The vice president of UConn’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) resigned last week, and pressured the president to follow suit. They gave the reason that it was their duty to make room for BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) leadership. In response, a racial justice activist said, “Hopefully, the new Governing Board will be less white.”
The president and vice president were elected in March to represent the student body, defeating a slate of BIPOC candidates. Now, however, despite the trust placed in them by the voters, they feel they cannot represent the student body. Activists claim a hostile environment for BIPOC on the Undergraduate Student Government, despite a woman of color serving as vice president as recently as last year.
The College Fix reported that the vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government, Alex Ose, made the following statement:
I feel that it is my duty to step down from my position to make space for BIPOC (black, indigineous and people of color) voices to truly rise and be heard. It is my responsibility to make space, not to create an echo.
I am asking all members of USG to truly consider their intent in holding their positions, and to urge everyone to truly think if they are making space for the voices that need to be heard right now. I call upon the senators and executive board to consider also stepping down to make space for BIPOC voices.
Two days later, Undergraduate Student Government President Joshua Crow also resigned. The UConn student newspaper, The Daily Campus, reported:
“It is important in this time to ensure that marginalized groups have the platforms they need,” Crow said in an email. “It is my hope that my stepping aside facilitates this.”
Until elections in the fall, Crow said that Speaker Will Schad will assume the role of president.
The resignations came as a result of a first town hall meeting held July 8 over a survey about on-campus race issues the Undergraduate Student Government promoted on its Instagram account. After the resignations, another town hall meeting took place to address what activists called “oppressive and discriminatory experience[s] within USG.”
The Daily Campus reported on the town hall meetings:
Many attendees of the first town hall said the recently elected governing body, a majority of which are White [sic] students, cannot represent the student population. Iyanna Crockett, a seventh-semester political science major, asked why the majority of the organization’s executive branch is White [sic] when that was something Crow and Ose had control over. Crockett is a USG committee member and former deputy chairperson of the External Affairs Committee.
Crockett said in an email interview after the initial town hall that even though she wished the conversation surrounding an unwelcoming environment for BIPOC had happened earlier, she was glad that it had happened at all.
“I really think the first town hall started a conversation that’s needed to happen for a long time,” Crockett said. “I think this conversation, along with Alex’s resignation to make space for BIPOC students, is going to have a lasting impact. I think things are going to change next year. It’s gonna be a long process, but I have hope.”
“There was a lot of pressure for him too and part of being a student leader is listening to what the students want,” Crockett said. “His resignation also means a new Governing Board. Hopefully, the new Governing Board will be less white.” [emphasis added]
Instead of addressing the blatant racism behind this statement, the attendees at the second town hall meeting brainstormed other ways in which they could make BIPOC feel more welcome in Undergraduate Student Government. One suggestion: getting rid of the dress code. The interim president, Will Shad, agreed that the USG exhibited elitism and a lack of inclusion:
Schad agreed with these points and said that USG’s elitism is something that was a concern of his as well.
“We see it time and time again that dress codes have no impact on professionalism,” Schad said. “We can still be a professional organization without forcing people to dress up fancy for senate.”
Many attendees said that though it is important to talk about tangible solutions, it is just as important to implement them. They also said that it is not enough to just have diversity; those diverse populations need to feel welcomed.
“I know we talked about the importance of representation but that doesn’t go far enough when we aren’t fostering a sense of belonging within USG and that’s been the issue forever,” Sara Maldonado, a seventh-semester global health major and member of the USG Student Development committee, said. “While we’ve had some BIPOC members in USG they always feel policed in their space or that they’re not welcomed there …”
The Undergraduate Student Government felt it necessary to hold the first town hall meeting over the survey after an Instagram account, “Black at Uconn,” expressed outrage (again courtesy The Daily Campus):
Last week, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) of UConn Storrs hosted two town halls in response to the backlash from the “Different Perspectives” survey promoted on their Instagram account, as well as to address the testimonial submitted to the Instagram account “Black at UConn” about the organization’s unwelcoming environment toward BIPOC members. The town halls, hosted by Joshua Crow and Alexandra Ose, sought to provide a platform for students to share their experiences and find solutions. Crow and Ose were serving as president and vice president of the student body at the time, prior to their resignations.
On July 3, the anonymous submission page Black at UConn posted a testimonial from a 2020 UConn alumnus that detailed an oppressive and discriminatory experience within USG.
“[Y]’all are despicable,” the student said. “It’s interesting how y’all always claim to care about diversity but your Black and Latinx members are often talked over, looked past and not valued.”View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Black at UConn (@black.at.uconn) on Jul 3, 2020 at 10:05am PDT
The post has amassed over 500 likes and 71 comments from various USG members agreeing with the perspectives shared by the anonymous alumnus. An hour before Black at UConn posted the testimonial, USG released their Different Perspectives survey, which called for marginalized students to anonymously submit their experiences of being discriminated against at UConn.
There were multiple comments under the post from students who said the survey was tone-deaf and that it seemed like the page was plagiarizing the idea from student-run anonymous social media accounts like Black at UConn.
“Why do you need surveys to know racism is wrong, you’re not amplifying anyone’s voice, you’re colonizing them,” one person commented.
The interim president said that elections for a new president and vice president will be held as soon as possible.
Jeff Reynolds is the author of the book, “Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Campaign to Undermine Democracy,” available at www.WhoOwnsTheDems.com. Jeff hosts a podcast at anchor.fm/BehindTheCurtain. You can follow him on Twitter @ChargerJeff, and on Parler at @RealJeffReynolds.