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The government that represents you is overwhelmingly white. Its leaders have a history of racism and sexism. Due to the clubby nature of the government’s hiring, many of its key positions go unfilled for months, leaving leadership voids where experience is needed. Alumni and university administration have attested to the organization’s long-held inaccessibility.
This is not the federal government. It’s your student government.
More student body presidents at CU have been members of the Chi Psi fraternity than have been people of color. To the average student, CUSG is roughly synonymous with affluence and Greek life. After being a member for two years, I witnessed and tried to excuse the harm this dealt to the student body. As an alumna, I have no more platitudes to offer. As the people who foot the $26 million budget that CUSG oversees, students deserve better. CUSG must change.
CUSG is an incredible opportunity for students to practice political leadership within their community. After leaving office, alumni have gone on to become academics, community activists, Rhodes Scholars and members of Congress. Student government can be the campus’ platform for good, one that speaks truth to power.
Unfortunately, CUSG lacks the leadership necessary to respond to the current multi-front crisis. In light of recent demands for racial justice across all American institutions, CUSG has prioritized optics over action. CU deserves a student government that fulfills its principles of serving the student body. The current moment demands the organization to do no less.
“A culture of exclusion”
Despite being a public governing organization paid for with student fee dollars, CUSG remains remarkably opaque and unaccountable to the students it serves.
CUSG does not give all students equal opportunities to lead within the organization. While the executives are currently hiring for many positions within their cabinet, you would not know unless you follow a CUSG member on social media.
In the past, many applications for vacant positions were not even made public. Instead, these job openings were filled internally. Some appointed positions, such as at-large seats in the legislature and appointments to the judicial branch, have rarely ever been made public and currently have sat vacant for months. This exclusivity ignores merit and limits the pool of applicants to whoever has the most personal connections. Student government should not be a country club.
Early this year, then-interim vice chancellor for student affairs Akirah Bradley joined then-executives Passas and Martin to send a letter to CUSG leadership admonishing the organization’s climate of exclusion and “unconscious inconsistencies” in holding fellow CUSG members accountable. Another letter, published by CU Alumna Olivia Gardner upon her resignation as CUSG Director of Diversity and Inclusion, made a similar criticism. Bradley’s letter implored the creation of additional accountability measures within the organization.
No such measures were taken in response. CUSG careened further in the wrong direction. Your government rejected a funding proposal to create more internal diversity and inclusion positions, one of which specifically addressed multicultural and racial diversity. As Attorney General, I worked with other executive cabinet members to fix this. We authored legislation to guarantee these positions, funding or no. Ultimately, the bill was shelved.
Optics over action
This year, CUSG balked at the implementation of any truly transformative accountability measures in response to the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others. As one of the largest and most autonomous student governments in the country, this is unacceptable. CUSG is squandering its immense power to enact broad social change on campus.
As candidates for tri-executives, Presidents Molly Frommelt, George Conway and Isaiah Chavous broadly listed “Law Enforcement” as a feature of their campaign platform. Executive Frommelt has extensive prior experience working with the University of Colorado Police Department (CUPD) as CUSG’s Director of Legislative Affairs. While it does not directly oversee CUPD, CUSG could elevate student perspectives on law enforcement at CU. As nationwide calls to defund and abolish policing intensify, CUSG has not empowered students with the tools to do the same on campus.
Instead of taking tangible steps to benefit students, CUSG shirked accountability in favor of a photo op. Chavous appeared on CU Boulder social media to make vague statements about “appearing in the history books,” “bridges that need to be burned,” and “the theme of community.” In the video, Chavous mentioned involvement with Greek life in examining campus race relations but sparsely mentioned “supporting guidelines” that are “anti-hate and anti-racist.” He mentioned no specific policies or efforts. Traditional Greek organizations at and outside of Boulder are notorious for their historically white membership and exclusive practices. As CUSG claims to seek racial justice, is it wise to only do more of the same?
According to CUSG’s Instagram, current tri-executives, appellate court justices and legislative council members met with other CU students, as well as representatives from both CUPD and the Boulder Police Department. The event was not live-streamed or otherwise publicly posted, hindering the voices of other students directly impacted by policing at CU. Such exclusivity erodes the intent to create an inclusive, anti-racist campus.
On June 19, 2020, the CUSG Legislative Council passed a resolution “Calling for Police Reform.” While full of symbolic importance, this resolution lacked substance. Its first part seems loosely modeled after the demands of CU administration made by Gardner and current CU student and interim Vice President of the Black Student Alliance Ruth Woldemichael. The resolution compelled CU administration to “cease contractual relationships” with, among other entities, Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI), a furniture company that uses prison slavery to make its products.
Puzzlingly, the resolution asks this of administration but fails to recognize that CUSG entities such as the University Memorial Center also buy furniture from CCI. Further, in “calling for police reform,” it did not ask CUPD to make such changes or indeed name any individual police department. It did not require copies of the resolution text to be sent to any entity on or off-campus, as was common for similar legislation in the past.
CUSG should have given a platform to campus activists by providing more information to put more pressure on campus administration. Instead, CUSG ignored its role as the body of students with the ability to make lasting change. The resolution was not published externally beyond the private social media accounts of a few members.
A need for change
CU students deserve better. CUSG can do better. CUSG’s efforts to achieve a more just campus must begin from the inside. To start, the organization must address its opacity to the students. When more students know about CUSG, more students can participate. With more student participation, CUSG better represents its constituents. Transparency begets accountability, which begets diversity. Now more than ever, young people are turning to their governments to correct historical injustices. Our government at CU should be no exception.
Current CUSG leadership can start by:
- Quitting Greek life. Many CUSG members lead and take part in fraternities and sororities at CU. Instead of financially supporting historically white and exclusionary organizations, they could donate the cost of their dues to much worthier causes.
- Diversifying their hiring pool. Make appointment and employment opportunities open to all students, not just those who happen to follow current CUSG members on Instagram. Then, publish the diversity data of hiring decisions.
- Publishing a list of goals for diversity and inclusion efforts within the organization. Provide timelines and specific action items for students to measure CUSG’s progress and hold it accountable.
- Publishing and continuously updating the contact information for current CUSG members. Hold in-person and livestream town halls. Hold members, especially elected officials, accountable when they fail to serve the students who elected them.
- This year, Executive Chavous was designated Chair of the CU System’s Intercampus Student Forum. This little-known position provides key student representation to the Board of Regents, who govern major university policies, such as tuition rates, admissions practices across all four CU campuses. As chair, Chavous has the unique opportunity to make even more lasting change to address student concerns. CUSG should expand avenues of input and information for students to take advantage of this powerful avenue of change.
None of the above will simply and singularly solve the structural problems of CUSG and CU. But the student body has several ways to hold CUSG accountable.
Vote. CUSG cannot improve when only 3% of the student body participates in its elections. Contact your student representatives. Write petitions. The job of your CUSG representatives is to work for you. Let them know what you think. And if you have your own ideas for CUSG, run for office! Every student has the potential to lead and make lasting change on campus. CUSG can get better when more students get involved.
When CUSG wields its power for the campus’ good, students can finally begin to take student government on this campus seriously.
Delaney Deskin is a University of Colorado Boulder student. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The CUI accepts guest content from CU students currently enrolled at the university.