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Op-ed | Discrimination by any other name is still discrimination

Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 02:01


Discrimination by any other name is still discrimination, and any sanctioned policy that allows for exemption from the university’s nondiscrimination clause will inherently undermine the entire Tufts community. At the end of last semester, the Committee on Student Life (CSL) decided to allow Student Religious Groups (SRG) to exclude their members from holding leadership positions based on their personal identities by means of a newly-created “justifiable departure” from the university’s nondiscrimination policy. While the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate holds no power to appeal the ruling of the CSL or to revoke any group’s recognition, the TCU Senate does bear two other extremely important responsibilities. First and foremost, in accordance with the TCU Constitution, the Senate serves to “represent the needs and interests of the TCU ... before the Faculty of the undergraduate colleges, the administration, and the Trustees of Tufts College.” Secondly, the Senate must “oversee the allocation of the Student Activities Fee.” Bearing in mind these duties of our elected positions, we find it unconscionable to remain silent.

To begin, the TCU Senate has the privilege of representing the student voice to administrators, faculty and staff. We are called upon to articulate the perspectives of the Tufts undergraduate population to the best of our abilities. In our opinion, this is the most sacred and important duty we hold as a Senate. Deserved or not, the fact that administrators and faculty give credence to the opinions put forth by Senate means that the TCU Senate has opportunities, resources, and social capital that should be leveraged for the promotion of the beliefs of the student body. And this allocation of social capital must not happen solely when Senators lobby for a cause like Jumbo Day, fund a statue of Charles Tufts or debate the meaning of the word “nerdy.” If anything, when circumstances begin to affect aspects of students’ experiences at Tufts, when decisions and policies strike at a student’s identity, when the fundamental beliefs and values that we hold as a community are put in jeopardy, the TCU Senate would be a failure if it did not speak.

In this moment, such a state of affairs has arisen so that we view it necessary and proper for the TCU Senate — as a mechanism for student voice — to be clear, to be thoughtful and to be accountable to the very students we are charged to serve. The Committee on Student Life’s decision to create a means for “justifiable departures” from the nondiscrimination policy is a strike against diversity, inclusion and the aspiration of a hospitable and open campus. We find the decision ill-advised and as one that counters our community’s principles to give primacy to religion as a means of discrimination against other identities. We find it problematic and hypocritical that Tufts would parade values of inclusion and togetherness when the university puts forth a policy that suffocates any notion of a welcoming and accepting campus. We abhor the notion that faith and love of our neighbor should be placed in contention with one another — as if the two were enemies rather than necessary for one another’s fulfillment.

In addition to being the voice for the students, Senate also has the power to finance. Every undergraduate student at Tufts University pays a Student Activities Fee that Senate then uses to fund all student groups. Senate has the responsibility of funding groups for the pursuit of their missions “without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, gender identity and expression, national or ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation, disability, or an individual’s previous affiliations in criteria for membership, assignment of voting privileges, or rank, except as otherwise provided by federal or state law or university policy.” It is in the Senate’s power to allocate the Student Activities Fee as it sees fit. We find it unjust to have students pay for groups that would limit their members’ participation on the basis of their identity. Thus, this Senate finds it improper to fund groups that request “justified departure” from the university’s nondiscrimination policy. Recognition alone due to the CSL’s decision does not mean Senate must fund a student group; it is within our purview to edit our Treasury Procedures Manual to make sure that happens. Any group that wishes to divorce itself from our principles, from the student body’s belief in nondiscrimination, should also expect to be divorced from the student body’s pocketbook.

Made immensely clear to us in the days since the CSL’s decision is the fact that Tufts students, our constituents, find the position put forth by the CSL counters the values they hold and is in direct conflict with the values of the university they call home. Through social media, phone calls, community forums and conversations, there has been a collective dismay and confusion regarding the policy and how it contradicts the student body’s values of equality, inclusion and tolerance — indicative of a moral constitution that views something like a “nondiscrimination policy” as a good thing, that sees no sense in making it permeable and violable. As a community, we recognize that we are imperfect, that there are moments in which our own actions obstruct our progress, but we also affirm the better aspects of our nature: the core belief that we are our brother’s keepers; we are our sister’s keepers.

For there is no Tufts without Tufts values.

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