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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

an emerging new conversation: frustrations and things unsaid

As this race winds up and Haddock/Riley finish collecting student group endorsements, Voith/Gadgil finish collecting bad press, and Grimeland/Hadfield finish collecting admirers who have no plans to vote for them, a new conversation is starting to happen about what it all means. Students throughout campus are beginning to groan (I got 4 emails just this morning) about how meaningless this entire process has been to them, about how underwhelming and unrepresentative the candidates are of our community as a whole, and about how useless the UC appears to be.

I, for one, don't share the belief that the UC is some sort of monstrous insular body that ignores students and seeks only glory. I live with someone who works 16-hours a day, often in not particularly glorious meetings and usually until 5 or 6 in the morning on this, and so I simply don't buy the portrait some would like to paint of the UC as a group of incompetent and uncaring politicos. I do, however, think that a portrayal- of candidates whose political understanding of their community is fairly superficial, of tickets all lead by white heterosexual men, and of a political community that is generally incestuous and separate- is in large part not only fair, but devastatingly accurate.

So, with all that in mind, I'd like to offer this as an open thread not to the campaign staffs, or the politicos (you know who you are), or the Crimson reporters, or the other bloggers, but to readers who don't feel like they've gotten to say things that they want to say. Rather than just toeing the campaign lines or falling into debates with already established premises, just say what you think.

Please do, however, remember CC's policy on anonymous comments.


At 2:13 PM, Anonymous sarika said...

2 quick things before I go back to thesis work:

1) I think I first realized how true the whole "the UC is out of touch with the student body" claim was last year with the Unite Against AIDS Summit (which I co-directed). The UC gave us a *huge* amount of money, and a lot of UC members I knew personally told me how they hoped the Summit would be a great success. Why, then, would the UC plan the Havana on the Harbor event to take place till 2am the night before? They knew the Summit started at 9am, and that their (failed) attempt to "unite the student body" would take people away from an important event that they so generously financially and vocally supported. That really got to me, since it showed me how far the word "support" really went.

2) When are we gonna go back to talkign about real things? I've tried, but I really can't bring myself to substantially care about the UC election developments. On the other hand, there are a few super-interesting stories in the New York Times that I have lots of things to say about. For instance, there's the 4-part series of India's new highway development, and the editorial about how the religious right is unrightfully trying to reclaim Christmas. For anyone who cares (which it seems like isn't many people, not with the oh-so-important UC elections), people are boycotting Target because their cards say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." But yea, I'm looking forward to when CC goes back to substantial discussions.

At 2:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Devastatingly accurate?" What the hell? Are white male supremacists keeping gays or minorities from running for president? If three guys decide to run for president it is not their fault that they are white, male and heterosexual, it is the fault of the non-white, non-straight for not challenging them. Honestly, when we did get a minority to run, you backed his opponent. There was nothing wrong with this; Matt is a great guy and you are his friend. But now you’re so damn politically correct that you are blaming the people who are running for their lack of minority-ness, gayness, or whatever. Grow up.

At 2:48 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

I'm leaving this comment up because it attacks me and none of the candidates, and because I want to respond to it. There is a MASSIVE misunderstanding outside of the left about what the left (or those who believe that diversity should be taken seriously) are talking about when they point out that leadership is far too often white, male and heterosexual. Speaking for myself, what I mean is that we do have to recognize that it is a fundamental problem that a minority of the campus (white, heterosexual males) represents the entirety of the choices. This is not to say, as you have above argued, that anyone who is a white male is to blame or not qualified, and it is also not to say that anyone who is anything other than that should automatically get out vote. But it is certainly a fair critique, of the system, not necessarily the candidates themselves, that our options do not represent our community.

To add to this, I think that this can get better. Vote or Die started last year and was a large part of making the UC much more representative of the student body as a whole than it had been in the past. In the sophomore class that will be taking on leadership positions this spring, their are countless women and people of color (I'm not sure about queer people) who will likely be taking on these leadership roles. Hopefully this means, in a year, they will offer themselves to the general student body for this office and our choices will be improved and more representative.

I also want to make another thing clear: I do think it is problematic to live solely in a world of identity politics. Every black person on the UC does not represent the entirety of black people at Harvard (and certainly not in the country and/or world) and the same is true of any politically constructed identity (sex, gender, race, class, etc.). These are all catagories that are intellectually created in order to begin to attack a white, male, heterosexual leadership society. All of those of us who discuss them should keep in mind that none of these catagories do justice to people as people, none of them do justice to people's complexities and internal contradictions, and identity politics can often lead to what is essentially another form of prejudice- simplifying each other into one-dimensional identities. However, these labels and political constructions still have a use, and are necessary for thinking critically about the system we have.

I will let other people get into whose "fault" it is, although I think the language of "fault" is unhelpful and completely misrepresentative of what is an incredibly complicated situation. In any event, I thought it appropriate to clarify my thoughts on this and respond to the above comment.

