USG executive vice president candidate forum: Lauren Gaines

Editor’s Note: The following questions were posed by the PVC, a group of progressive student organization leaders that hold a forum and endorse USG Executive Board candidates. The organization was formerly known as The Progressive Voter Coalition and was deferred for a name change due to a USG bylaw that states coalitions whose name or mission statement includes political language will not be recognized. The coalition now is known as the PVC.

1. What actions plans do you have to create a more inclusive, engaged and sustainable student government? (Students Organizing Against Racism)

As Executive Vice President, my primary responsibilities are the internal functions of Senate and the efficiency of the Undergraduate Student Government, and I see inclusion, engagement and sustainability in Senate as my responsibility as well. First, with inclusion, I want to completely overhaul the USG appointments process for cabinet members, and I want to take a critical look at how we advertise those positions. I am personally going to send the application link to students of color and queer and trans students and the organizations that support them just in case they are interested and don’t know how to get involved. From there, I intend on having a discussion with the entire 22nd Senate on Elitism and how their presence on Senate is a privilege that will be taken away if they are spewing elitist or exclusive rhetoric. With engagement, I intend to challenge senators and cabinet members to work with student organizations on their initiatives if they are wanted and to accept the fact that sometimes the best role for USG to serve in is a supportive one, providing manpower and institutional support for projects that are already underway. Lastly, I understand I would only have this position for a year, so creat[ing] sustainable change on this body is very important to me. I think investing the time in careful selection of Cabinet members, Council Chairs and Liaisons, and proper training support for Senators who prioritize inclusion, engagement, outreach and action are what are going to put us in the best position to maintain the community we will foster in the upcoming year.

2. What resources need to be expanded to improve the lives of students of color at Tulane in order to make this campus safe and welcoming for all students? What can be done to improve relationships between the Tulane University Police Department and people of color? Slightly longer answer acceptable. (Intersections – 2018; Finding Intersectionality Together)

There’s a plethora of resources that can be expanded to better accommodate students of color at Tulane. Expansions of The O and the Office for Gender and Sexual Diversity and the hiring of mental health professionals of color are among them. As for campus safety and emergency preparedness, I think the concerns of students who don’t feel supported need to be heard and translated into tangible action items. I would like to see increased input from students, particularly students of color, in the interview and selection process for TUPD officers and other emergency officials and personnel. Background checks and social media reviews should be mandatory if they are not already. I also think officers should have their interactions with people from marginalized backgrounds and responses to incidents involving them reviewed always, not just when something bad happens. It may also help to hire someone within the TUPD administration that students can call if they have had a negative interaction with a TUPD officer and is tasked with conducting internal investigations on those incidents. Finally, officers should have reviews at least twice a year on their performance in multiple different areas, including but not limited to their interactions with people of color because even if they don’t have a major incident, this way they can know what areas they need to improve in.

3. Some students feel that there is an unequal distribution of labor put onto marginalized students to address their own issues. If elected, how do you plan to address this precedent of tokenization? What have you done to reduce the tokenization of students of color on your campaign, and what will you do to reduce the tokenization of students of color in Senate? (Finding Intersectionality Together; Amnesty International)

As a Black female leader on Tulane’s campus, I’ve personally experienced being the only Black person, only woman, and being the only Black woman in many of the spaces I’ve been in at Tulane. I know what it feels like to be tokenized, to be regarded as the spokesperson for every other person that shares my identities, and to be conflicted when faced with the choice of speaking up and giving in to tokenization or being silent and having no input included from people with my background. In my experience, tokenization occurs when inclusion is an afterthought, and subsequently people of marginalized backgrounds are brought into spaces to make it seem as though inclusion was considered from the outset. I plan on addressing tokenization within USG as Executive Vice President by examining our Constitution and revising it so that our systems of operation are more inclusive. Additionally, USG has historically neglected to advertise leadership opportunities, chances to interact with administration and additional resources to students of marginalized backgrounds. It will be my personal goal to make sure this does not happen again. As for my campaign team, it is composed of five incredible women, three of whom are proud women of color themselves, and as an Executive Board member I intend to set the tone for allyship and increased presence of students from marginalized backgrounds. Marginalized students should be considered important members of the Tulane community always, not when our presence is requested to make the majority feel better about themselves.

4. Have you attended an Undoing Racism workshop in the past – if yes, when? How did it change the way you act as a leader on campus? If you have not attended, will you commit to attending the Spring 2019 workshop? (Students Organizing Against Racism – 2018; Finding Intersectionality Together)

No, I haven’t attended an Undoing Racism workshop yet! I will definitely attend the Spring 2019 workshop, and I’d love to see some others first-timers there as well!

