The AS Review: What motivates you to seek out this position?
Brittany Otter: Well first of all I work in the board of directors office right now. I’m the current assistant to the Vice President[s] for Diversity and Activities and just watching what they’ve been doing and the current VP for Diversity and just being able to see how the Vice President for Diversity interacts on campus, what different kinds of duties there are, has really motivated me to seek it out because I know and have seen what the Vice President can do. And also my involvement in Students for Disability Awareness, I felt like there were some things that were lacking in the diversity department at school. So that’s another thing that motivates me. As well as just talking and we’re lucky here at Western. We have such a liberal campus, we’re able to talk about issues, I’m sure at other some other campuses, they’re very controversial and very sensitive too. And I think we do have a chance to make change here and talk about issues here and we have such a great variety of groups and social interest groups, which are good for the campus and make sure that through communication they’re happy. I was a member of a club, I see that.
ASR: What groups of students might be easily overlooked by the AS Board and what will you do to ensure you represent them in your work?
Otter: Actually this is quite funny because I’ve had a lot of students come to me and say, “well I am a straight white male. What are you going to do for me?” And because a lot of people think of diversity as minority groups only. I think minority groups, you know, LGBTQ issues only, things like that. And first of all, there’s really two ways to answer that question. One way saying, well it’s not always about your sexual orientation. It’s not always about your ethnicity or culture. Diversity can go even deeper. It can go into how you’re thinking and what those thoughts are based on. If they’re philosophical, if they’re analytical, because even in administrative duties there’s things that can help or hinder, some decisions that you make, and just having that variety of thought is very important. Secondly, talking to people who are, like I just said, white, male, heterosexual, it’s a lot of people say—want to say it’s your responsibility to inform people on campus of issues facing minorities. And a lot of the time what gets overlooked is that it’s not necessarily attacking someone and saying, “it’s your responsibility, you have to do this,” because more than likely they’re going to push it away and say, “no thank you.” It’s what needs to happen is that—they, they feel like they want to. Anyone on campus can feel like they can stand up and talk about an issue that maybe they don’t even directly relate to. And just being able to do that is powerful and it shows very good communication solidarity in the community, which is what we need here. I’ve also had some members of some religious groups come up to me and say, “Well how does religion play into diversity?” And sometimes they feel like people shy away from talking about religious diversity, because it can be a controversial topic. Especially when there’s a lot of controversial issues that coincide with it. I don’t need to mention them all, but, you know, abortion and stem cell research, those are just the obvious ones, but there’s a lot more. For example, one of the issues, if you had a child with Downes Syndrome due, if there was technology that could eliminate the possibility of you having a child with Downes Syndrome, would you do that? And it goes back to a lot of religious and philosophical thinkings too and I think that gets overlooked. But people inherently believe and the reasons why they choose to act in certain ways, it shouldn’t be ignored, it shouldn’t be feared, it should be communicated more effectively.
ASR: Since you came to Western what has been the most important issue facing students that went unaddressed or was dealt with poorly and what issue would you say has been addressed most positively?
Otter: Okay I’ll start off with poorly one, I mean it’s easier to think of negative than positive things sometimes. Coming back to the board of directors, the first thing that, I mean this is the first thing that comes to my mind, one of the famous examples was the Roaming Monies incident. I’m sure you’re probably familiar with it, but I’m just going to go over it for the people who aren’t. Where a band was booked for a show—this is very general—and they were booked without anyone knowing their lyrics, what they were known for, their kind of music, things like that. And after they had been listened to by some members of the AS Productions the director and AS Productions felt like they weren’t right for the audience here, partly because there were some lyrics that made women feel uncomfortable. And so the reason why I bring this up is because that issue was dealt probably in the best way that it could have been dealt with but seeing, except for the fact that the Diversity Task Force was, if utilized at all, poorly. The Diversity Task Force hasn’t met since February 2008 and the reason for it was to provide a student line—basically student advice to the board of directors—on issues like this. And what happened was students, or from what I’m told from other students, felt like they just being told by the board of directors what to do and what to think. And what I like to say sometimes is, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a student advisory board that could back up the board of directors or check them if needed be. And so that [is] why one of my personal platforms is to reinstate and reform the Diversity Task Force so that those sort of issues brought up by students are checked before the board of directors makes the final decision on them. The students can feel like their voices are being heard and that it’s not just some arbitrary decision making process, which it wasn’t, but some students felt that it was and they didn’t see any, you know, research or informative process to do this. And so, I think the task force would also bring transparency in that right.
I know a lot of people are going to hate me for this one but I think the the releasing of the football team was dealt with positively. It wasn’t a positive thing that happened, I’m not saying I’m happy about it, but as far as being dealt with, I believe a lot of communication went on with the student body as well as the Associated Students and in connection with them. I mean there were rallies, there were protests, that happens for things that you believe in. But they were listened to and I feel like the students, in the back of their mind[s] knew: alright, we have academics. We’re here for a reason and we have this great thing, this football team, but for the sake of academics we need to focus on [the] academic institution. And it’s not fun to tell a football player, you can’t play football next year. It’s not—and it’s something that President Shepard has had to do and I can’t imagine how difficult that was. But how it was dealt with in the Associated Students, being in the Associated Students, it wasn’t ignored, it wasn’t like, oh whatever the football players are just whining, it was a really big question of what a college is. You know, my dad, he’s from Central, he said, “You know you’re not a college if you don’t have a football team.” But I think that students and the AS have recognized that a college is more than its football team and I think that itself is very positive and we have so many great things here that we need to keep them running, especially in these tough economic times.
