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To (Really) Live the Oath

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As SGA undergoes its annual election cycle for the next academic year, I have reflected on this past semester in which a historical change to Student Government Association was made.

Senate was reduced by nearly half. While Black Student Alliance (BSA) seats were retained, other seats were added that were not previously there – namely, four Diversity Leadership Cabinet (DLC) seats.

I thought about all the questions that seemed so crazy then, and even crazier now, “Why do we need BSA seats?” and “DLC is already a committee, why should it have a presence in Senate?” There was this impending fear that “we will no longer be an academic body if one-fifth of Senate is comprised of non-academic seats.”

I often time found myself aggravated when anyone mentioned the Oath. In this context, it was always, “We have the Oath of Inclusion- that should encourage people of all races, religions and creeds to join SGA” during an open forum or while drafting the actual bill.

I thought then about how easy it is to say you believe in the Oath and that everyone should follow it and live up to it, but not really challenge yourself to think of who we include in who should be included? Is it the people you think make the Shell “shady”? Is it the breast feeding mother in one of our study spaces in the BSC? Or the whole group of people and their caregivers we taunt when we call someone “retarded”. Who are we talking about?

I’ll paint my thoughts in a more campus-centric way for all you who are getting uncomfortable. How many people after a campus safety email notice comes out hold our breath and hope it’s not someone that looks like them or their brother or father? And how many open those emails, and if the suspect fits the description they already have in their heads, avoid at all costs by crossing streets, averting gazes, walking faster than the “male, 5-foot-11, African American”?

The thing about privilege, and those that hold it, is that you don’t have to see the struggles and adjustments that people who navigate outside of a white, Christian, male heteronorm, must make.

We are socialized to see racism, sexism, ableism, religious intolerance as single acts of “meanness” or overt individual prejudice or discrimination. It’s harder to look at all those “-isms” instead as invisible structures that, as Peggy McIntosh so wonderfully puts it, “confers dominance” to anyone outside of privileged groups.

So it’s easy to say that we’ve come a long way since 2007 when the Oath of Inclusion was drafted in response to a series of heinous bias incidences, because we have.

However, it’s in this time of progressive University-wide initiatives (shout-out to Housing and Res Life for adding “transgender” under the options for students to identify for the HRL survey!), that we as students must take our own part in the movement. When “conferring dominance” doesn’t look like Jim Crowe or Russia’s anti-LGBTQ riots, but in the “no homo” afterthoughts I hear at the gym, along with “pussy” and “fag”; in the “well, she doesn’t act black” or “your English is so great, what generation Asian are you?!” or the lack of gender-neutral facilities, like bathrooms, on campus for students.

Since in my position on SGA Exec, I am forced to see the invisible ways people in our community are discriminated against or unable to fully and healthily function, I want to ask those who serve on SGA, and to those whom we serve, the student body: What are ways that SGA can serve all of us? In its inaugural year, how can we make our community one of inclusive and open dialogue by allowing issues of justice, inclusion, safety for all students on the platform of legislation, discussion and debate in Student Government Association?

I’d like to make a special call-to-action all whom we consider our community and who are passionate about or are identifying members of the groups DLC will be providing seats for: Join SGA – because there is intrinsic value in having students from borderlands perspectives, people who have constantly lived a divided experience, one foot in one world and the other in a different, bordering land; because there are so many benefits of having someone who has had to do without most of their lives out of necessity.

Take it from me, they’re resourceful and creative and would be an asset to any team or group at any institution – because as much as people would like to think that “we live in a post-racist society” because our President is black, we still have stayed at a steady 11 percent enrollment rate for African-Americans at this institution.

Not because there isn’t an interest (we are right in the middle of St. Louis, Mo.) but because SLU has not made it a priority to recruit and retain black students, or meet 100 percent financial need for anyone for that matter.

Because the “Vagina Monologues” cannot be held on campus, because sexual assaults happen and they leave survivors and bystanders and maybe someone who didn’t even know what they were doing was wrong.

Because all but one of the bias incidents that have been reported so far this academic year have attacked each and every member of our LGBTQ community and their allies.

Because there still is not someone in Campus Ministry to ensure that our students who do not hail from a Christian background have someone who is familiar with their customs, prayers, rules for practicing their faith the way over 75 percent of us from the Christian tradition are able to here.

These things should bother every student on this campus. Because if you really embrace the Oath, you know it means we’ve got a long way to go, but that every step forward is worth it.

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