The debate over the senior society formerly known as Michigamua has flared up again.
This time, entire student groups are at stake.
United Asian American Organizations, a congress of 37 Asian/Pacific Islander student groups, passed a resolution last month insisting that the senior society meet five demands by the beginning of winter semester.
If it does not, UAAO promised to oust two member groups – the South Asian Awareness Network and the Indian American Student Association.
IASA president Gopal Pai and SAAN co-chair Ashish Shah are members of the society.
The society denounced the resolution, calling it a “strong-arm tactic.”
For decades, the controversial society appropriated Native American imagery and artifacts in rituals and various traditions, practices now decried as racist.
The document, which was amended into UAAO’s constitution, mandates that the society disclose a new name and a list of unabridged membership, issue a public apology to students of color on campus, implement an open meeting policy in which non-members are allowed to attend gatherings and dissolve the tapping system – the secret selection method used for generations to choose new members.
Society members refused to say whether they are considering dropping the tap system.
The society claims to have already met some of these demands. Last April, it announced the list of members of its last two classes and dropped the name Michigamua (it has not yet announced a new name).
The society has also publicly apologized.
In an article in the Feb. 21, 2000 issue of the University Record, Michigamua member Nick Delgado is quoted as apologizing to “members of the Native American and University communities to whom these actions have caused offense” at a University Board of Regents meeting.
But UAAO said this is not enough.
“Michigamua fails to prove to the campus community that they are no longer a racist establishment. The only way they could prove this is through transparency, a method they do not employ at this time,” UAAO executive board members wrote in a statement. “Because of this lack of transparency, United Asian American Organizations has taken steps to ensure the safety of the student of color community to which we belong.”
UAAO said the amendment was “one of the few tangible ways through which we could take action against the group formerly known as Michigamua.”
Should the society fail to meet the demands and UAAO suspend IASA and SAAN, the two groups would be eligible to reapply for membership – as long as they can prove their leaders no longer have ties to the society.
Members of IASA declined to comment for this article, but it appears their group does not intend to force Pai, the group’s president, to quit the society. It also seems unlikely that they will force him to resign.
SAAN has no intentions of barring its leaders from the society, said Shah, SAAN co-chair and society member.
“At this time, SAAN’s central planning team has decided to give the opportunity to the organization formerly known as Michigamua to implement the changes it promised last year,” he said.
In April 2005, SAAN forced then co-chair Neal Pancholi to resign after discovering his society membership.
A person familiar with the proceedings, who was granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said SAAN’s decision severely affected attendance at their annual conference.
The source said the group does not want that to happen again.
Shah, though, denied that ousting Pancholi caused a drop.
Society member Sirene Abou-Chakra said UAAO has made no effort to contact her group and has not responded to attempts to do so.
“(We) regret that they have chosen to ignore a path of open communication,” she said in a statement. “The manner in which the UAAO board has handled this situation is very poor and certainly not worthy of the outstanding students it represents on this great campus. By passing an amendment dictating change within another organization, the UAAO is clearly out of order.”
UAAO said the society contacted it once, late in October. UAAO executive board members said they are still in the process of trying to figure out when and how to respond.
Abou-Chakra also said UAAO pushed the amendment through the meeting without open discussion, a charge the congress denies.
The person familiar with the situation who requested anonymity said few representatives came to the Oct. 4 meeting, and the agenda e-mailed to member groups before the meeting failed to mention the amendment.
Only nine votes were cast, because some representatives left the meeting early, the source said. UAAO’s constitution stipulates that each of the 37 member organizations have a representative present. Normally only 10 to 15 are present. The constitution also requires a three-fourths vote.
The resolution said UAAO will conduct an “informal check-in” on the progress of its demands on Wednesday, after which it will evaluate its course of action.
– Donn Fresard, who usually edits news stories, did not edit this article because he is a member of the society.