ASR: What are your three biggest goals for next year?
Otter: My first one is to reform and reinstate the diversity task force. It hasn’t met, as I said, since February 2008. And I feel like since it is one of the only two student advisory committees, I feel it should meet again. There are four university committees that have student appointments. And then there’s only two student-run, completely student-run, committees on campus, one of which is the Ethnic Student Center steering committee, which is doing a great job. But I feel like if you think about it in that way, the only students who meet or only groups that meet on campus are ethnic students in the Ethnic Student Center. Because a lot of our cultural and social issues groups are not in the Ethnic Student Center, you have to remember that. And so I also want to reform the diversity task force into not a committee that meets solely for the purpose of responding to grievances, or issues that face students on campus but an advisory committee made to carry out a campus comment survey for the whole campus. That’s something that the AS has already allocated money for the diversity task force and they could use it to do that. It wouldn’t be costing the university any more money to do this. And also just have communication. It seems silly that groups should only communicate when there’s an issue. It seems like that’s just saying, oh, when the time comes, we’ll be nice to each other or we won’t. And so, by communicating each others’ beliefs and goals and cultures and thoughts and everything, I feel like I could help, help actually take away the possibility of these issues being phrased in a negative way and maybe making it positive. Maybe having the community communicate in such a way that its members feel like they can talk, at least a little bit, about everything. And I feel like that’s really important because there are so many clubs and so many offices dedicated to diversity and to social issues awareness. Number two is to, um, this is tricky, I don’t know whether to make this one number two or number three, but you know there isn’t an order here. Number two would be, as vice president for disability awareness, I do work with the Disability Resource for students office and the Equal Opportunity Office on campus. And [the] Disability Resource[s] for Student[s] office provides assistance to people with temporary and lifelong disabilities, whether it be for longer test hours, note takers or assistive technology that we might be able to provide. And the Equal Opportunity Office takes discrimination-based claims or helps file grievances. It’s a great office. The Vice Provost there, Sue , she’s a very kind and they’re just a great office altogether to go talk to if you have an issue. But what happens is, those offices aren’t communicating on the same level and their policies and procedures are not matching up. And on the side of being an administrator, as the VP for Diversity, I can’t change the policies and procedures of those offices but I can point them out. What I would be doing is help advocate for a better accommodations process, which would include the change or more transparent, or more student friendly version of the policies and procedures in both offices. Students on campus don’t know a lot of the time which accommodations they can get and they have to be the one to ask for them. They have to provide documentation. They have to go through all of these processes. The reason I feel that’s so important and I put it in my platform is because as Vice President SDA [Students for Disability Awareness], I have had so many people come and tell me, “I haven’t gotten this accommodation. I don’t know where to go. What do I do if I need to make a complaint?” And it’s just not out there enough and not made clear. So that’s what I want to be working on. And finally, number three, I got a lot of feedback from people who are in a lot of various clubs and they feel like, I’ve been informed that they do not communicate with each other, namely the social issues and culture clubs. And while I’m not the Vice President for Activities, I do feel like, as Vice President for Diversity, that diversity does have a lot to do with clubs in the social issues and culture aspects. Especially since there are a handful of clubs in the Ethnic Student Center working and doing a great job of programming, things like that. First of all, they have so much pride and so much communication there and they have a committee for themselves in the Ethnic Student Center where they send representatives and talk to each other. I feel like that needs to happen campus-wide. Maybe not a committee, I’m thinking more of a club summit for social issues and culture clubs. Right now we have the inter-club meetings for all of the clubs, not just culture and social issues, it’s more departmental. But I feel like that is a really broad meeting and that if cultural and social issues clubs want to communicate, they have limited time. And so, this kind of atmosphere is not entirely inclusive of everything we have to say. A lot of what the clubs do fuels what the students think about, what words they use. I mean, you could say what policies are implemented. And to have all of these clubs meet and talk to each other, it’s kind of like having a big floor meeting, but like a base 100, but, you know what I mean? It’s really significant to have them communicating and talking to each other. Especially if they’re talking about the same issue and perhaps that could foster some dialogue on certain issues. Perhaps co-sponsorship. Perhaps that could be made to help students on campus. I had a question in my forum about retention and that could definitely help students on campus who come here and are in the minority and they need to know there’s a community here. That could definitely help them. Finding out that there is a community that is inclusive of them and that it’s united and that it wants to be inclusive and include you in everything it does. So, that’s my big three.
ASR: When a student comes to you with a question that is beyond the scope of your job, how will you respond to this student?
Otter: I welcome all questions. Can’t say I’ll be able to answer them all. I have to say I don’t know everything and that’s really important to admit. I might be uncomfortable with a question but I definitely would go and find someone that could answer it. I do this every day. As vice president for students for disability awareness, I have people calling me and saying, “What’s the third paragraph of the ADA [American Disabilities Act] regulation?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” And so I call some people in a local organization—I have a lot ties to local organizations here and in my hometown. I am not afraid to reach out and get the question answered because for me, and maybe it’s not personally my own passion, but for that student it really is. And I know that that question might mean a lot when answered, so I will answer it, whether it’s for someone else or not.