Please, in the future, do remember CC's policy on anonymous comments about the UC elections.

At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alternatively, you could expand your data set and look at the candidates over a bigger horizon then just this year. You'll find, that in the last 4 UC elections, among a field of about 12 candidates (my knowledge isn't perfect here), there has been a black candidate, an indian candidate, an asian candidate (who was female), a candidate who was partially native american (byrd), etc...It's silly to look 3 candidates this year and make generalizations about the diversity of representation...if there was a homosexual candidate this year, for instance, it would make just as much sense to say how striking it is that homosexuals represent 1/3 of our choice! I will say, that looking over the course of several years, it does seem that females are underrepresented...

At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, but even in the case of two of the candidates you cited, Aaron Byrd and Ty Moore, both were in Final Clubs. Whether or not you have a problem with them, they are their own form of contructed and non-representative community. In fact, four out of the six candidates in this race are in elite social clubs (and yes, Seneca is better but no, it isn't all that different)... And, if you averaged out the last four races you have these people at the tops of tickets: Rohit Chopra, Fred Smith, David Darst, Jason Lurie, Matt Mahan, Aaron Byrd, Josh Barro, Matt Glazer, Ty Moore, Teo Nicolais, John Haddock, John Voith and Magnus Grimeland. That's ZERO women on the top of a ticket since I've gone to this school. And, that's over 3/4 white men. And it's 12/13 heterosexual (although I don't claim to have as good a knowledge of each candidate's sexuality...). I'm not a statistics person, but this seems far far beyond some random probability.

At 4:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

fred and josh were both gay... out of the 13 candidates you mention, that percentage is about the same as the general population (maybe even higher). but i think it is important to look not just at who ran, but also at who won. our past two presidents, as well as the next, are straight white males. and the fact that we haven't even had a woman run since sujean is really startling. why do talented, appealing female candidates (tara, christina, samita, jess, etc) all choose to run for VP instead of president?

At 4:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Andrew, for my comment on the zebra site saying that my comment was taken down; I seriously thought it hd been. My bad. Your answer is pretty good, but you are making it more complicated then it really is. More minorities should run. More non-straights should run. That's something that NO ONE can control but minorities and non-straights.

At 4:30 PM, Blogger Neeraj "Richie" Banerji said...

Talented and appealing?

Sory, perhaps this sort of comment belongs on Team Zebra.

At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Lori Adelman said...

"More minorities should run. More non-straights should run. That's something that NO ONE can control but minorities and non-straights."

Wow I'm going to have to seriously disagree with anonymous' assertion here. There are many factors involved in forming tickets, not the least of which is appeal to voters. And as long as there are negative stereotypes floating around in our less-than-perfect society, subtly or not-so-subtly influencing the opinions and decisions of who is leadership material, we have to acknowledge that race and gender act as hindrances to one's appeal to voters, making it harder for women and minorities to get elected. This is certainly a factor in why many qualified and otherwise enthusiastic minority/women candidates choose to "play second string" to more popular straight white male figureheads (Not that I've seen THAT happening anywhere lately.)
Because of these negative stereotypes and latent ideas about what the UC president should look like, minorities/women often have to do more to achieve the same respect and political clout as white males in a wholly intolerant society. For example, if a female UC candidate had as notorious a dating/hooking up record of some white male candidates who have graced the UC political scene, she would not even be considered as a viable candidate and wouldn't even be able to garner respect from the campus. It's naive to say that UC-hopefuls aren't aware of this inherent disadvantage and don't react to it accordingly.

So it's clear to me that individul people's decisions (women and non-whites included) about whether or not to run are not actually individual at all. In fact, as most of our decisions are, they are influenced by their understanding of their society (I hate the vagueness of that term), of this campus culture. I know personally as one of two black female UC members, my expected role on the council is often different than the more "conventional" politicians, white straight males. I think that it's safe to say to anyone who acknowledges the reality of the power of race and gender on this campus that someone like me has to prove my competency while male or white candidates may only have to affirm theirs.

(I do realize that in this comment I'm making something of a generalization here. I realize that there are some people on this campus who can act from a completely unbiased and tolerant mindest, but I think the majority of the campus, myself included, would have to be admit that we are not completely resistant to the tons of subtle and not-so-subtle messages we receive every day that give us negative ideas about minorities and women and leave us less inclined to give them leadership roles above us.)

On another level, it means something fundamentally different for a minority candidate to win a UC election among a majority-white campus than it does for a white candidate to do the same thing, simply because of people's psychological tendencies to relate to people who look like them. This is another way in which there are inherent disadvantages to women/minority UC-hoppefuls that have nothing to do with being their fault and are certainly not in their control.

So, I think for all these reasons that almost everyone on this campus has influence over who feels comfortable and confident enough to run and who doesn't, and to this extent, the complete and realistic picture is that minorities and non-straights are certainly not the only ones who have control over whether or not they run and how they choose to form their tickets.


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