Challenging the UMC Petition

At the last University Council meeting Ms. Onyx Finney of the United Minorities Council petitioned for a permanent seat on the Council. In their speeches, Ms. Finney and her colleague stated that they represented "substantial" numbers of minority students at Penn. They further stated that no other minority group objects to the UMC petition. I disagree.

Before the Council meeting began, the Penn Venezuelan Society handed out a communique challenging the UMC's stance as the "voice" for students of color. It is unfortunate that the UMC refuses to recognize students of color as individuals and instead insists in assigning them identities and herding students into "groups." What is sad is that members of the University Council will rush to accept the arrogant self-appointed voices of students of color as the legitimate bearers of the grievances of Penn's minority students.

At the end of the University Council meeting one of the (few) students supporting the UMC approached one of our members and asked her what the Penn Venezuelan Society was and when it held its meetings. Our group has been registered in the Office of Student Life for three years and we are always found on the list of student groups (including on some GIC flyers). If anything, this illustrates the discrepancy of the UMC's self-proclaimed advocacy and representation of minority student groups.

Inasmuch as the Penn Venezuelan Society believes that the elected UA members on Council can adequately represent all students as a whole, we feel that a UMC representative would be unable to represent the truly pluralistic views and opinions of students of color on this campus. The former attempts to represent students, the latter insists it is the only one that can represent students of color. How inane.

If Council succumbs to the pressures placed upon it by the UMC, and ends up granting them a seat on Council, the Penn Venezuelan Society will also petition for a seat on Council. As a group we have already been in contact with four nationality clubs at Penn (comprised of students of color) that do not feel represented by the UMC. Some of these groups will follow our lead and petition for seats on Council.

If the University is going to dole out seats to the representatives of some students of color then it should apply equal standards and allow all students of color a voice. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

The communique handed out at the University Council meeting reads as follows:

To: The Members of the University Council
From: The Penn Venezuelan Society
Re: UMC and the University Council

The Penn Venezuelan Society would like it known that the Executive Board of this group (Penn Venezuelan Society), a group made up entirely by students of color, does not recognize the UMC as a "voice" for its concerns and rejects its posture as the advocate for students of color. The UMC undoubtedly serves some minority students: for example, the members of its executive board. However, simply because they are vocal does not mean they are genuinely representative of students at color at Penn.

For the third year in a row, the Executive Board of the Penn Venezuelan Society has resolved to reject the UMC as an umbrella group for minority students. Again, officially, we believe that Penn students are individuals first and in our own experience and history have seen the danger that lies in allowing special privileges for some groups. If we allow the administration to treat some students differently from others, nothing will prevent this unequal standard from being used against us in the future. We are perfectly happy being equal to all Penn students and would rather elect our UC student representatives.

Further, we would also like the Council to address the issue of equal treatment: If the UMC were to get a seat on the UC, the Penn Venezuelan Society would like to motion for a seat of its own.

-- Executive Board of the Penn Venezuelan Society
Rafael Alcantara, Secretary General

Response to Mr. Alcantara

The question of UMC representation on Council is now in the hands of two standing committees of Council--the Committee on Pluralism and the Committee on Student Affairs--as a result of Council's vote on March 20. Although many pros and cons were stated during that meeting, I believe what most influenced the decision to consider our request in greater depth was a chain of reasoning that goes something like this: "Council is advisory. To give sound advice it needs significant input. And input is better if the voice of a known and substantial minority is not excluded."

There are many points that the two committees will need to consider in the months ahead, and some of the issues raised by Rafael Alcantara may be among them. I'm sure that if he is serious about requesting a seat for the Penn Venezuelan Society, though, he will work out the apparent conflict between the proposal to demand a seat for the PVS, and the statement that the UA can adequately represent his group.

In the meantime, if it is appropriate to debate these issues without waiting for the committees to report, I would like to start by displacing with facts some misconceptions that could be drawn from Mr. Alcantara's letter.

First, these are some things we are and do:

-- As I said at Council and earlier in the D.P., the UMC was established to represent the interests of the minority communities by addressing common interests and concerns--to provide forums for discussion, explore and act on University issues of significance to communities of color, and to celebrate and present the richess of our diverse cultures to the Penn and Philadelphia communities. UMC now serves as an umbrella for 11 groups from the Latin American, African/Caribbean American, Asian American and Native American communities.

-- The UMC structure is pluralistic. (The name is not "United Minority Council"; it's "Minorities.) Every member of the 11 constituent groups is a member of the United Minorities Council. Any member of those groups can run for a position on the executive body of UMC. Representatives from each constituent group, in addition to the executive board, organize and run the United Minorities Council. There are also several organizations that are not members of the UMC but attend meetings and participate as well. (Indeed, we invite the Penn Venezuelan Society and all other student-of-color organizations to learn about UMC and participate in this way even if they do not choose to join. The group's views were not known to me at the time UMC prepared its statement for Council, but UMC is open to hearing from all such organizations.)

Now, some things we are not and don't do:

-- The UMC is not proposing something new and threatening. Until a few years ago, the UA voluntarily allocated one of its Council places to the UMC. This was not ideal, because it made the UMC's participation dependent on political trends in the UA, but at least for a time the Council's advice to the president and provost had the benefit of a minority presence at the table rather than a minority presence outside looking in. Our seat was lost altogether in a restructuring of the Bylaws, and we are petitioning for it to be returned--but as a formal slot that cannot be so easily eliminated again.

-- The UMC does not claim to speak for all students of color or for all minority students, nor is our petition for a seat based on any intention to make that claim. The UMC has petitioned for a seat on University Council because there is a void in minority representation on Council even though there are in fact minority people on Council. As was pointed out in the March meeting, when students of color serve on Council as representatives of the UA, they accept a mainstream role that may conflict with their devoting their time and energy, much less their advocacy, to minority concerns. (And if UA members' opinions ever diverge among themselves at all, I have never heard them express it on the floor although I have been an observer on several occasions.)

The UA should not feel threatened by the thought of one seat for the UMC, one voice free to speak the divergent point of view from time to time. Maybe we will all agree sometimes, and then the "student voice" will be that much stronger. Maybe we will disagree, in which case the UA will easily outvote the UMC's one lone hand. But to me it is not the counting of hands that makes the University Council such a desirable place to debate Uni-versity issues. It's the thinking and the talking and the listening. We should be part of that process.

-- Onyx O. Finney, Chair United Minorities Council


April 2, 1996
Volume 42 Number 26

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