Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Institutionalized racism in student government

By Alana Goodman

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Editor’s note: Due to a production error, some terms in this column were incorrectly modified in the editing process. The corrected version is below. We at The Daily Collegian apologize for the error and promise to our readers and writers that we will continue our commitment to putting out the best product that we can and will avoid such errors in the future.

Racism is alive and well at the University of Massachusetts. And I’m not talking about the hysterical, trumped-up allegations of racism made by people like Henry Louis Gates and Jimmy Carter at the mere mention of legitimate criticism about Barack Obama’s policies. I mean clear-cut, systematic, institutionalized racism.

Just look at our Student Government Association (SGA) By-Laws. As we prepare to swear in our elected representatives to the SGA Senate next week, UMass students should be aware that 13 percent of our SGA Senators will not have even competed in Tuesday’s elections. Instead, they will be appointed to their positions before the election results even come in, solely on the basis of skin color.

This portion of the Senate is appointed by a registered student organization (RSO) called the African American, Latino, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Caucus (no relation to this columnist). Only minority students who fit one of those four racial categories– or other students who the Caucus approves as “minority allies”– are considered eligible for these Senate seats.

Proponents of the ALANA Caucus will argue that anyone can be a member of the group and have access to its appointed seats, and they may be right– technically. On paper, RSO’s like the Caucus are open to all fee-paying UMass undergrads. But while most RSO’s actively work to recruit a large membership, the ALANA Caucus doesn’t; you will almost never see their members “tabling” in the Student Union or advertising their meetings to the general public. They seem to prefer their organization small and close-knit, and why shouldn’t they? Unlike other RSO’s, ALANA’s annual funding isn’t contingent on the size of its membership – the SGA’s “ALANA Caucus Reserves Fund” earmarks an exorbitant $10,000 for the Caucus each year.

I’ve often wondered how I, too, could join the elusive ALANA Caucus, so I recently skimmed over a copy of its RSO Charter Membership requirements. Turns out it’s a bit more complicated than joining, say, the UMass Ski and Board Club.

The easiest way to join the Caucus is to become a member of one of its “ALANA-affiliated RSO’s” – like the Haitian American Student Association – and then have that RSO elect you as one of its two delegate members of the Caucus. If you’re not fortunate enough to belong to an ALANA-affiliated RSO, but you still somehow manage to find out where and when the Caucus meetings take place, then pat yourself on the back and consider pursuing a career in espionage. Once at the meeting, you’ll then need to convince two-thirds of the Caucus to elect you as a member. Of course, you must first prove to the them that you’ve “demonstrated a commitment to [ALANA’s] goals” and “[signed] a statement of commitment to the purpose of the organization.”

According to its Charter, the Caucus’ purpose is: “Acknowledging that certain peoples have been and remain to be marginalized and underrepresented … based on racial impediments in the United States, and specifically at the University of Massachusetts Amherst … the Caucus shall promote and reflect the diverse interests of students from multi-cultural backgrounds, including but not limited to students of African, Latino/a, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American descent.” Alternatively, I assume that signing a statement of commitment to any sermon by Rev. Jeremiah Wright will also suffice.

Once you’re a member, you’ll need to get the approval of all three ALANA Chairs before you can vote in Caucus elections. After that, you’ll finally have access to the smoke-filled room where 13 percent of the student “representatives” in the Senate are chosen.

This practice has been going on for years, and in addition to its sleaziness it’s also illegal.

In a December 23, 2003 memo, the UMass General Counsel Terence O’Malley informed former Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Mike Gargano that the Caucus seats violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents state governments from discriminating against individuals based on race or ethnicity.

“It is my opinion that the approval of the ALANA representation provision by the Board of Trustees would be unconstitutional,” wrote O’Malley. “The proposed [ALANA Caucus] amendment reserves positions in the student senate on the basis of race or ethnicity.”

On the advice of the Counsel, Gargano asked the SGA to remove the race-based appointments. Instead, the Caucus promptly branded Gargano a “racist” and held campus rallies comparing him to Satan.

In the wake of controversy surrounding the issue, the illegal race-based seats were never removed.

