Poor attendance stalls Minority Coalition through Winter Study

With only a few months to go before the 10-year anniversary of the Minority Coalition (MinCo), the absence of many group representatives at meetings throughout the fall has forced MinCo to cancel all remaining meetings for the semester, which extends until the end of Winter Study. With the loss of six groups voting rights’, MinCo is unable to have a quorum until February, when voting rights will be restored to all groups.

According to the Minority Coalition constitution, if a MinCo group fails to make one meeting, provide a sub or an excuse to the MinCo co-presidents, they are given a warning that their voting rights are in jeopardy. Failure to appear at two meetings without an excuse or sub results in the suspension of voting rights for that organization for the rest of the semester. Groups may petition for the reinstatement of voting rights at any time, given a quorum among the remaining MinCo groups. If a group misses three consecutive MinCo meetings, it is automatically expelled from the Minority Coalition.

The MinCo constitution specifies that all decisions must be made by a quorum of groups, which means that at least nine of the 13 groups must have voting privileges in order for any decisions to be made. By Monday night, however, six groups had lost their voting privileges, forcing MinCo to abandon meeting for the remainder of the semester. Although normally groups could have their voting right reinstated, without a quorum MinCo can not reinstate rights for any groups.

The groups who lost voting privileges were the Asian American Students in Action, the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Union, the International Club, the Muslim Student Union, Students of Caribbean Ancestry and the Women’s Resource Center.

According to co-chairperson Sandina Green ’99 the problem began early in the semester, with several groups accumulating absences. Green said by December’s funding meeting, many groups were already without voting rights. Only four groups attended the meeting, prompting co-chairperson Phillipa Johnson ’99 to reschedule the meeting. Only six groups came to the second meeting, some of whom had already lost their voting privileges. Johnson decided not to reschedule again. “I made an executive decision,” she said.

By the time Monday’s meeting arrived, every group in MinCo except for the BSU was one absence away from losing their voting privileges. Though every group made the Monday meeting, Green announced that there would be no more meetings for the duration of the semester and that all funding requests would have to wait until February.

“Obviously, communication breakdowns can and do occur,” Green said. “I think there comes a point at which this is not only personally irresponsible but disrespectful and unacceptable to the represented body. MinCo groups will have to deal with the consequences.”

Green’s announcement was met with shock and dismay by the gathered MinCo representatives. Several expressed their protest against a system which punishes all groups for the lack of attendance by some groups.

“Because people don’t show up the whole group is suffering,” said Medha Kirtane ’00, the secretary of MinCo. Other representatives said changes had to be made to ensure that the problem never occurs again.

“I think there’s something basically wrong with the punishment system,” Allen Wong ’00 said. He argued that it is possible that MinCo may fall into the current situation again. “You shouldn’t have a self-destruct mechanism built into the constitution,” he said.

The Williams College Jewish Association (WCJA) had pressing funding concerns and was especially displeased to see MinCo abandon any further meetings.

The WCJA needed funds for a Chanukah celebration, but was disappointed to discover that MinCo now lacks the decision-making capability to approve any funds.

However, other MinCo groups agreed to help support the WCJA until the voting situation is resolved.

“Other individual groups are offering their help,” said WCJA member Lauren Siegel ’00. “We are still being supportive of each other and that makes up for a lot.”

Though the MinCo groups were able to assist the WCJA, questions still remain about what further steps should be taken regarding MinCo’s constitution and attendance issues. At yesterday’s meeting, a committee was formed by Green to evaluate possible amendments to the constitution to be proposed when MinCo reconvenes after Winter Study.

“I think the real problem is that there is no consensus about MinCo’s mission,” said Anita Doddi ’98, the assistant director at the Multicultural Center. “Very few student leaders on this campus spend time looking at the purpose of their group.”

Doddi’s comments echo a larger effort toward redefining MinCo. Specifically, members would like to examine whether or not MinCo should remain solely as a funding group or should adopt a broader purpose.

The discussion of MinCo’s future role spilled out onto most of the MinCo listservers the past week, with many participants suggesting ideas for how MinCo’s funding should proceed during the next semester.

Green said currently money is reserved for each group’s heritage month or week, and almost all groups have a $300 dollar slush fund. Treasurers meet on a monthly basis to request funds from MinCo, and at the end of the semester the slush funds are replenished.

Some representatives believe this system should be overhauled.

“MinCo has an identity crisis,” Wong said. “It’s seen as a funding group but it wants to … promote interaction, to educate and to plan events that a group on its own wouldn’t be able to do.”

Wong believes the MinCo should amend the constitution so that less groups come to it with financial requests.

He also favors having presidents of MinCo groups attend MinCo meetings, letting the individual MinCo groups have greater control over their accounts, and abolishing the monthly treasurer meetings.

Anh Nguyen ’99 thought Wong’s proposal would create a MinCo that resembled College Council too closely.

“One reason that MinCo [broke] off from CC [was] because of the ‘strictness’ of the CC guidelines,” he said. “My view on the MinCo situation is that we do not have enough motivated people who truly believe in the purpose of the minority coalition… . Don’t forget that we have a small population.”

Doddi insists that money shouldn’t be the central issue of the debate.

“The real issue is about MinCo’s function and role on campus,” she said. “The funding issue comes out of the issue that no one really seems to understand MinCo’s purpose.”

With the current voting situation disabling MinCo from conducting any business at all, it is up to the MinCo representatives and treasurers of the individual groups to keep attendance up next semester in order to enable MinCo as a whole to enact any amendments to the constitution. Without the support of the individual groups however, MinCo can not operate as a regular governing body. At least so far, no group has violated the three absence clause and been expelled.