The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Student Senate

Policy debate shows weaknesses

The Student Senate on Tuesday voted down a proposal that would have recommended to the administration that gender identity be added to the list of traits officially protected from harassment in the Code of Conduct. The vote of 24 against the proposal and seven for included three abstentions.

Much of the debate centered on the nature of gender identity and confusion regarding the prevalence of the condition on campus. A distinct phenomenon from sexual orientation, those with gender identity issues are individuals whose gender does not match their sex – for instance, a person who is physically male but considers himself a female in terms of gender. Proponents of the measure were offended by the comments of senators who attempted to link gender identity to homosexuality, transvestitism or “medical” conditions – and by one Senator’s remark that “no one at SMU” has the condition. Supporters of the bill contested that point with anecdotal evidence.

Those supporting the bill, including representatives from Spectrum, argued that if even one student suffers harassment over gender identity issues then that justifies recommending the proposed change. Senators who questioned the initiative stressed that any proposed change to the Code of Conduct that didn’t match official University policy was doomed to fail, and some felt that gender varied persons were already covered under the policy, which specifically notes that it is “not limited to” those groups listed.

While the Ed Board is not swayed by the idea that the harassment policy’s list of protected classes should be so exhaustive as to include every possible group on campus, that is not to say that gender identity would not be a proper addition to the policy. Spectrum and its allies should work with the Senate and other campus organizations to inform the student body about gender identity issues – helping people understand the issue before again throwing it before the Senate can only help their cause.

The complicated issue of gender identity is a hard topic for anyone to truly consider in as short a time as a Senate meeting. This is why Senators should have been informed that this issue, which was one of 20 recommendations from the Code of Conduct committee, was amongst those being contested, so that they could have been better prepared.

And if Senators are not fully versed regarding an issue, it is the Editorial Board’s position that they should abstain from voting. Confusion over how many Senators had admitted to ignorance during the debate (Senate speaker Michael Dorff says three, others believe it was far more), as compared to the low number abstaining (three), led to the hard feelings that followed the vote. Senators have a responsibility not to vote when they have a weak grasp on the issue. If ill-prepared or ill-informed about a topic, the only vote a Senator can ethically cast is “abstain.”

But then again, there are those who might argue that, were the Senate to only allow votes on issues it understands, it would never hold any votes at all.

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