But now the subject is being broached again by the new Vice Chancellor, Jean Kim. On August 26, Kim sent a memo to SGA President Ngozi Mbawuiki asking that the race-based seats be removed by March 1, 2010. Hopefully Mbawuiki complies and puts an end to the Caucus’ exclusion of students who don’t possess the “right” skin color or the “correct” mindset.

It was nearly 55 years ago, after all, when Rosa Parks stood up against race-based seating on public busses. But today, right here at UMass, seats of a different kind are still being allocated on the basis of race and ideology. It wasn’t right then, and it isn’t right now.

Alana Goodman is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]

More on this: Read SGA Outreach and Education Coordinator Sam Dreyfus’ response to Goodman’s column.


34 Responses to “Institutionalized racism in student government”

  1. Dan on September 23rd, 2009 10:21 am

    How can it be discrimination when a small minority of positions are reserved for qualified people who have historically been discriminated against based on their race?


  2. Sean McNair - Former Chancellor of Elections on September 23rd, 2009 10:51 am

    That argument just doesn’t hold water. Holding a 19-22 year old student accountable for the injustices of another generation is not only pathetically vengeful, but it is embarrassing for those that you are trying to protect.

    The ALANA community on this campus is vibrant and organized. Saying that they need special representation implies that they are too weak to win an election on their own merits. It reminds me of the days that Native Americans were banned from drinking alcohol, because they were deemed physically weaker than whites. It also reminds me of when white bigots made the case that they were entitled to sit on a plantation porch, because they were weaker than their African slaves.

    If we are going to have a diverse and racism free campus we need to collectively admit that there have been injustices, but work to correct them by viewing each other as equally strong student leaders who are interested in bettering our society.

    Special treatment, based on race or any other factor, marginalizes the character of those who are receiving it.


  3. name on September 23rd, 2009 8:29 pm

    it’s not because they’re weak, it’s so that minorities are not underrepresented, kind of like affirmative action… the idea being that x% of the student body is a minority, and x% of the government which is representing them should be a minority as well.


  4. name on September 23rd, 2009 8:34 pm

    also, the comparison between Rosa Parks and ALANA seats is a little much


  5. nameless on September 23rd, 2009 10:29 pm

    Then x% of the student body that is minority should vote their candidates in. The problem is that most candidates do nothing once being appointed in. It is unfair, many work hard to be elected and yet the minorities in the Senate get mostly a free ride in.


  6. Sean McNair on September 23rd, 2009 11:41 pm

    Then why don’t we put it into the By-Laws that 87% of the Senate should go to white Senators and 13% go to minority Senators? That way no racial group will ever be under represented.

    Also, please note that the past note that the past six Presidents, the past five Speakers, and four out of the past six Trustees have defined themselves a “ALANA Students”. Such statistics would seem to make it clear that ALANA Students are not incapable of winning elections on their own merits.

    Before you say the comparison is a little much, then take this into account. I ran for Senate my sophomore year and lost. An individual that I know, who out of respect for her privacy shall remain nameless, also ran for Senate and lost. She was eligible to be appointed to the Senate by the ALANA Caucus, because she was Latina. I however, was not able to participate in the SGA as a Senator, because as a white person I was not eligible to be appointed to the Senate by the ALANA Caucus. I was essentially told to sit at the back of the bus and wait for an opening, while she was allowed to move to the front. Sounds to be like a pretty similar case. The color of my skin got me a second class ticket.


  7. Sam Dreyfus on September 25th, 2009 11:06 am

    Your story shows a common misconception that we are trying to clear up: Any student, regardless of race, may join the Caucus and serve as an appointed Senator. There have been numerous White students to serve as Caucus-appointed Senators in the past. Additionally, the Area Governors are each entitled to make one appointment to Senate, creating even more opportunities for students who were not elected to serve. I do not blame anyone for not knowing about these provisions; the SGA has not done the best job of getting the information to students, and we are working this year to improve communication and increase engagement.


  8. Ed Cutting on September 25th, 2009 2:04 pm

    Enough! Facts matter and lets start getting real.

