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One student can’t decide for every student

11/4/15 4:15am

Over the past two weeks, the Student Association, led by President Jazz Silva, has promoted an innovative mandatory class aimed to improve Rice’s culture of sexual misconduct. Although her efforts so far have been commendable, Silva’s decision to advocate for her own plans conflicts with her responsibilities as SA President. It is the SA president’s duty to convey the opinions of the Senate and of all students, not just her own, to the faculty and administration. While I believe this course could be beneficial, the current process proposed to create it shuts out many students’ opinions.

Last week, Silva and the Duncan College President Colin Shaw introduced Senate Bill 4, which would create a task force to develop a curriculum for the Critical Thinking in Sexuality course. While introducing the legislation, Silva outlined details of the course not specified in the legislation’s content that should be left for the task force to determine. When the members of the Senate vote on this legislation, they will be forced to vote on the idea of the class regardless of its content. While many students support the idea of the course, far fewer support all of the technically undecided details. SA members must consider whether the task force will actually debate issues relevant to developing the course or simply accept the solutions Silva proposes.

Silva first mentioned her idea for a mandatory first-year sexual education class to the SA Senate one week before receiving feedback from students at the well-attended “It’s Up to Us” town hall. Senators made numerous suggestions to Silva that, for the most part, were not addressed and did not make it into the proposal. Silva first informed the college presidents about the details of the class only after she released them to the Thresher, giving the presidents no time to offer her their feedback. Silva has dismissed others’ views while considering the course, revealing the problems inherent to her conflict of interest. As a result, Silva should limit her influence on the course development process. 

Creating a task force should help create a balanced solution so long as its members explore the breadth of student opinion. Accordingly, I support the creation of a task force to construct the curriculum. In order to increase the task force’s accountability, Senate approved an amendment proposed by Brown College President Tom Carroll requiring the SA’s vote of approval on the plan the task force produces before it is presented to the Faculty Senate. A vote of approval would indicate to faculty members if students support the class before they conduct their own vote. Surprisingly, Silva informed the Senators that she interpreted this amendment to allow the Senate vote to occur after the Faculty Senate had already approved the course for the curriculum, depriving the Faculty of an opportunity to gauge student support of the curriculum change.

Still, in theory, a task force should resolve this issue by ensuring its product fairly represents student opinion. The Senate often votes to select members of task forces, but according to the legislation, only the SA president can appoint members of this task force, allowing Silva deep control over the legislation’s direction and making it possible to build a task force unrepresentative of the breadth of student opinion. If the Senate is able to appoint members to the task force and vote on the proposal for a curriculum change before the faculty vote, the final course will better serve the community.

The SA president has served our community admirably by taking an aggressive stance against a culture allowing sexual assault on campus, but the Senate should not treat Silva’s proposal any differently than one proposed by another student. In order to ensure that one student’s voice does not dictate a policy that will affect generations of future students, Silva should separate herself and her strong opinions from the debate, planning and implementation of the course, and she should not be responsible for appointing members to the task force. Furthermore, Silva should allow the Student Senate to vote on the proposal for curriculum change before the Faculty Senate initially votes on it, staying true to the spirit of Carroll’s amendment. For this course to succeed and for students to engage its mission, all students must be invested and on board with the plan, not just one.

Jake Nyquist is a Will Rice College sophomore, SA Senator and the Thresher Photo Editor

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