The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) at IUPUI held a leadership conference on Wednesday, Sept. 21, that featured speeches from various administrative officials at IUPUI. The USG has made controversial statements in the past, but one lecture at the leadership conference featured progressive politics and a controversial social theory called intersectionality at the center.
This lecture by the Social Justice Scholars at IUPUI succeeded a speech on leadership by Interim Chancellor Dr. Carol Anne Murdoch-Kinch.
Bioinformatics student Saloni Dixon and radiation therapy student Melanie Reyes spoke for the group at the event.
“Affirmative action is a set of laws and policies usually governed by the state and federal governments, and it just ensures that applicants will not be rejected based on their identities or race, religion, nationality, age, gender and also disability,” said Reyes. “And this is implemented in higher education, and it works in order to eliminate race-based discrimination in order to diversify the campus community.”
Reyes may have confused affirmative action with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Affirmative action is a form of preference for certain groups considered marginalized in both college admissions and employment.
The Supreme Court recently ruled in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina that this form of preference in non-military public university admissions was unconstitutional, as it was found to have been used to discriminate against Asian applicants to Harvard. Holistic review, however, was implied to be admissible.
USG releases statement on affirmative action, student debt and LGBTQ+ issues
The USG released a statement in late August condemning the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action, along with Biden v. Nebraska, which overturned the Biden Administration’s student debt cancellation plans, and 303 Creative LLC. et al. v. Elenis et al., which reaffirmed the right of a web designer to refuse to design a website that violated her religious beliefs.
“Society is not color-blind, and we continue to fight against the effects of systemic racism,” the statement said.
The statement went on to condemn laws recently passed in Indiana, including one banning “the performance of gender-affirming transitions on Hoosiers younger than 18 years old,” which they said “will create barriers for LGBTQ+ Hoosiers, further perpetuating a society of inequity.”
The Collegiate Commons reached out to the USG for comment on the decision to address these political issues.
Historical development of affirmative action
The Social Justice Scholars went on to discuss the historical development of affirmative action.
“In 1965, President Lyndon B Johnson modified this policy… with the executive order I believe 11246,” said Reyes, “and this just further detailed into it so that no one could base employment on race, color, religion, national origin, and gender, and gender was added later on in 1967.”
Johnson’s executive order actually uses the phrase “The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”
A clear definition of “affirmative action” was not made until President Richard Nixon added compliance policies and guidelines in 1969.
The scholars went on to talk about intersectionality.
“Intersectionality means that our identities are not independent parts of us,” said Dixon. “It’s instead our race, gender, sexuality, religion, social class and a host of potential identities come together to create a unique understanding of our experience, our view of others and the world.”
Intersectionality is part of a broader framework of critical social theories that can trace their origin from the Frankfurt School, which Marxist Carl Grünberg founded in Germany. Critical theory tends to deny the existence of objective truth, and is aimed at “dismantling” systems perceived to be oppressive.
“What many of you all know about intersectionality is that it really is focused on the fact that structural, systemic and institutional processes create oppression,” said Dixon. “For example, racism blends with sexism, classism and heterosexism, and each of these are strengthened and supported by one another.”
Criticisms of intersectionality
Intersectionality has been criticized by various scholars such as sociologist Kathy Davis, who notes that intersectionality and its categories do not have “clear parameters.” Darren Hutchinson, Chief Diversity Officer at Emory School of Law also notes that the identity categories intersectionality references are “contextual and shifting.”
“I have to say I would need to do more research myself for the question,” said Dixon when asked about these criticisms and the data behind intersectionality, “but [the identity categories are] definitely constantly changing and especially with the things that are currently going on in society.”
Afterwards, the scholars talked about various identity groups and asked the individuals in attendance to stand up if they agreed with the identity statements they made. They made it clear participation was voluntary. Among other things, they asked questions relating to divorce, financial state, disabilities, and perceived racial and religious representation.
“It’s a tradition for us to include the Social Justice Scholars into our leadership conference,” said Clara Pineda, vice-president of the USG at IUPUI and former director of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “We are passionate about fostering a welcoming environment for all students, taking all their considerations and preferences into account, and we believe that the Social Justice Scholars do a great job at being DEI ambassadors, educating the student population on how to be more culturally and ethnically aware.”
USG Spending Issues
Last year The Campus Citizen published an article showing the USG went over their budget while underutilizing initiative funds. They also redirected funds meant for initiatives to further increase officer scholarships, which made up around 56 percent of their $88,280.39 budget last year, another 10 percent of which was spent on “executive enrichment.” It is important to note, however, that last year’s leadership conference was classified as executive enrichment despite it being open to other students (and cost around $2,889.99).
It is unclear if anything has changed this year, as the USG has not made a budget publicly available.
For more information about the Social Justice Scholars, you can email them here.