    First, when it first started, Jewish students were considered part of what was then the “Third World Caucus” – I don’t remember exactly how they were picked and vaguely remember Hillel House being involved somehow. And then, like now, the UMass Republican Club had become an utter joke and it came to pass that Hillel House became a hub of campus conservatives. And the Hillel/Jewish member of the Caucus was an outspoken conservative and the next year the term “ALANA” was coined and it excluded the Jewish students.

    Second, and this was in the 90s when Apartied had just ended, there was a really nice kid who will remain nameless who was a Black South African. He had grown up under Apartied and he had a look in his eyes that quietly told me that he had seen some not-so-nice stuff. And he jointed the Republican Club. And the ALANA Caucus kicked him out, yanked his Senate seat away from him, and told him to “go look in the mirror” as to why he wasn’t allowed to associate with white kids.

    Third, “[t]here have been numerous White students to serve as Caucus-appointed Senators in the past” — yes, every one of them female as well. What happened was when they ran out of ALANA people willing to show up to meetings (and the seats would be an open joke, people rotated in and then out for missing their 3rd meeting) they started having to appoint the girlfriends. The rationale was that (and I am not making this up, I was told it) that if you were sleeping with a black man, you were “Black inside.” Kinda like transgendered, I guess, White Blond women claiming to be Black.

    Fourth, these seats have always been political. When the budget was coming up in the spring, Caucus Senators would be appointed to vacant “regular” Senate seats, with additional Caucus members backfilled into the appointed seats. In this manner, the ALANA Caucus could get an additional 5-7 votes beyond just the Caucus.

    Fifth, they are illegal. What is not being said in all of this is what might have been sent to then-counsel O’Malley and by whom… 🙂

    Sixth, if Sam is right, they are even MORE illegal. If the ALANA caucus is by affiliation and not actual race, then it is an inherently political group. Like the old “Pro Student Caucus” that we used to have. It comes down to the old “overthrow the US Govt by ‘force or violence'” and the adage of “OK, you didn’t attempt to use force, so you are admitting you used violence.”

    Seventh, what Alana didn’t quite write (she is a nicer person than I) is that considerably more than half of the SATF goes to programs, groups and activities that specifically and explicitly identify on the basis of race. Think about this for a minute, how exactly is this not textbook Apartied? And that is the EXACT point that a certain young Black man made to me, along with the added “all my life I fought not to be treated as ‘colored’ and that is why I left South Africa.”

    Eighth, the middle will eventually cease to hold. Sooner or later – and any of you schmucks thinking of doing this had better wait until I graduate because you will have the full wrath of Ed Cutting coming down on your heads if you try this while I am still here – sooner or later some white supremicist group will try to form a RSO. Legally, there is nothing that can be done to stop them (Southworth is clear, as are the various cases against both the NAACP and the Communist Party in years past, and they will sue and they will win if you try to stop them.

    So you have the Klan as a RSO and how do you argue against them? How do you argue that it is wrong to discriminate on the basis of race when over half your SATF goes to groups/activities that explicitly do that?

    Ed can (WILL) condemn the Klan – we are all God’s children, there is Natural Law and the tradition of Western liberalism (small “l”) and it is wrong to identify people by the color of their skin. While I do very much care if you are green (it is acute liver shutdown and you are going to the hospital *fast* – I have only seen it once but that is enough) I really don’t care. And I condemn those who discriminate, unconditionally.

    But how could the SGA argue against a Klan Chapter, how could the ALANA Caucus argue against it????


  9. Ed Cutting on September 25th, 2009 2:24 pm

    “Then why don’t we put it into the By-Laws that 87% of the Senate should go to white Senators and 13% go to minority Senators? That way no racial group will ever be under represented.”

    Sean, I know you are trying to make one point, but there is a second one that needs to be made — with the caucus, ALANA students get to vote twice and that also is wrong if not illegal.

    So if we have the Caucus, we also have to deny ALANA students the right to vote for “regular” Senators. We have to have true segregation like in the days of the old “Negro League” where you could play baseball in one league or the other — but not both. And the untold (but good) thing that Jackie Robinson did was also dismantle the Negro League which we all know no longer exists as all of its good players are in the regular league.

    How long before this becomes a binary divide?

