Forum form mirrors campus

JP Leider

AEditor’s note: This article is the last of a three-part series that looks at issues affecting student government. Today’s article examines racial and sex diversity in MSA.

1t the highest levels of government, elected and appointed officials are challenged to represent viewpoints and backgrounds different from their own.

On a campus of almost 29,000 undergraduates of many backgrounds and ideologies, representatives in the Minnesota Student Association regularly face the same challenge.

According to fall semester’s undergraduate enrollment statistics and the results of a Daily survey, MSA’s racial makeup closely resembles that of the undergraduate student body.

In the survey, compiled earlier this month, 47 of MSA’s 53 active members at the time responded to questions about their age, sex and race.

Despite other groups having roughly proportional membership in MSA, no representative identified himself or herself as Latino or Chicano. Two percent of the undergraduate population identifies themselves as Chicano or Latino.

Juan Rangel, treasurer of La Raza Student Cultural Center, said the survey seems to reinforce old stereotypes.

Rangel said that doesn’t hold true on campus.

“We find that we have more a direct relationship with the community ‘ (we are) tutoring in local schools and putting on events on campus. We haven’t really thought about MSA,” he said.

Rangel said that even if there were a sense of solidarity among nonwhite people, they still would be a significant minority in MSA.

There is a natural tendency for student government to voice the concerns of a majority of people, he said.

“And if you look like at the majority of the population on campus, it doesn’t look like La Raza,” he said. “For that reason, it’s easier for us to go out and do our own projects. But we would like to have a closer relationship with MSA.”

Student groups with at least 50 undergraduate members are able to petition for Forum representation.

MSA President Emily Serafy Cox said Forum should reflect the diversity of undergraduates.

“Generally speaking, if your student body looks a certain way, you want its representative government to look a certain way.”

She said Forum’s makeup affects what MSA addresses.

“If you had all one group of students, be they one gender or one ethnicity or all greek students or all art students, then you would get skewed things that they work on,” she said. “I think that the issues that MSA works on cross these boundaries of ethnicity, race and gender.”

She said MSA deals with issues that affect all students, such as housing, tuition, transportation and representation in the University.

“We’re dealing with students as students,” she said.

She said that while it has been an issue, she hasn’t heard concerns this year of people saying any specific groups are not represented in MSA.

University student Elsa Khwaja, a self-described human rights activist and former at-large representative who resigned from Forum last year, said she went into Forum wanting to offer a diverse perspective.

She said that in her brief time serving on MSA last year, she noticed a lack of respect toward different opinions and ideologies.

“There was disrespect and (there was) a lot of division because of the disrespect,” she said. “MSA should try to be a unified body; of course, there’s always going to be difference in perspectives, the problem was that people would make it so personal.”

Khwaja said it’s not necessary to have racial representation proportional to the makeup of the University, as long as some does exist.

“All I care about is that there is representation,” she said.

It’s not even necessary, Khwaja said, that the students serve on Forum itself, just that leaders of MSA recognize they “have to represent all students on campus with respect to

the different ethnicities present.”

Student leaders should keep in mind that they represent all students, not just those from their own background, she said.

“A leader should think beyond their own desires for the group and should always be open to perspectives and always be open to all people,” she said.

Catherine Wang, the at-large representative to MSA’s executive board, said that while many ethnicities are underrepresented on Forum, it is an improvement over last year.

Encouraging cultural centers like La Raza to get a representative on MSA is the best thing to do, she said.

Wang said that through attending culture center committee meetings put on by the Student Activities Office, she has made contacts and understands the cultural centers’ respective perspectives.

“For the most part, gender issues and cultural issues are being represented on Forum, but there is room for improvement,” she said. “More student groups (should) have representation on Forum so they can voice the opinions and issues they are facing.”

Sex question

While MSA’s racial makeup resembles that of the undergraduate population at the University, such is not the case for Forum’s sex distribution.

For undergraduates, there is a 53 percent woman, 47 percent man split.

MSA’s makeup is somewhat more lopsided ‘ Forum consists of 36 percent women and 64 percent men.

Kim Nguyen, a chemistry senior, said she was concerned with the results.

Forum should be more representative of gender and the results make it seem like males care more about the group, she said.

However, that could be caused by American culture, Nguyen said.

“It’s the general society ‘ there’s more male involvement in the government,” she said.

While men outnumber women in Forum, women hold more leadership positions in MSA.

Serafy Cox said she was struck by the difference in the male-to-female ratio in MSA when compared with the University, but was unsure what could be done to address the issue.

“When women are in leadership positions, you’d think it would draw more women in, and I’m not exactly sure why it hasn’t,” she said. “But I think that you can’t just look at (the survey’s statistics) because there are so many women in leadership positions.”