Why I voted to cut the Equity Program

Editor’s Note: I was going to put some clever and snappy title up there, but there really didn’t seem to be anything that really captured the spirit of the piece. The saga of the Equity Program is probably close to being closed. This originally started off as a response to a couple of questions from the Ubyssey, but it grew longer and longer, and I wanted to make sure that my whole reasoning was put out into the zeitgeist.

On another note, I officially no longer have a vote on AMS Council, as of around 1:40 PM yesterday. It’s been a crazy four years.

The Equity Program was ill conceived from its inception. The genesis of the program was initiated near the end of the term of the 2007-08 Executive, in a motion that passed to evaluate the AMS for instances of systemic discrimination within its operating structure. Specifically, the AMS wanted to look at whether the procedures for accessing the AMS were inherently and structurally biased towards one group. A motion was passed to conduct a climate survey of the organization, with the intent being that the society would revaluate its structures after the return of the survey, and take such steps necessary as to ensure that there were not overt or systemic barriers to the full involvement of every student in the organization.

To me, the process seemed sound: identify the problem, devise a solution, and implement the solution.

This didn’t get done. Instead of putting out an RFP for the climate survey (something that was eventually done), a group of people within the AMS decided that they, without the benefit of any kind of evaluation, had the cure to all that ailed the AMS. They decided that they, for this problem which the AMS had only begun to excavate from the earthy mounds of mystery, knew best. The solution that they promulgated was the Equity Program, a solution for a problem we weren’t even sure existed. They skipped the very important first step in the process, that of identifying the problem, and jumped straight to implementing the solution that they had wanted to impose in the first place.

I can see how a narrow minded ideologue would see these steps as appropriate and reasonable, because for them the solution to any problem is the same. When one views the world through a specific set of lenses, they will see the same problems that they have been taught to look for, whether these problems are either there in the first place, or having a real and substantial impact on the lives of people that they were trying to help. In doing this, they created the Equity Office, and passed a policy which imposed (theoretically) mandatory training and procedures on the clubs far and away more than what is required for the administration of a club bank account. As someone who has prided himself on defending the autonomy of the constituencies and the clubs, this was a deeply and dangerously intrusive policy, one apt to provoke resentment of the AMS and damage our relationship with our subunits.

It was this same program that came to the AMS, when asking for an assistant only halfway into its first year of operation, and said basically that, beyond listing the number of people that they had trained, there was no way of evaluating the success or failure of the program based on any kind of empirical data, because if they were doing their job right there would be no way to tell. To my already sceptical ears, this sounded like a request for more money without any accountability or oversight. There was no effort made to create evaluative metrics against which the program could be judged. It was this same program, one that was ostensibly created to help make campus a safer space, that during the Council debate on the disabilities seat motion, single-handedly created one of the most charged and hostile Council environments that I’ve seen in my time at the AMS.

I have been supportive of every step along the way that moved towards a data based approach to equality evaluation, and I do believe that it is possible, if not likely, that the structures of the AMS inherently favour the inclusion of some groups to the exclusion of others. However, I do not feel that this is going to be addressed by the erstwhile Equity Program, a program with ideological roots that feed off of self censorship and which promotes a brand of suffocating political correctness to the detriment of honest political debate. It was a watered down version (especially because of the mandatory training and implementation of the program that the AMS mandated, but did not enforce) of the ideological re-education programs imposed on students at the University of Delaware, and of other programs on diversity consciousness that promote a self-righteous self-loathing that may as well be called ‘the white-man’s burden for the modern age’.

The AMS climate review is continuing apace as we speak, and I’ve signed myself up for one of the sessions. I do have some very significant concerns in terms of selection bias in the survey, but I hope that it is able to identify where the structures of the AMS are preventing the full engagement of our members. The money we spent on the Equity Program this past year was wasted on implementing a solution before identifying the program, and those who championed it prevented the AMS from taking any real action for another year. The money spent on the Equity Program could have been used to promote the climate survey and solicit broad feedback, which would have alleviated some of the concerns that I think, due to the (rather small) amount of marketing done to promote the survey, are going to manifest themselves with respect to selection bias.

The money, which at best impacted no more than one in six of the clubs on campus, could have been used to greater effect in any number of ways, generating more utility for the AMS membership. We deserve better from the AMS, and we should be able to expect that the people spending our money are going to try to use every cent of it to improve the lives of students in a way that can be justified by logic and research, and quantified with results. We should also be able to expect that people in power do not use the name, weight, money and power of the AMS as an ideological chew toy, something that has gone tragically unfulfilled these past two years. Students deserve better.


3 Responses to “Why I voted to cut the Equity Program”

  1. April 7, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    As always, an interesting read!

    What I find odd is that through all of this (creating the equity program, voting in and out non-voting seats to council, abolishing the equity program), there’s been (if I’m not mistaken) a systematic review of discrimination and potential barriers in the AMS.

    Why has council not waited right from the beginning, as you point out, to identify the potential problem(s)?!

    I’m attending one of the focus groups too and am interested to discuss this further, though I agree with your point about self-selection bias and I hope that is taken into effect with whatever results come out of the groups.

    My favourite quote: “When one views the world through a specific set of lenses, they will see the same problems that they have been taught to look for, whether these problems are either there in the first place, or having a real and substantial impact on the lives of people that they were trying to help.”

  2. 3 Dan Pagan
    April 18, 2010 at 12:41 am

    Good points and I agree with you on these problems. Yet, what are the better alternate options compared to the Equity Program? As a student with a hearing issue, who uses American sign language interperters in classes, other students or instructors asked me about what the ASL interperters do or if I need any “more special benefits”. And I’m just fed up with having to explain myself again and again or what the interperters are for. And I’m sick of having to say no to these “special benefit” courses. Could anything be done to change this situation, so I don’t have to explain my own deafness to others?

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