By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer
The 15 new members of Student Government’s Diversity Coalition have been selected and meetings have begun as the group begins its first year on Baylor’s campus.
Boerne senior and Student Body President Sutton Houser said that his goals with the Diversity Coalition are to restructure the Senate to be more representative of the student body, reach out to student organizations and workshop policy changes or initiatives on campus in regards to diversity.
He said that as a part of the president’s cabinet last year, he began thinking about what he would do as president to address the issue of representation on campus.
“We know the Student Government now is unrepresentative of the student body,” Houser said. “We realized that in the climate survey of Student Government last year. It was very much white business major or ‘poli sci’ major heavy, and that’s not everyone’s experience.”
Sutton said that he knew he would need outside help from broader student experiences to speak into different initiatives and potential campus improvements.
To achieve this, he sent out an email on September 8 to introduce the Diversity Coalition to the student body. A link to an application was included in this introduction, and students were invited to apply.
“We are for sure starting out on unchartered waters, but that’s not something to be fearful of because I think Baylor students have a high bar of abilities and success and a willingness to make change,” Houser said.
Houser said they received over 100 applications and interviewed a little more than 20 of those applicants before narrowing it down to 15 individuals.
McAllen senior and Deputy Director of Diversity Pato Pena said that while not much has developed yet, the coalition has participated in heavy discussion about what they want the semester to look like.
“Coalition members are able to be as involved as they want to be,” Pena said. “If they want to spearhead a project and we’re here to help them do that project, that’s what we’re here for.”
Due to their diverse backgrounds, Pena said the coalition will serve as a soundboard to different diversity initiatives within Student Government such as the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Multicultural Engagement.
“We tell them, ‘Hey, we’re thinking of doing this,’ and they could tell us, ‘Well, maybe that wouldn’t be as effective. Have you tried doing this?’” Pena said.
Flower Mound junior Katy Crawford, chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee in the Senate, said that she wants to hear about the coalition members’ experiences as minorities as well as their opinions on Student Government while making diversity decisions.
“Within the first meeting, they already had ideas and really cool things that challenged our thinking, and that is what we need,” Crawford said.
After the bill for restructuring the Senate failed in February, Crawford said that they hope to shift the Senate from being represented by freshman, sophomore, junior or senior class to being represented by different demographics.
“We will be including [the Diversity Coalition] on the process of the restructuring and as we’re forming this new proposal just to see if they think it’s fair and if it would help with the big disparities that are currently present,” Crawford said.
Houser said that the issue of representation is a broader issue on campus.
“I’m not going to say that the Diversity Coalition is the fix-all for that,” Houser said. “But, it is the way that I thought in my role in Student Government as Student Body President, I can do my best to help alleviate that issue.”
Pena said that as an immigrant and as a minority student, coming to campus was a culture shock at first — something that many underrepresented Baylor students may also feel.
“I felt like I didn’t meet a lot of people at the beginning who came from the same walk of life as I did,” Pena said. “This coalition, more than anything, is supposed to highlight that. It’s supposed to highlight that, yes, we aren’t as diverse as maybe other universities, but just because we aren’t, doesn’t mean we can’t build a home for all these students.”
Sioux Falls, S.D., senior and Director of Multicultural Engagement Maham Shah said the Coalition shows diverse student groups that Student Government cares about their point of view.
“We care what they think of Baylor,” Shah said. “That’s why we would like to include them in positions of government.”