The Student Association Senate will soon debate a bill that would add an anti-discrimination policy to the SA’s constitution for the first time.
SA President Ashley Le will propose legislation later this month to institute an anti-discrimination and harassment policy mandating that SA members are not denied positions on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity. Le said the bill would close a “loophole” in the SA’s constitution that does not currently set grounds to punish SA members for discriminatory behavior.
“We thought this is time for us to step up and this is time for us to take the lead in making sure that the student government is a welcoming place, is an inclusive place, for all students,” Le said.
The legislation would require SA members to uphold the student code of conduct, be “mindful” of their social media posts and respect one another “regardless of race, religion, gender identity, national origin, language, economic level, veteran status or disability.” If a member of the SA exhibits discriminatory behavior or engages in harassment, illegal activity, sexual assault or violence, they are subject to censure and removal, according to the legislation.
The measure must go through the SA’s governance and nominations committee, pass the senate by a two-thirds majority and be approved in a student-wide referendum during SA elections this spring to go into effect.
Le said the SA is currently the only student organization that does not have an anti-discrimination policy after the University required all registered student groups to include similar language in their governing documents last March.
The SA could not add the policy at the time because senators would have needed to approve the measure in February, about a month before SA elections, to include a studentwide referendum on the ballot, according to the organization’s bylaws.
“I don’t think we are at fault for not having the policy because we need the student body to follow up on it, and that can only come once a year,” Le said. “Now, as it stands, it does look inconsistent that the governing body of the student body at GW does not have the policy to say that we stand against discrimination.”
Le added that an anti-discrimination policy could have assisted the SA Senate last year when held a vote on whether to censure a former senator accused of writing anti-Semitic Facebook posts in 2014. A vote to censure the senator would have suspended him for up to a month.
Le said the constitution as it currently reads does not have a process for removing a member because of discriminatory behavior.
“It made me think about how the Student Association should be setting a high standard, but we didn’t,” she said. “We failed to censure a former senator even though his comments hurt a really big part of the community and to me, that doesn’t make any sense.”
SA Executive Vice President Ojani Walthrust said that if the policy is approved, the constitutional changes would mirror the University’s efforts to update its own discrimination and harassment policies to include examples of repercussions for discriminatory behavior. The SA Senate unanimously passed a resolution commending the University’s review of the policies in November.
“We’re changing for the better, and we’re progressing, and we’re making sure we are representative of all students,” Walthrust said. “We’re following the same guidelines as other organizations.”
At least two of the University’s 12 peer institutions, Boston University and the University of Pittsburgh, have an anti-discrimination policy in its student association’s bylaws.
Andrew Chiao, the chair of BU’s student government senate, said the student government added a non-discrimination policy about three years ago after two student leaders were accused of discriminatory behavior. At the time, a student leader was criticized for publicly categorizing Palestine’s actions in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as “terrorism.”
He said the policy also illustrates that the student government has ethical standards for right and wrong behavior, which sets an example for the rest of the student body to follow.
“As a formal representative body of students, it’s important to prevent things like discriminatory acts but also show to students that we are making an effort to support them equally, representing equally and also provide a supportive student government infrastructure for everyone,” he said.
Parth Kotak contributed reporting.