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The Undergraduate Council approved contentious bills recommending gender-neutral restrooms and a campus women’s center in a three-and-a-half hour meeting last night, which ended only when security guards evicted the council from the Sever Hall classroom where it meets.
The council also took the first step towards overhauling its constitution, starting a six-day voting period with near-unanimous support for revising the council’s non-discrimination policy and simplifying its committee structure.
The evening’s most heated debate concerned a resolution sponsored by council President Matthew W. Mahan ’05 and Andrew C. Stillman ’06 in support of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. Jordan B. Woods ’06, political chair of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA), spoke to the council in favor of the bill, which urges Harvard to remove male or female designations from all single-occupancy bathrooms.
Joseph R. Oliveri ’05 proposed striking from the resolution a clause that called for the College to explicitly grant transgender and gender-variant people the right to use any restroom they deem appropriate.
“The proponents of the bill have not been able to give a concrete definition of who is gender variant,” Oliveri said, adding that the new bill would allow anyone—himself included—to enter a women’s bathroom. “We’re reducing ourselves to the political arm of the BGLTSA.”
Russell M. Anello ’04 responded that the clause granted transgender people fundamental human rights without impeding on anyone else’s rights.
“It’s not as if there’s going to be a rush of Joe Oliveri’s running into the bathroom,” Anello said. “If somebody really is gender-variant the burden should be on the school to say they’re not.”
“I don’t think it’s the type of thing that people are going to take advantage of,” he added after the meeting.
Oliveri’s amendment failed by a vote of 23-7, and the resolution passed without amendment by a vote of 32-3.
Stillman and Laura C. Settlemyer ’05, who is also a Crimson editor, sponsored a resolution in support of creating a campus women’s center in Hilles Library, which faces substantial renovations by the College.
The resolution recommended that the council discuss a Radcliffe Union of Students position paper proposing the center.
P.K. Agarwalla ’04, who opposed the women’s center, proposed an amendment “to simultaneously create a men’s center.”
“I feel maybe the guys want a space to hang out on campus too,” Agarwalla said facetiously.
After the council voted not to consider Agarwalla’s amendment, Oliveri spoke against the bill as a whole.
“It’s both divisive and discriminatory. This hurts women,” Oliveri said. “As a council we should embrace inclusiveness, not exclusivity.”
Despite Agarwalla’s and Oliveri’s objections, the council passed the bill 27-4 as the meeting came to a premature close at the behest of two security guards.
The council unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by Aaron D. Chadbourne ’06 that urged the College to simplify the process by which students can have departmental courses count for their Core requirement. The bill came in the midst of the College’s curricular review, which has proposed an elimination of the Core curriculum.
“[Dean of the Faculty William C.] Kirby is going to bat for us,” said Chadbourne, who sits on the Core program’s subcommittee on Literature and the Arts.
In another Mahan-sponsored resolution, the council urged the College to simplify the process by which student organizations can reserve meeting space in the Houses and encourage Houses to be open to events not sponsored by one of their residents.
“What we’re asking for is a committee of people in the Houses, people in student groups [and] people from University Hall to think holistically about the Houses,” Mahan said.
The resolution added that the College should create a standardized online form, similar to that currently used by Lowell and Leverett Houses, through which groups could reserve space, and that fees should not be charged for use of the rooms.
The council approved the bill, which was also supported by the presidents of the Black Students Association and Fuerza Latina, without objection.
The council’s Constitutional Revision Committee (CRC) presented its proposed new constitution yesterday, to update what Mahan called the “essentially useless constitution that we currently have.”
“To be completely honest, I’m not 100 percent satisfied with [the new constitution],” Mahan said. Nevertheless, he added, “it does a great job to clean up our constitution, which is an absolute mess.”
The new constitution would give the council’s three committees more freedom in determining their own structure than they currently have and revise the council’s non-discrimination policy.
“This gives us a mechanism so the council can discuss [accusations of discrimination], bring in facts [and] bring in information,” said Teo P. Nicolais ’06.
Jack P. McCambridge ’06, who chairs the council’s Campus Life Committee, objected that the CRC had not consulted sufficiently with council members before issuing its recommendations.
Vice President Michael R. Blickstead ’05 said after the meeting that council members’ views were known from the review process that began last year.
“Last year’s review...created that discussion,” Blickstead said. “This year they knew what was popular [and] what wasn’t.”
The council’s current constitution mandates that voting on constitutional amendments must continue until the next council meeting, so members—who overwhelmingly supported the revision in the initial vote yesterday—have until Saturday to change their votes. Two-thirds of council members must vote, and three-quarters of those voting must support the change, for an amendment to take effect.
In other business, the council approved its final grants package of the school year last night, allocating over $16,000 in 99 grants to student groups, and $500 for a tailgate at the Sept. 18 football game. The council also voted to permanently join the Ivy Council, an organization of Ivy League student councils that Harvard left in 2001 and temporarily rejoined in March.
—Staff writer Joshua D. Gottlieb can be reached at email@example.com.
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