ASUS equity commissioner resigns

Faculty society ‘inaccessible’ and uncommitted to diversity issues, former commissioner says

ASUS President Jillian Evans says she hopes to hire a new equity commissioner in March.
ASUS President Jillian Evans says she hopes to hire a new equity commissioner in March.

The Arts and Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS) Equity Commissioner resigned at the Dec. 3 ASUS Assembly.

The Equity Commissioner position was voted into effect on Feb. 5. It was created to fulfill some of the aims of ASUS’s Leading Action on Diversity plan which calls for an advisory position to oversee education on diversity issues within Arts and Science.

The plan was made by last year’s ASUS executive in response to an Islamaphobic comment made on Facebook by 2008-09 ASUS President Jacob Mantle.

Mantle told the Journal on Jan. 16, 2009 he decided to create the post to address the lack of attention to diversity issues within ASUS. He said as the largest faculty society, ASUS needed someone on staff to address these issues.

Sarah Jacobs, ArtSci ’11, was hired last spring as the first Equity Commissioner.

“I think the position is necessary. The society cannot afford to have equity work be a reaction to big blow ups. It needs to be integrated into all aspects of the process,” Jacobs said. “Any decision that affects students affects students differently depending on their circumstances.”

Jacobs said although the ASUS executive says she did little in her position, she disagrees.

She said she spent the summer gathering advice by speaking to those with experience in the field, including Barrington Walker, former Diversity Advisor to the Vice-Principal (Academic).

Although summer work wasn’t included in the job description, Jacobs said she did an inquest into how students feel about their school and their student government. She said she spoke to about 30 people within Arts and Science who were generally disillusioned.

“They felt ASUS was an inaccessible entity. When people went to assembly, if they didn’t know the rules of procedure they felt looked down upon and upset that their student leaders were less patient than they had hoped,” she said, adding that students were sometimes uncomfortable to come to the ASUS house, called the Core, to approach her with equity concerns.

“Even when I met people who wanted to know what I did, they didn’t feel comfortable going to the Core as it seemed an unsafe space to people,” she told assembly on Dec. 3.

She said during the year she created the Equity Caucus with AMS Social Issues Commissioner Samantha Boyce.

“The Equity Caucus is making guidelines that will make concepts of equity and diversity interwoven into all faculties,” Jacobs said.

The position was unofficially renamed the Equity and Sustainability Commissioner.

“The [ASUS] exec seemed to think that the sustainability meant to set up recycling bins which to me was ridiculous,” Jacobs said. “When they [ASUS executive] called me out for not putting in recycling bins, I thought it was the silliest thing.

“I did accept the title of Equity and Sustainability even though it further tokenized a position that was token in its creation,” she said.

Jacobs said she thinks the fact that the position wasn’t taken very seriously by ASUS is a big part of the problem and was only approached by the executive once or twice to discuss her role and her work.

“I tried unsuccessfully to run anti-oppression workshops, I had to pull teeth just to get availability and by the time I did the time had passed,” she said. “The position had no teeth so what could I do? It seemed like I was just spinning my wheels.

“I expected a commitment from the rest of the ASUS executive, for them to follow through with their commitment to equity issues,” Jacobs said. “I chose to resign for personal health reasons but upon resignation I realized that the position was a joke that I didn’t find funny.” Jacobs said she thinks the ASUS executive felt she was ineffective in her post.

ASUS President Jillian Evans said ASUS will hire someone to serve as a policy rewriter to work in conjunction with her.

“We will go to Equity Caucus, we will see where the position was and where we want it to go and what best suits the needs of the Society and further councils.”

Evans said the new position will be advertised this week in the Journal, the ASUS projector space and on Facebook and that all policy will hopefully be rewritten in time to hire a new Equity Commissioner in March.

Evans said the vision for the position was vague going into the 2009-10 year. Preliminary ideas and expectations for the position included training for everyone who works at the Core, a speaker series, a workshop at Chair training, strategic planning and sustainability efforts.

“[Jacobs] didn’t do chair training and the sustainability project was started in the Core but by the Marketing Commissioner,” she said.

“I took two months off this summer to provide her with a budget so that money came out of the salary that I didn’t take. Her total budget amounted to $5,000,” she said, adding that Jacobs was also given her own office and asked to do five office hours per week.

“The beginning of the semester is always really busy and basically I saw her once in the Core. She was supposed to do five hours per week but she didn’t like going into her office,” Evans said. “We submitted reviews in November and Sarah didn’t pick hers up, so we talked about it the next week at committee and I gave my thoughts. She read the minutes and came the next week with her resignation.

“This was the first we had heard and we assumed no news was good news,” she said. “We know Sarah has done a lot but we haven’t seen it.”

Evans said she feels sorry that Jacobs felt she had to resign.

“We felt that we’ve given more than adequate support. Some commissions don’t even have that big of a budget.” Jacobs said she was upset by the executive’s reaction to her resignation.

“I was surprised the executive chose to cite my personal work ethic saying I missed office hours,” Jacobs said. “It’s shocking that they’re trying to defame my character when they were guilty of the same things.”

Upon her resignation, Jacobs promised to help tie up loose ends before she left and to submit a full report of her ASUS experience which will be presented at ASUS Assembly on Feb 11.

“It will talk about my experience, what I did, what I was hoping to do, problems I identified within the school and society,” she said. “In submitting a full report I hope to generate some good discussion and action. I otherwise fear for the society because a lot of students don’t have faith in it anymore.”

A review committee made up of five ASUS assembly members decided based on peer reviews whether an honorarium should be granted. It was decided that Jacobs’s work did merit her honorarium but because it wasn’t in the constitution or in policy it could not be awarded. The committee planned to vote on putting an honorarium into policy at the February evaluation. Jacobs said she didn’t receive the approximately $500 honorarium.

“To me it’s not about receiving the money, it’s hearing that that kind of work is not valid.”

Jacobs said the Equity Officer position is important but should be modified.

“It needs a seat and it needs to be a bit more human resources minded,” Jacobs said. “ASUS shouldn’t roll it under Society Affairs because it shows that it’s taking a back seat.

“It also needs a clearer job description,” she said. “I was given the reins and that allowed for a miscommunication and led to them implying that I wasn’t productive.”

ASUS is currently planning to hire someone to evaluate and codify the job description of the Equity Commissioner before re-instating the position for the 2010-11 academic year.

“It’s a waste of a resource to hire someone because I spent four months doing the same thing. I think it would be wise to look at my work first,” Jacobs said.

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