Outtakes from Wednesday’s Student Senate meeting: More on Multicultural Student Government talks and visitors from Mizzou

KU Multicultural Student Government mission statement.

Wednesday night’s Kansas University Student Senate meeting was six and a half hours long.

At least it wasn’t dull.

In the most significant news of the night, the Senate voted to approve a bill allocating $90,000 a year in required student fees to create a Multicultural Student Government at KU, pending final approval by the chancellor. After a couple hours of discussion, that vote happened at 11 p.m., just in time for me to turn around a story for the next morning’s paper. (The Senate took two more hours to finish other business, including electing a new student body vice president to finish the year.)

As with other discussions at KU involving race this year, that one was tense at times. Here are some outtakes that didn’t make it into my main story.

• About 50 visitors — almost all of them black, most KU students — lined up in support of the Multicultural Student Government as students Jameelah Jones and Katherine Rainey made a pitch for funding their organization.

Senate, of course, is open to any student, and the Multicultural Student Government would be open to any student as well. But Jones and Rainey said the separate government was needed because multicultural students don’t feel comfortable participating in or speaking up in the predominantly white Senate, nor does it prioritize the things these students need.

At one point Student Body President Jessie Pringle asked the 50 visitors how many would run for positions in a new Multicultural Student Government. All raised their hands. Then she asked how many would participate in the current Senate. Only one or two raised hands.

• Informal talks about a Multicultural Student Government have been happening for months; creating such a group was one of 15 demands the student activist group Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk — specifically, Rainey — read on stage during KU’s universitywide town hall forum on race in November. Funding for it was added to the Senate’s fee bill in committee last week, and Wednesday night was the first time the full Senate heard a formal presentation, the second-to-last full Senate meeting of the year.

Jones and Rainey presented their new group’s mission statement, addressed a list of misconceptions they described as “the master narrative versus reality,” and said the new organization would help address a “multigenerational, long-term problem.” They provided a slide showing how the group’s allotted $90,000 would be budgeted: $48,000 for executive board stipends; $10,000 for speakers and event programming; $10,000 for Multicultural Student Orientation; $15,000 for supplies and advertising; and $7,000 for miscellaneous expenses. They said the new government would have “equal representation in all university spaces” and “equal seats in campus fee review.”

What they did not present or answer questions about yet was specifically how that will shake out, logistically. Rainey said that, to her, the question of the night wasn’t about details at this point but rather about whether the Senate wanted to increase fees to create positive, long-term change for KU’s multicultural students.

Some, however, called the act of questioning a race issue. Senate finance committee chairman Tyler Childress said he didn’t remember senators questioning other new student organizations about details such as their bylaws. Student Senate Chief of Staff Adam Moon said that wasn’t true, that Senate does ask groups receiving large amounts of money, including Alternative Spring Breaks and Center for Community Outreach, for detailed plans.

• The people who seemed the maddest about such questioning weren’t the KU students. They were a handful of black University of Missouri students who said they were part of the Concerned Student 1950 activist group. (That’s the group that started the Mizzou campus protests that spurred the resignation of both the university president and the system chancellor in November.)

One Mizzou student who said she was visiting KU for the first time told Senate members to start “centering your privilege.” “This whole presentation, what they gave, is like a form of oppression,” she said. “They don’t need to come to you and explain why their blackness, their brownness, matters. I just find it very problematic that we’re even engaging in this conversation.”

Another Mizzou student used the n-word — twice — in describing how the Missouri Students Association President, who is black, was called that word on their campus. He said Multicultural Student Government supporters should not have to “diplomatically plead” with the Senate to have a separate space. “If they were to turn into us,” the Mizzou student said, “you all would have a serious problem.”

Later when Student Body Vice President Zach George raised a point of order for a speaker talking out of turn, that student said, “We don’t operate under point of order, we’re not from KU.”

• A number of Senate members spoke strongly in favor of the new government, and hardly anyone spoke against funding it. But Moon, the Senate Chief of Staff — after taking a deep breath — did.

Moon said allocating resources to multicultural communities was essential and that he saw a lot of positives that could come from it. However, he said he had reservations about funding the group without yet knowing specifics about how it would work going forward.

“I understand my opinions are unpopular,” Moon said.

One of the Mizzou students pointed at him and said, “Oppression! Oppression! Privilege!”

• The vote to approve the fee bill, including the Multicultural Student Government, passed with 51 senators for, 9 against and 6 abstaining. The Senate normally votes on measures via electronic clicker, but after some visitors and senators demanded a verbal roll call vote, the body voted that way instead.

For the measure to become final, Pringle must next approve the fee bill and forward it to the chancellor for approval. Thursday afternoon, according to university spokesman Joe Monaco, the chancellor had not yet received the new fee package.


• I’m the Journal-World’s KU and higher ed reporter. See all the newspaper’s KU coverage here. Reach me by email at sshepherd@ljworld.com, by phone at 832-7187, on Twitter @saramarieshep or via Facebook at Facebook.com/SaraShepherdNews.