Toward a More Perfect Union? (Part I)

[This post was part of a series. You can read the rest here: Part II ¦ Part III ¦ Part IV ¦ Part V ]

It’s the most debated issue in Student Government of the last year, maybe the last two years: the structure, name — and in some proposals, the funding  — of what is currently known as Black Student Union & Multicultural Programming. And it’s not going to be decided this semester.

Marni Sherman Boca Governor

It might be resolved by October, depending on who you ask. If everybody can get along.

After a month of heated (and circular) debate, several shot-down pieces of legislation,  and a pow-wow organized by Boca Governor Marni Sherman, a bill aimed at “reforming” the organization passed unanimously on April 23, the last Boca House meeting of the semester.

What’s the big deal?

To answer a question with a question: what’s in a name? One of the criticisms raised by the Boca House in recent weeks is that BSU&MP’s mission isn’t in line with its name. New students, they say, might get confused.

Here’s part of their mission statement, posted on the BSU&MP Facebook group:

Black Student Union Multicultural Programming’s was created on campus to develop and provide cultural enrichment for all students at Florida Atlantic University. Black Student Union Multicultural Programming’s purpose is to develop students educationally and socially and to uphold their self identification with their history and culture. It addresses issues affecting all students on campus.

The purpose and mission of this organization is to foster cultural unity in order to fulfill the responsibility of serving the Blacks, Hispanics, Multicultural and other minority students of Florida Atlantic University.

We fulfill this responsibility by: (1) presenting and emphasizing the cultural achievements of minorities by sponsoring and/or supporting cultural, educational and alternative activities and programs, (2) by creating a relevant social and academic atmosphere for minorities, (3) by providing multicultural students with a set of symbols and values that are essential to the development of the wholeness of the individuals.

The emphases are mine. The House argument goes that BSU&MP by definition can’t live up to its mission.

In other words, having “Black Student Union” as part of the name for an umbrella organization meant to serve and inform all students about minority cultures is a contradiction, especially with so many other cultural groups on campus.

The BSU&MP response to that criticism is mostly: we were here first, and we work harder than the other multicultural organizations.

At one of the debates in the House on April 16, Assistant BSU&MP Director Jesse Jarrett said it was important to keep the name because “there is heritage behind the name and we did a majority of the multicultural [events] on campus.”

So for the House, the name is an issue of representational equality. But for BSU&MP, it’s an issue of respect for tradition and credit where it’s due.

Is this all about the name?

Some House reps go further and say the name isn’t the only inequality; they mutter that BSU&MP might show favoritism in planning and funding events as well.

At another meeting on April 9, House Rep Sai Lo — and president of Asian Student Union — cited some numbers to

Sai Lo, Boca House Rep

make that claim:

I think it is an issue of bias. This is a record of BSU&MP’s request to the budget committee:

  • Black History Month: $20,200;
  • Jewish History Month: $10,000;
  • Women’s History Month: $10,000;
  • Asian History Month: $6,000.

That has already been addressed in the upcoming year’s budget, where additional rules have been placed on BSU&MP’s spending. Each cultural group the budget identifies (Hispanic/Latin, Native American, Jewish, Black, Women, Asian) is specifically allocated $14,000 to ensure fair spending.

More to come

You’ll notice I titled this post “part I.” This blog’s always been an experiment for me. In some ways it’s succeeded,  but till now it’s failed to do what I’ve ultimately wanted it to: cover an issue closely enough to start a dialogue about it. The closest it came was the coverage last year of Chris Ayala, which some people denounced as sensationalism. And maybe those people will say the same about this: I hope not.

But regardless of those people, I think it’s worth committing some time and words to, so I will do that in the coming weeks.

In particular, I’d like to look back at some of the failed approaches, some of the comments made, and hopefully interview some key people to put all this into a larger perspective. Hopefully they’re not too busy with finals or disappearing for summer.

Tomorrow, though, I’ll talk more specifically about the legislation that did pass. And for now, I’ll end with a quote.

As President Obama said — and William Faulkner before him —  “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.”


2 Responses to “Toward a More Perfect Union? (Part I)”

  1. Seriously? Says:

    This is what I want to read! Thanks! 🙂 I’ll email you once exams are over.

  2. You can’t get funding for a student organization unless it is open to all students of FAU.. that’s why it says all students but then emphasizes ethnic groups. You have to read between the lines. It’s not just BSUMp of course… Women Engineers have to be open to even male arts majors TECHNICALLY.

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