The Committee for Diversity and Equity (CDE), the newest joint standing committee in Student Government Association (SGA), held its first open student forum last Thursday. The forum focused on student concerns regarding diversity and inclusion on campus, particularly the absence of safe spaces for Muslim and South Asian students.

Ruben Diaz Vasquez, CDE member and sophomore representative-at-large, ran the forum. Vasquez noted a need for more strategic advertising given the event’s low attendance.

Reporting a lack of resources for Muslim and South Asian students, College sophomore Sean Khan called for Campus Life to provide safe spaces and more prayer areas for Muslim and South Asian students.

Khan cited physical spaces designated for the Emory Black Student Union (EBSU) in the Dobbs University Center (DUC) and religious spaces including Emory Hillel as existing accommodations for minority student groups, but argued that more are needed.

“Muslim and Hindu students don’t have spaces to come together and talk about racism in the classroom, … about terrorism across the world,” Khan said.

College Council (CC) legislator and College sophomore Esther Garcia dissented with Khan, referencing the interfaith prayer room in Robert W. Woodruff Library. Also in disagreement with Khan, Ida Curtis, CDE member and Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing graduate student, cited the prayer room for Muslim students in Rollins School of Public Health. Both Garcia and Curtis acknowledged the need for accessible safe spaces “in every division of Emory.”

Noting the scheduled replacement of the DUC with the Campus Life Center (CLC), Vasquez proposed bringing the need for more designated safe spaces to DUC Director Ben Perlman. Vasquez hopes that the CLC will designate safe spaces for which Khan advocated.

“This [committee] is an opportunity to direct institutional support and SGA funds to meet the needs of a diverse student body,” Vasquez said.

CDE will ensure diversity standards that the committee establishes are being met in SGA bills, “in much the same way that Campus Services reviews SGA legislation,” he added.

In addition to holding open student forums, the CDE’s duties include reviewing SGA legislation related to Emory’s Nondiscrimination Statement and ensuring diverse and equal student input on SGA’s policies.

The committee’s structure, outlined in the February 2016 SGA bill that created CDE, provides for eight seats. Four of these members are designated to serve in the SGA legislative body.

SGA debated the need for a committee to ensure respect for diversity last year, according to CDE member and SGA Junior Representative-at-Large Natasha Armstrong.

“This dialogue arose around the time of the [group Black Students at Emory’s] demands,” Armstrong said. “We realized there was potential to address these issues as a student government.”

The CDE Vice President will serve in SGA but abstain from voting in SGA on bills sent from CDE. The vice president will also serve on the student committee of the Commission on Racial and Social Justice, formed last year to address demands of Black Students at Emory.
The four current members will review the 31 applications received for the four remaining seats and the vice presidency. They aim to finalize the committee’s full membership board by the end of October, Vasquez said.