On Thursday evening, the University of Colorado Boulder’s Student Government(CUSG) Legislative Council denied the ratification of sustainability chair candidate Emma Holt, an unusual move sparked by weeks of frustrations and conflict within the organization.
The sustainability chair is an executive staff position that acts as a link between student government, the Environmental Center and environment-focused student organizations. Executive staff are nominated by CUSG’s tri-executives and then confirmed in a series of two votes by the legislative council.
Holt initially received praise from members of student government, like Cooper Conley, legislative council’s director of student engagement, who said Holt stood out from the other candidates for her focus on inclusion in the sustainability realm.
However, by the legislative council meeting on Sept. 15, the executive branch had rescinded its offer to her. and the legislative branch tabled her ratification indefinitely.
Why was CUSG concerned about Holt’s application?
Holt sent her application for sustainability chair on July 6 and received a letter with an offer for the position on Aug. 16 after two interviews. In her application, she uses the term “third world” when referencing a study abroad trip to India that she went on in 2020. Several legislators objected to her use of that phrase.
She then attended an appointments committee meeting for a nomination hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 29. The appointments committee, a legislative body appointed to review executive staff candidates’ applications, asked Holt talk about her qualifications and why she wanted the position.
Some executive staff later said some comments in her speech were “disrespectful.”
Early on in her speech, Holt said, “this land was totally overrun by Indigenous people,” while saying that leaders should listen to and include more Indigenous voices when discussing the environment. Holt said she misspoke here.
“What I meant to say was that Indigenous people own this land, had lived on this land and that they had been overrun by the colonizing people who came here,” said Holt at the legislative council meeting on Thursday, Sept. 15.
Holt again used the term “third world” multiple times while saying developing countries will disproportionately experience the effects of climate change. Holt claims that she did not know this was a derogatory term at the time.
“What I was saying, in reality, was that we need to uplift these nations. We need to respect these nations. We need to take accountability and responsibility for the effects that we have on them,” said Holt.
Holt said legislative council had concerns about these comments and members thought her study abroad trip was, instead, a mission trip. Legislative Council President Aaditya Pore said legislative council members had “concerns [about] racial insensitivity,” but the only concerns brought up in the nomination hearing were about Holt’s qualifications for the job.
How did student government leaders address their concerns?
The recording of the nomination hearing ends with the appointments committee unanimously voting to allow Holt to be seen by the entire legislative council at their meeting on Sept. 8.
After hearing about the comments made in Holt’s nomination hearing and reviewing Holt’s application, CUSG Election Commissioner Poornima Ramesh scheduled a meeting with the tri-executives on Friday, Sept. 2.
Ramesh and two other Indian members of the executive staff, CUSG Attorney General Nikky Garaga and intern director Jess Rampersaud, met with Tri-Executives Rachel Hill, Lucie Nguyen and Chloe Nicklas to express their concerns about the hiring process. Ramesh said that she and the other members scheduled the meeting to learn more about the decision-making process surrounding Holt’s nomination.
Ramesh said they wanted to know how the tri-executives could “oversee” Holt’s comments and still offer her the position. She said they explained the history of the term “third world” to the tri-executives, who said they didn’t know it was a “problematic” term, according to Ramesh.
“The [tri-executives] were very dismissive and did not take any accountability for their role in this process. Honestly, I kind of left that meeting feeling very unsatisfied with their response,” said Ramesh.
The tri-executives declined several requests for comment, instead asking students to speak with them directly about Holt’s departure from CUSG.
The announcement occurred at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13. Ramesh once again brought her concerns, this time to the entire executive cabinet. She said she got emotional at this meeting, where she cried and walked out of the room after other legislators discussed separating Holt’s work from Holt as an individual.
By this time, Ramesh had not spoken with Holt to address the comments, saying that her concern was with the hiring process. Holt said she did not know who Ramesh and the other Indian executive staff members were, nor that they were hurt by her words.
Shortly after the cabinet meeting, the tri-executives decided to rescind their offer to Holt. Holt found out about this on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 15. Holt said she was under the impression that she would still be able to be ratified at the legislative council meeting that night with enough votes.
However, this assumption is incorrect. Legislative council bylaws say the council cannot ratify a candidate without an offer from the executives.
Before the legislative council could get to Holt’s ratification in the agenda, Holt spoke at the public open hearing. The legislative council opened the floor for anyone in the audience to speak for 3 minutes. Holt said she wanted to explain and apologize for the comments made at her nomination hearing.
“It hurts my heart to know that I hurt people here because that is not what I stand for, and I’m so, so sorry,” Holt said at the public open hearing. “I will continue to educate myself on what needs to be done in order to speak about these manners in an appropriate way.”
Nearly an hour after her speech, the legislative council got to her ratification on the agenda. They voted to table her ratification indefinitely, barring Representative-at-Large Hector Guerrero, who opposed it out of a misunderstanding of legislative bylaws.
Does anything happen next?
“[Holt’s nomination] was no longer something that we were addressing because she was no longer a prospective member of CUSG. The tri-executives pulled back their request for an appointment, and so we could not hear her out,” said Pore.
Holt said that she was frustrated with the result of the council’s decision.
“I believe that this is setting the precedent that anyone who wants to work for CUSG cannot make mistakes, cannot take accountability, cannot grow and learn from those mistakes, cannot explain themselves [and] cannot defend themselves,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ramesh said she was happy with the tri-executives’ decision to rescind their offer to Holt. However, she raised concerns about racial insensitivity within the tri-executives and the executive cabinet. She said that she and the other Indian executive staff members should not have had to go through the effort they had to reach this outcome.
“I’m exhausted, but I’m always going to use my voice because that’s why I’m here,” said Ramesh. “If I don’t defend my people, my heritage and my country, I feel like no one else will.”
Though she was unsure if she would be able to apply again, Holt said that she would if given the opportunity.
“I do believe I have so much to offer, and I do believe I have a lot of potential, and that was shut down before it was ever able to really begin,” she said.