5. Do you support the USG initiative to remove the racist namesake of F. Edward Hebert? Do you support a push for Tulane to recognize legacies of oppression and toreclaim its racist history? What would this process look like to you? (Intersections – 2018)

I have supported the initiative to remove Hebert’s name since my term as Liberal Arts Senator, and am a sponsor on the legislation calling to do so. Yes, I do support a push for Tulane to acknowledge its history of oppression and racism. First, the administration needs to formally research our history. I personally don’t buy that records are sealed or lost, and it is the administration’s responsibility to look into our school’s history and provide documentation of it. Next, the school must publicly accept this history. Tulane loves to throw big events and invite the media, so [this] is a perfect opportunity to give them a call. Ask student organizations and organizers to be a part of the event and appropriate proper funds for it to be pulled off successfully. Then, the school needs to start listening to students, faculty and staff about how these legacies of oppression are still being upheld by the systems our institution has in place such as lack of need-based scholarships specifically for students of color and queer students, lack of racial diversity on campus, buildings like Hebert, etc. Once they know about them, they need to commit to fixing them, and while all of this is going on, USG should be at the forefront of those holding the administration accountable.

6. How do you feel about the current dialogue on campus regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Should any steps be taken to make this dialogue more inclusive? If so, what specific measures can you commit to enacting while in office? (Finding Intersectionality Together)

When it comes to the current dialogue on campus about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have the pro-Israel faction talking amongst itself and the pro-Palestinian faction doing the same, but the groups are not talking to each other about the issue. Perhaps its for fear of argument or disagreement, but that is going to happen regardless, so what USG can do is create a space where inclusive discussion and debate can happen in an organized manner. Whether its a formal event where there’s a panel of representatives from different organizations to discuss the issue or a student debate where different opinions can be voiced with little moderation, USG has the unique opportunity to uplift all student voices, and I think we should seize it. The usual tagline is “USG is an apolitical body”, but I see USG as a stepping stone for students to learn civic engagement. As Executive Vice President, I commit to exploring specific ways like forums and debates that would provide students a space to discuss real-world issues they sincerely care about and that directly effect them. I think the worst thing we can do is nothing, and that’s what we’ve been doing for way too long.

7. Did you attend Shifting the Paradigm this year? What do you think are the most crucial steps to reducing sexual violence on Tulane’s campus? What do you think are the shortcomings of the post-climate survey initiatives? Please evaluate the effectiveness of Tulane administration’s campaigns around sexual violence. (Progressive Voter Coalition)

I did attend Shifting the Paradigm this year and the Annual Sexual Violence Town Hall. In order to reduce sexual violence of Tulane campus, I think we need to address how shifting culture is a cause taken up by very few people on this campus and how sexual violence is (and is not) being talked about and by whom on this campus. People of color and queer people on this campus are the most at risk for sexual violence yet the least invited to the table to discuss it. Sexual violence can be and is committed by women, and “nice guys” can rape and contribute to rape culture by not doing anything when they see/hear something problematic. Men’s presence in sexual violence prevention is vital. These are all statements that are not said and acted on enough, and I think the administration has failed to set the tone for that. President Fitts has eight salary-earning staff members in his office every day, yet the Title IX office has two. That is not dedication. Every initiative since the survey results release has had declining student participation and/or attendance, and the ones that did have a lot of student input were not treated with the same importance and attention as that release. Professors simply copy and paste the same statement into their syllabi without talking about it. Our administration should put its money where its mouth is, fund the Title IX office and staff it with people with expertise on helping all students of all backgrounds, and uplift survivors and student advocates in every way it can, including holding staff, faculty and students accountable for how they address sexual violence. Tulane needs to see this as a persisting crisis on our campus, and I cannot say with confidence that it has done so thus far.

8. What additional mental health services do we need on campus to supplement CAPS? What needs to change about the mental health culture on campus? (National Alliance on Mental Illness – 2017)

An additional mental health service I really feel we need on this campus to supplement CAPS is school-specific counselors that address the mental health issues specifically associated with the unique academic pressures a student faces because of their field. The mental health concerns of an engineering student and a business student concerning their academics may look very different, so having a team of counselors within each school would help give students more focused help and cut down on the reliance of the core CAPS staff, who could then focus more on students who need long-term help and a variety of other stressors. This of course should happen in addition to the clear need of people of color and with expertise within the queer community in counselor positions. This leads me to campus culture. I think Tulane mass culture assumes that everyone grew up in environments where mental health was regarded and valued when that’s not true, especially for student from marginalized backgrounds. We need to emphasize education rather than just throwing resources at students who may not even know they need them or how to go about using them.

