SA senator’s comment prompts community outrage

Even now, racism persists in our student association

GW Musket | Anthony Nguyen | April 30, 2016

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Testimony in front of the Finance Committee.

Some might think racism in our SA is old news, but racism is never old news. It becomes an issue and then it isn’t an issue when everyone inevitably forgets about it. Two months ago, members of the Student Association Finance committee made insensitive and inappropriate remarks towards the GW South Asian Society as they lobbied for funding to bring Hasan Minhaj, a correspondent for the Daily Show, to keynote their annual South Asian Heritage Celebration. Sparking near universal outrage, the Student Association senators and also The American Society of Civil Engineers pledged to make it right (not without some discussion about the tiered allocation system for orgs though).

SA President Andie Dowd, in response to this controversy, asked for the SA to undergo diversity training and for the senate finance committee to issue a public apology. Paden Gallagher, SoB-U senator and the chair of the finance committee apologized on behalf of the finance committee.

The apology.

Although the GW community had hoped that this was the end of the inappropriate and offensive attitudes in the SA toward minorities and multicultural organizations, it didn’t surprise some when Sean Kumnick, U-At-Large senator and Chairman of the Senate Student Life Committee, made an inappropriate remark in response to the recent SA allocation of funds to club sports and student organizations. The comment was in response to a complaint on Facebook that a club sport had not received enough funding for its travel budget. A comment was posted that referred to the Action Bronson controversy, stating “#ActionBronsonTookYourMoney” and Kumnick replied with “#MulticulturalsTookYourMoney.”

The Black Student Union posted screenshots of the Facebook comments in question. Accompanying the photos was an open letter from the multicultural Community of GW, asserting that the the status quo [of racism] in the Student Association had to change and that the comment typified the treatment of many multicultural student organizations by the senators in the SA . In addition to the Black Student Union, the GW chapter of the NAACP, the Progressive Student Union, the Black Men’s Initiative, the South Asian Society, the Students for Justice in Palestine, and the Philippine Cultural Society all publicly endorsed the open letter, penned by the GW multicultural community.

The community’s response.

Kumnick has since apologized, posting an apology to his own Facebook wall. He declined to comment further for this article. Sophomore Christian Bohorquez called for Kumnick’s resignation and said, “For those who will say that this is an assault on an ‘open-exchange of ideas,’ I say that racism and the insinuation that the multicultural community are a group of thieves and beggars who don’t deserve to have their voice heard, is not eligible for an open-exchange of ideas.” He went on to say, “Bigotry should and will not be debated, discussed, or represented on our student association.”

Although he did not directly address Kumnick’s comment, Executive Vice President Thomas Falcigno said of the SA diversity training, “This year’s Senators-Elect have not gone through diversity and inclusion training. We are working to arrange a diversity and inclusion training with the MSSC and Michael Tapscott [director of the Multicultural Student Services Center] during the SA’s annual retreat in August for both the Senate and Executive Cabinet.” SA President Andie Dowd issued a statement, condemning the comment and saying that comments pitting “student organizations against one another will not be tolerated.” She went on to encourage students to attend MSSC programming and emphasize the importance of understanding the intersectionality of campus issues.

Statement from President Andie Dowd.

Although this is definitely the right step forward, the GW multicultural community, allied with a diverse array of organizations and students, remains adamant that the SA take an even greater step to address these allegations of racism – a reaction that may be warranted given the atmosphere of recent events.

Jude Tungul, President of the Philippine Cultural Society, emphasized the inclusionary nature of multicultural student orgs, saying, “whether it’s cooking, dancing, or something else, we do things that everyone can participate in, making sure literally everyone has a chance to be a part of our organization.”

Tungul, like many other leaders in the multicultural community, also has concerns over how members of the Student Association present themselves, stating, “for them to tell us what we’re worth, for them to have the liberty to say what we deserve, means they don’t understand what being in a minority community is about.”

“If they really want to say ‘I understand this event,’ they need to be members of the multicultural community and make an effort to come out to the events.”

Today is April 30th. It is the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is about to begin. Countless multicultural student orgs have held amazing events and programming this month and have plans for next month. They have shown to the GW community many times over that they are worth more than just a number on a budget form. As a member of a minority group, I fear nothing will change; we say we hate and abhor racism but then we do nothing meaningful to fix the problem. Only by moving forward can we as a campus, address these issues and produce institutional change, but first a consensus must be reached by all members of the community, including the GW community and the senators of the Student Association, that there is a problem and it must be addressed, publicly. Closed door meetings and private training sessions don’t do enough to reassure students that something is being done. We need to know something substantive and significant is happening.

 A special thanks to the members of the GW Community that assisted with this article and a special thanks to Andie Dowd and Thomas Falcigno for their cooperation with The Rival at GW.