Tuesday, December 2, 2008

CUSA Meeting December 1, 2008

In the past week, the Carleton University Students Association (CUSA) has made worldwide headlines for their decision to rethink supporting a Cystic Fibrosis charity on the grounds that it affects "white people and primarily men." This statement, contained in one of the resolutions passed last Monday, is not only offensive; it is also incorrect.

I attended the emergency follow up meeting tonight to see how CUSA and the Carleton community would handle the issue. And I'm sorry to report that from where I was standing, the answer was "badly."

The room

First off, the room was not large enough to accommodate all those interested in hearing the proceedings. Many students were forced to wait outside the doors, and we were told if we made so much as a peep, they would kick us out and close the doors leaving us entirely out of the proceedings.

From the outside of the room, it was nearly impossible to hear anything, as they provided absolutely no microphones for the speakers.

Both of these things should have been thought of beforehand. The university has both larger spaces (although they might have had to wait one more day so classes were done) and adequate AV equipment, and they knew this would be a popular meeting. As it was, I think quite a number of people turned away.

It felt like the room was arranged so that many CUSA supporters were in the most visible positions. This is likely because only insiders knew the full details of when to show up and get in. (I wouldn't have even known about the details of the meeting without the helpful computer science rep.) They acted like a pep squad, including waving and other hand gestures towards the councillors, which I felt were wholly inappropriate given the circumstances, especially since those of us at the edges of the room were getting constantly told to shut up or get kicked out. The security guards were just doing their jobs at the doors, but I did feel that things were disbalanced as no one shushed the inner circle.

I felt the crowd was about as well-behaved as could have been expected, and was dismayed to find that the shushing only began in earnest when the crowd wasn't all applauding.

I was carrying my camera and was allowed to squeeze to the edge of the door, so I was able to hear some of the meeting.

The proceedings

Two people resigned. Donnie Northrup because he had to -- he'd put forward the motion, and it was clear that he was out, so... well, I want to say he did the right thing, but that smirk on his face as he left the meeting made me think that he didn't have even the slightest idea of the hurt that he has caused. He remains an embarrassment to us all.

The second I think managed to leave with some dignity.

A CUSA rep resigns with dignity
Originally uploaded by Terriko.

They passed a motion to make another one of those "doublespeak" apologies that have annoyed people worldwide, making them feel like CUSA said "we're sorry you were offended" rather than "we're sorry we screwed up."

They defeated a motion to make a stronger statement. The rough wording was that "CUSA apologizes for the racist and sexist statements that were made, as well as the misinformation relayed about CF." The ensuing debate was an embarrassment to both sides, with the against side putting up irrelevant whining arguments about how they'd all been affected by discrimination and the for side going into an diatribe about discrimination that pretty much offended everyone in the room.

Very few student attendees were given an opportunity to speak. Obviously a lot of this was due to time constraints, but I they could have easily handled more people if the person in charge had taken a better hand in the debate, cutting off rambling and irrelevant statements. There were some good arguments, especially from the crowd. These were often overshadowed by the many bad arguments, many of which centred around the basic idea of "we didn't mean to be racist and sexist, so we don't need to apologize for that." And of course there were a lot of non-arguments of the "my dad has diabetes" or "I'm offended" variety. Colour me unimpressed.

The other motion they passed was that CUSA give at least $1000 to CF research, or up to $3000 to top up the fundraising already done so that we would hit a total of $40k for the year. While I applaud this in principle, I feel that it's inappropriate to ask the students to shoulder this cost entirely, and I sincerely hope that the CUSA reps take their colleagues' suggestions to heart and donate their own personal money or own personal time to help make restitution.


Overall, I do not feel like CUSA represents me, and they embarrass the whole university with their actions and lack of actions. I am happy that I was allowed to attend the meeting, and I feel they did make some important steps in the right direction, though stopping short of the goal. During the meeting, I often felt like the whole affair was a grudging nod to democracy and the media rather than a sincere apology from people who realised that they had made a very hurtful mistake and sincerely wanted to put things right. I am ashamed to be represented by people who were unwilling to swallow their pride and make the apology that the world deserved.


daknewguy said...

you don't speak for the thoughts of carleton at all. your view is obviously biased. are you a member of the r.g.s? i wouldn't be surprised.

Adam Coombs said...

Excellent post. I was at the meeting as well and you pretty much summed it up exactly.

Terri said...

I tried to make it clear that I was only speaking from my point of view. Speaking for all of Carleton is a very difficult task; that's been especially clear in the past week.

I've never heard of the r.g.s.

burger said...

I love how darknewguy assumes you are a member of the Reagen Goldwater society. PROTIP: not everyone who disagrees with CUSA is RGS, want proof of that? the petition has 1282 people against Smyth, The rgs does not have that many people in its club.

Anyways I want to thank the writer of this for pointing out Donnie and his rock star faggotry, and ESPECIALLY for capturing that smirk as he walked out.

Beth said...

Terri, I apologize for potentially staring a comment flamewar and poorly addressing the post itself (which was interesting, well-written, and given that I'm in the US, not something I could've even possibly experienced myself!). However.

Burger: It seems very, very disingenuous to talk about an organization or any of its members as being poor in their public attempts to address an issue like this by using derogatory language such as you've chosen. I hate to hear "gay" used as an insult and will call people on it in my offline life as well as on-. Using the word "faggotry", no matter how much you dislike someone is not only completely inappropriate, but also a reflection on the speaker. Surely you have better insults at your disposal?