority students.
At the same meeting, the Student Senate Rights Committee passed a resolution in support of a list of demands created by student demonstrators. That list included the creation of a parallel student government for marginalized students. The president, vice president and chief of staff later said they would not resign, releasing a statement in support of minority students.
“Black lives matter,” they wrote. “Black lives matter at the University of Kansas.”
Last month, the senate formally approved of the new Multicultural Student Government, though many details of how it will function and work in tandem with the original Student Senate are still being worked out. At the moment, the Multicultural Student Government functions ostensibly as a student club, albeit one with a far larger budget than other student organizations on campus. Its funding will come from the Student Senate’s budget.
The University Senate Code only allows for three governing bodies on campus: the Faculty Senate, the Staff Senate and the Student Senate. Altering the code to officially allow for a fourth governing body could take several semesters.