    The other thing that is not said about segregated buses was that white folk were not permitted to sit in the back, either. So if the front was full, they had to stand even though there were lots of empty seats in the “Black” section.

    And this is where we are going in academia – we literally are re-segregating it and that is WRONG. And it is not going to be “two votes/two choices” forever, I fear that we are going to go back to “you are ‘colored’, go be with your own kind” again.

    Have dinner with Ward Connerly, as I have, and you will understand what I am afraid of. There are things that we really don’t want to be playing with, and segregation is one of them!

    And then there are things like the Nuremburg Laws and that is a very clear example of EXACTLY where this sort of thing can (and did) go. You don’t use a 5 gallon pail of gasoline to clean your living room carpet (although it would do a fairly good job) and you don’t play with segregation…


  10. militant redneck on September 26th, 2009 12:29 am

    When will the left stop breathing life into racism’s dead limbs? Since it gets them votes…probably never, which is why its up to us. “Be the change” is what i sometimes hear, its why some vegetarians don’t eat meat, even though they know the mere ounces they abstain from consuming per day wont save a single animal from the slaughter house. Its why people drive hybrids or electrics, even though they know the mere gallons they abstain from per day wont save a single barrel from importation and eventual use. Somehow that slogan doesn’t apply to discrimination/racism in America. If you keep something in the headlines and on the front pages you keep it in the forefront of everyone’s mind, and it wont be going anywhere soon. Actions speak louder than bumper stickers, and if it wouldn’t be criminally ironic, id slap that on my car.


  11. Ed Cutting on September 28th, 2009 1:22 am

    Instead, the Caucus promptly branded Gargano a “racist” and held campus rallies comparing him to Satan.

    Oh, they went FAR beyond that. They packed the Campus Center Auditorium and started chanting “Fuck the First Amendment.”

    Yes, they did it. I was there. And think about the consequences of this…


  12. anonymous on September 28th, 2009 7:01 pm

    Nowhere, NOWHERE, in the Caucus Charter, By-Laws, SGA Constitution, or SGA By-Laws does it say that ONLY Students of Color can be appointed as Caucus Seats. Moreover, anyone can be a member of the caucus so long as they get the endorsement of 25 registered members of Cultural RSO’s (which represent the larger community of color on campus). That means WHITE people can be on the caucus, and be appointed by the Caucus to the Senate, if they represent and are endorsed by the larger community of color. Until 5 years ago, there were virtually NO students of color in the Senate, Executive Cabinet, SGA activities, etc…

    Get your facts straight…read the by-laws and constitutions. Stop listening to Derek Khanna and his rhetoric.


  13. anonemous on September 29th, 2009 2:03 pm

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”… words from a legitimate Constitution without racism embedded in it. By allotting seats that only one, the minority community, can fill, is destroying equality by not offering those seats to a fair and fit competition. When was the last time a white man led the NAACP? The keeping of numbers of coloured versus non coloured folks in the Senate is dwelling on racism and prolonging it. People are people, let them be just that! Without everyone being elected we cannot represent all views with a fair chance. Why not have seats for the LBGT community? Since we have illegal seats for race why not have them for religion?

    My facts are straight, and I support Derek and his honourable movement to remove these seats and change the senate for equality.


  14. Derek Khanna on September 29th, 2009 3:29 pm

    Dear Anonymous,

    “Nowhere, NOWHERE, in the Caucus Charter, By-Laws, SGA Constitution, or SGA By-Laws does it say that ONLY Students of Color can be appointed as Caucus Seats.” But it does say that they are the official representatives of minority groups.

    “Until 5 years ago, there were virtually NO students of color in the Senate, Executive Cabinet, SGA activities, etc…”
    This is untrue, you can go back to the records from 1998 where you can find the Alana Caucus harassing minority students for not voting along ‘racial lines.’ So I feel confident in saying that unfortunately your facts are incorrect. But the Caucus seats have been here for a long time, if your facts are right, which they are not, then the seats weren’t the solution as they’ve been here for generations.

    Various communities originally had appointment seats, the LBQT community had seats, as did various other groups such as the Greek Community. Those were all removed.

