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Some Forms of Discrimination Should And Could Be Prohibited

03/12/2010

John Rawls, the father of modern political philosophy, once theorized that the principles of justice could only be found when wearing a veil of ignorance. Under the veil, one is blind to his own place in society, as well as his own fortune, intelligence, strength and the like. Then, with knowledge of only general considerations, the parties are obliged to evaluate the principles they are prepared to live with whatever generation they turn out to belong to.

Rawls’ theory is particularly relevant when analyzing the discrimination debate that is currently raging in our University Assembly.  This debate is over whether or not we should add a non-discrimination clause to our Campus Code of Conduct.  According to Rawls’ theory, this debate should be quite simple: if one does not know whether or not they will be born into a class that is often discriminated against, then one will want as much protection as possible, and that principle will guide society, end of story.

As a UA member and avid Sun reader, I have been disheartened to read articles, op-eds, and letters to the editor attacking the notion that it is even possible to create a non-discrimination clause. One of these negative-nancy letters was written by the Chairman of the very committee that has been charged with devising the language for the Campus Code. Therefore, as it looks right now, legislating discrimination on this campus is, and will continue to be, an uphill battle.

I am writing this article because I do not think we should give up the fight. The reasons people use to oppose this reform are not nearly as good as the reasons people use to advocate it. For example, the nay-sayers claim that it is impossible to write such a clause because, to quote a Sun Op-Ed, “the devil’s in the details.”  This argument, however, only proves that the nay-sayers lack legislative creativity, especially when one considers how most of Cornell’s peer institutions have already legislated this in their Campus Codes.

Another faulty argument that continues to be included in these debates is that a non-discrimination clause would hinder the freedom of association that all academic institutions should aspire to. On this point, it is necessary to clear a few things up. People assume that any non-discrimination clause added to the Code will be so broad that it will affect the structure of independent student organizations. The fact is that a well-written non-discrimination clause in the Campus Code will only serve to legitimize Cornell’s stance against bias-related activity, such as harassing another student because of his/her race, color, sexual orientation, etc.

Of course, I am not suggesting that adding a non-discrimination clause to our Campus Code would magically wipe away all incidents of discrimination on campus. To do that, Cornell needs to continue its work promoting diversity initiatives that seek to inspire students to meet new people and reach beyond their comfort zones. That said, adding a non-discrimination clause is still urgently needed.

Our policies should mirror our spirit. As it stands, our dated policies forbid us from making the claim that Cornell is a bastion of liberalism and progressivism. Until more campus legislators understand the necessity of prohibiting certain forms of discrimination, we will continue to fail in our mission of providing a safe learning environment to all students.

This article does not need to end on a sad note, however, because there are currently two different non-discrimination resolutions making their way through the University and Student Assemblies, respectively. The first will seek to add a non-discrimination clause to the Campus Code of Conduct, specifying how hostile forms of discrimination are prohibited.

The second will be much more controversial, as it pushes the envelope for what is legally permissible. This resolution, which I have refrained from mentioning thus far, will indeed have an effect on independent student organizations.

As some of you may or may not know, at the end of last spring, the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, an independent student organization that is currently able to apply for up to $8,000 in Student Activity money per semester, was able to remove a member of their leadership because of his sexual orientation.

Now, at this point, I have heard all the arguments. People say that groups should enjoy the freedom to have values, and those values need to be respected, despite how much you may disagree with them.  People also say that if you disagree with how a group operates, you have the right to start your own, so there is no need to complain.

While I find myself nodding my head in agreement with these people, I cannot help but wonder: What exactly are my rights as a student in a Cornell registered organization? And how easily could they be marginalized?

As it turns out, we do have one right, and that is the right to become members. This is a right that is specified in the CIO form which is a contract that all independent student organizations need to sign to become registered. (Of course, there are exceptions for club sports and  a cappella, but everything else is free and open to all students).

The problem is that this CIO form, much like our Campus Code, is out of date. Not only does the contract not cover certain groups that have enjoyed legally protected status for years, such as veterans, but the contract is too ambiguous to be put to good use.

The main problem with the non-discrimination clause found in the CIO form is that it does not specify what it means to be a member in a student organization. Does it mean you could vote for your leaders? Does it mean you could enter an election to become a leader? Does it mean you could remain a leader, despite revelations about your sexual orientation, if you were democratically elected?

I think it means all these things and more, but without an updated version of the CIO form, the right to membership is a right that could easily be marginalized without consequence. Therefore, I am hoping, and asking you to hope with me, that there exists the political will within the Student Assembly to update our policies, for we cannot justify using student activity money to perpetuate discrimination against students themselves.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 05/28/2010 10:19 pm

    very beautiful article

  2. 05/28/2010 10:21 pm

    i want to make friend with you.And that is my email.

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