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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Make the Undergraduate Senate more diverse

Tarik Woods

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referred to the Undergraduate Senate as Student Congress. Student Congress is no longer an entity. The article has been updated with the correct name of the body and for clarification on a quote from Tanner Henson, rules and judiciary chairperson. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

The demographics of UNC are no secret to anyone. Only 34 percent of students here identify as a race other than Caucasian, several buildings are not disability accessible and institutionalized racism is still found within our ancient halls. Now more than ever our leaders in the administration and our student representatives should be doing all in their power to extend the voice of minority students.

The Undergraduate Senate took matters into their own hands recently, in crafting a legislative staff position specifically designed to provide outreach from the Senate to minority students. The Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator is charged with “the organization and planning of outreach activities for the Undergraduate Senate.” Everything from town halls, to question-and-answer forums. This new venture is an unprecedented step in the right direction for student leadership here at Carolina and the Senate deserves to be commended for at least attempting to make minority students better represented.

However, the Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator seemed to be an intensely controversial piece of legislation from the summer session. Controversies ranged from whether or not it was the Undergraduate Senate’s place to have such a position to the language of the bill itself. 

Rules and Judiciary Chairperson Tanner Henson said that during the vote taken to override the veto, “Less than five members of the Undergraduate Senate opposed this bill. In a time where tension is so high with minority communities, I felt it pertinent to create a position to help bring those communities into the Senate process.” 

But the bill found its biggest challenge not in passing in the Senate, but in Student Body President Savannah Putnam, who vetoed the bill with no notes other than “because it seemed contentious during the summer session. I wanted to hear more debate from both sides in full Senate. I just wanted to make sure this bill is something the Senate really wants.”

All our student leaders have a responsibility to do what is right, regardless of how “contentious” it may seem. Students have been subject to this type of complacency for long enough with our University administration and should not undergo it with their student leadership as well. I hope that the trend of vetoing progress for the sake of pleasantness does not continue.

Last Tuesday, the Undergraduate Senate overrode the veto and is currently accepting applications for the position. I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in student leadership and making Carolina a more inclusive place to apply.