    As to your points, I believe that any research on affirmative action will explain that an affirmative action program is any program that legally discriminates on the basis of race… er go, ever. Meaning that if the caucus seats sometimes discriminate on the basis of race, if the chance of a minority student being appointed is higher, then it is discriminatory and it must be an affirmative action program to be legal.

    The courts have held in the Bakke decision that quota affirmative action systems are illegal. In the Michigan cases in 2003-2004, they shot down the defense of self-reported race and said that an affirmative action program is a program that is set up to rectify a lack of racial equality, whether it succeeds or not is a separate, legal matter. Thus your defense for the seats, is arguing that it is an affirmative action program, as an affirmative action program it breaks the law… thus, it has to go, good try.

    As a minority student I can honestly say, I don’t need it and neither do the other minority candidates. Minorities are over 50% of the SGA with another 13% seats on top of that. That isn’t fair, these appointment Senators are told how to vote, and they further a culture of race based politics, which is actually illegal under the viewpoint neutral doctrine.

    It’s unfortunate that people like you don’t do your research and only contention is that I’m crazy because I have.


  15. Jack on September 29th, 2009 8:00 pm

    I agree that the whole idea of a senator being appointed to “represent” a race or ethnicity is pretty insulting, especially in what is supposed to be a pluralistic society. Could the white students have a senator? What about Catholic? Jews? Where is the cutoff for oppression? Which groups are oppressed enough and not enough to merit a seat?


  16. Jack on September 29th, 2009 8:03 pm

    Does anyone know what kind of student Ed Cutting is? I keep hearing about this guy. Is he in the world’s longest grad program?


  17. Kid on September 29th, 2009 10:44 pm

    Yeah, Jack. Ed has been a graduate student here for longer than anyone knows; I think since the early 90s.


  18. Jack on September 30th, 2009 5:36 pm

    What is he studying? Is he taking the Delaying Tactics doctoral progam at Eisenberg?


  19. Turd Ferguson on October 2nd, 2009 1:36 pm

    Alana is right. Blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans have it way easier than White kids. There is no way the systemic racism in our society calls for any sort of attempt to correct it.


  20. Senator Dingleberry on October 5th, 2009 9:58 am

    Look, the bottom line is the student activities fund, of which SGA has nominal control over. When they’re not out organizing protests, leading student strikes and passing resolutions demonizing a member of the campus or administration, their main function is allocating (spending) YOUR money. That’s the sole responsibility of the SGA, to handle the student activities fund.

    Now when you get one group or organization that is handed a certain percentage of seats based on a pre-existing agreement you are immediately marring the idea of creating representative body – based on voter turnout, not identity politics – for the campus. Toss in the fact that ALANA has an agenda and you end up wasting thousands of dollars on a program like Student BRIDGES.

    Not that anyone cares, of course.


  21. Robert Davis on October 10th, 2009 12:51 am

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”… words from a legitimate Constitution without racism embedded in it.

    This is mildly ironic, both the quote, and the fact you claim it is without racism. You do realize that when the Constitution was written there was still slavery in America, and women as well as minorities had virtually zero rights.

    As for the article itself, I agree that there is no need for these special caucus seats, especially at Umass.


  22. Irony is delicious on October 20th, 2009 11:00 am

    Of course Davis, the irony is not lost, but nobody pointed that out to Martin Luther King Jr, did he? His point is mine as well, one day we will be just people.


  23. George on October 20th, 2009 10:09 pm

    ALANA could be used for good benefit as long as non-minorities are not excluded


  24. Chuck on October 24th, 2009 4:35 pm

    The SGA is dominated by a closed group of people who have rigged the system so they can retain power indefinitely. They don’t want online voting because when only 10% of the student body votes it’s much easier for them to use their small-group of committed members to vote in people they want.
    The SGA and ALANA are corrupt and need to be reformed.
    If anyone actually got a chance to read the article in The Minuteman about the SGA’s pet project Student Bridges (before all copies were stolen/destroyed by SGA and ALANA members that is) you’d be able to see how the SGA doesn’t represent or care about students here at UMass. They have their own agenda and anyone who doesn’t agree can go pound dirt for all they care.


