Facing resignations, student government looks to connect with marginalized students

The+student+government+office+in+Farinon.+%28Photo+by+Ben+Fuller+21%29

The student government office in Farinon. (Photo by Ben Fuller ’21)

Kathryn Kelly

Five students resigned from student government before its first meeting on Wednesday. This number is more than is typical for the beginning of the year, student government president Bilal Akbar ’18 said.

While student government looks to fill their positions with elections, Akbar said that it will also look to connect with students of marginalized identities over the coming weeks.

Jovanté Anderson ’19, former intercultural affairs chair for student government, posted his letter of resignation letter on Facebook and emailed it to all of student government. He wrote in an email that the purpose of his resignation letter is to hold “Student Government accountable for the ways it failed students of color.”

Akbar said that the “most extensive feedback” student government received on its midterm survey, conducted at the close of last semester, was that student government “should be more receptive of students of color and other marginalized identities.” He added that he wants to work to support those communities more.

“Over the next couple weeks, I’d want to reach out to student organizations that represent those marginalized communities,” he said, adding that he plans to work with Dean of Equity and Inclusion Chris Hunt on ways to build trust with students of marginalized identities.

Anderson wrote in his resignation letter that student government’s actions have not adequately supported marginalized communities on campus, and instead prioritized the white majority.

“The 2017 Spring semester has left me overwhelmingly uncomfortable with our complicity in a politics that has portrayed conservative students as marginalized on a campus where students of color, women, queer and trans people have actively become more politically organized and are committed to unsettling the violence of the status quo,” he wrote in his letter, detailing his grievances with the practices of the Ad Hoc Committee on Ensuring Inclusive Dialogue.

The ad hoc committee issued a report at the end of last year which used testimonials from anonymous conservative Lafayette students who felt silenced on campus to support the claim that Lafayette is dominated by liberal ideology.

Anderson added that his concerns do not lie only with the committee, as student government itself acts as a “historically exclusive and oppressive machine built to sustain the white supremacy of the larger Lafayette context”.

Akbar said that student government has strived to take students of color into account in their actions.

“I would disagree that [students of color have not been taken into account in the actions of student government]. I’ve disagreed with it in the past as well,” he said. He recognized that the ad hoc committee was perceived negatively by marginalized communities on campus, and said that he would work to reach out to student organizations that represent those marginalized students during the rest of his term.

“Certainly there have been things that may have put students of color off, but I feel as though our record has been far more positive than previous student governments’,” he added, “especially in terms of reaching out to students of color, and supporting some of the aims that they have on this campus.”

Anderson does not dispute that “student government supports students of marginalized identities,” but is still concerned with the elevated platform it gives to “privileged students, without​ ​realizing​ ​that​ ​support​ ​of​ ​the​ latter​ ​sustains​ ​the​ ​conditions​ ​of​ ​the​ ​former,” Anderson wrote in an email.

Ashley Rodriguez ’18, Cindy Matos ’18 and Arianna Woodberry ’20 did not make their reason for resignation public. Sohrab Pasikhani ’18, one of the resigned members, wrote in an email that he does not “feel student government owns the realities of its influence [in] both positive and negative ways, and limits [its] own growth because of this,” and he did not feel he could contribute any longer in his position. He added that “Jovante’s depiction [in his letter] is pretty accurate.”

Typically, Akbar said, if a student were to resign from student government, that person would send the student government president his or her resignation letter to be read at the following student government meeting. Akbar added that he saw Anderson’s going public with his resignation as “an attempt to delegitimize student government and its efforts,” but he does respect Anderson as an important activist on campus.

Special elections for the positions will be held on Friday for at least four of the positions.