  25. George on November 9th, 2009 9:48 pm

    This is ridiculous and there should be no racism in the student government. Even having ALANA is a bit racist as it is ethnically-driven.


  26. Question on November 12th, 2009 5:50 pm

    Where’s the “White male” RSO on campus.. will that then be a “Cultural RSO” if it is made?


  27. Michael DeFilippi on November 17th, 2009 3:22 am

    I completely agree with this article. At my time at UMASS it felt as though the SGA was completely run by ‘minorities’ and this ALANA group. It honestly felt like they did more to separate people then bring them together. Every member of the SGA should be ELECTED by a vote of the student body not appointed by a minority group.
    This is like discrimination against white people. I honestly wish someone would have the balls to start a “White Student Union” or something. Why is it ok for there to be a black one….? Hypocrites..


  28. Average Joe on November 24th, 2009 1:54 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article. There is no legitimate reason that the misdeeds of people in years past should affect us now. I didn’t throw stones at the Freedom Riders. I didn’t keep slaves. Nobody on campus has. So why should we have to pay for it?


  29. George on November 27th, 2009 1:38 pm

    I don’t think ALANA should have an alloted amount of seats given tot hem ahead of elections. The group should exist and help their constituents — but under a fair system.


  30. MCC on December 10th, 2009 2:33 am

    This article and many subsequent comments disgrace the sociology department at UMass. Not many of you, especially the article’s author, seem to understand what institutional racism even *is*.


  31. CCM on January 13th, 2010 6:44 pm

    How is the sociology department at UMass involved with the SGA at all? Do you want institutionalized racism, look at affirmative action. My parents had to pick up a second job to send me to college, now my student government tells me I’m the oppressor because I am white? Rich black kids still get affirmative action, yet my family struggles because of injustices that I never, nor my father, ever committed. Go back to feeling smug that you can call white people non-understanding and realize that you’re a racist for assuming white people have never been a victim of racism.


  32. CFO 1959 on January 27th, 2010 6:15 pm

    I love these discussions from save the world college students out to make the world right against all the injustices past, present and future. I understand what institutional racism is, but one thing it isn’t is an excuse to fail. Quit giving minority students an excuse not to excel. When I hire, I don’t care about color, religion or sexual orientation. I only care about hiring the best person for the job. Those organizations that hire based on skills will ultimately beat out those who have discriminatory hiring practices. By the way, I am a card carrying conservative who wants everyone to succeed, but with their effort, not handouts.

    Just wait until you graduate and get into reality. There is no reality on a college campus from the faculty on down.


  33. whm on February 5th, 2010 5:47 pm

    ALANA runs the SGA, or at least they have for the 5 years I’ve been at UMASS (lol). In addition, they antagonize the Republican Club voting bloc (and vice versa) which leads to them wasting a lot of their time fighting each other. Right now I bet they’re spending tons of time and man hours scrambling to stop this “March Mandate” as they refer to it. They also allocate themselves tons of money in order to pay for guest speakers (the Republican club) or… pay for reams of paper and… ???? (ALANA). What exactly does SGA need to give their own sub-bodies more money for? To rent out the cape cod lounge and fund paid positions which they give to themselves and their friends? And yeah, that’s how it works. I was offered one of those jobs when I was a freshman, by an un-elected ALANA appointee whom I knew. Fortunately I was too principled and prioritized to waste my time on something like SGA. It could be a useful body, but when it stops being preoccupied with internal drama. Where’s the money for the RSOs that actually enrich the academic and social life of this campus? Where’s the funding for RSOs whose membership isn’t made up of student senators? And I’m sure any white kid with any beliefs can just walk in and get one of those ALANA appointed chairs… that’s why there’s some token white faces in the Executive. Yay diversity!


  34. Chris on March 5th, 2010 2:53 pm

    I don’t really agree with appointing senators. We shouldn’t have any designated spots for people of any race, everyone should be elected by the student body based on merit. If the students find a candidate to share their ideas and that they believe will fulfill their hopes for the university, they will elect them. If that means that all of them are white or all of them from a minority, so be it. I would rather have someone whose ideals I agree with be in senate than someone who shares my race.


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