9. How do you plan to support the expansion of reproductive health resources for students on and off campus? (College Democrats)

Let me start by saying this: I am a firm believer that sometimes the best way to support a cause is not to pretend that you are the first person to pioneer and advocate for it, but rather to support those that are already leading the way and doing incredible work. That’s how I view reproductive health and justice work on students’ parts at Tulane. We have student organizations that are doing an amazing job advocating for reproductive issues, and USG should [act] by asking if we can help them advance their work any further. Can we help pay for something? Can we provide manpower for tabling, an event or a project? Is there a barrier you face that we can bring to administration? These are the questions we should be asking and answers we should be seeking by actually talking to our student body. As for expanding those resources, I think a big problem we face is that the resources exist but solely in one or two spaces on campus which poses accessibility problems for people both on and off campus who need anything other than a condom. I want USG to look into creating reproductive health stations around campus and along our campus perimeter were students can get what they need.

10. Do you feel that Tulane is accessible for students with disabilities? If not, what will you do to make our campus more accessible? (College Democrats)

As someone who had to navigate this campus first on crutches with a broken leg and now with a persisting ailment from that injury, I do not feel Tulane’s campus is accessible for students with physical disabilities. The solution to a person’s physical condition should not be for them to move dorms because all dorms should have elevators and moving creates even more of an inconvenience. The solution also shouldn’t be for them to drop their class because they should have a way to get to the floor the classroom is on. These are changes the USG should be advocating for, and I do not believe an entire building needs to be torn down and rebuilt just for these changes to happen. Additionally, I’d like to explore ways USG can advocate for and possibly fund an increased number of golf carts and paid student drivers to help fellow Tulanians get where they need to go. Lastly, this question didn’t include learning differences, but USG should be playing an active role in destigmatizing learning differences and connecting students with them to the resources they need to be successful in and out of the classroom. I would like to look into appointing a Director of Accessibility to the USG Cabinet to serve as a connection between USG, students, Goldman, and other resources students with disabilities and learning differences.

11. Do you have any plans to make Tulane’s campus more environmentally-friendly? If so, what are they? (College Democrats; Amnesty International)

Yes, there are simple, yet effective changes and ideas I feel both USG and our campus at large can implement to make Tulane more environmentally friendly. Beginning with USG’s actions as a body, I definitely foresee continuing to transition to a paperless body, and I would personally like to see us fund [an] increased [number of] recycling bins on campus that are not next to trash cans since when given the option, people tend to use trash cans because its easier. As for campus at large, I think folks get caught up in long-term tear downs of our dorms and other buildings but overlook changes that can be made in the meantime. The shear number of runny faucets and showerheads we have in our buildings contribute to extreme water waste, and the amount of food Tulane discards is appalling. We also have an existing shuttle system that doesn’t get used enough, and should be in order to reduce the numbers of cars and Ubers being used by our community. These are problems we can transform into initiatives that create tangible change and yield results.

12. What role do you see Tulane playing in combating climate change, especially given our ties to the oil and gas industry? How would you influence administration to take a more proactive role? (College Democrats)

In my personal opinion as a student, I feel Tulane administration often concerns itself with operating more as a business than as an institution for higher learning. Its ties to and reliance upon investments in the oil and gas industry are symptomatic of that. I think Tulane can play an incredible role in combating climate change by divesting from these industries. It seems to me that if the Only the Audacious campaign advertises that the money they are raising from these donors are supposed to go to towards “pioneering research with a global impact that connects across all disciplines and pushes the boundaries of human knowledge and discovery,” climate change research should be a priority for funding. Even before that, increasing the size of the Office of Sustainability and adequately funding them would go a long way. In my role as Executive Vice President, I will make sure that environmental issues like climate change do not get excluded from conversations concerning what should be done with the money that is supposed to be going towards improving Tulane.

13. There have been many complaints about the problematic nature of student engagement in local New Orleans communities through service learning programs. What are some ideas of yours to improve service learning programs, and how do you intend to improve city-student relations more generally? (Finding Intersectionality Together)

I agree-the Tulane service learning program is extremely problematic, and I say that as both a Tulane student and a native Louisianian. What I’ve personally seen is that the students who have abundant means and time to engage outside of class with New Orleans communities are rarely the ones who care enough to do so. Instead, local students, minority students, and a handful of allies are the ones who care enough to pick up the slack, and they do so on top of full classloads, working additional jobs to afford to be at Tulane at all, and trying to train the other groups to care and engage correctly with the community. We have to alleviate this burden off of this small population of students, and we can do so by fixing these service learning programs to require more than just showing up. Our community partners are excellent and do incredible workwithout Tulane students’ help, yet they are frequently being reduced to signatures on sheets of paper affirming that students took up space for a few hours on a Saturday. Giving our community partners more agency and input on our curriculums is vital, and they should have a say in how the quality of students’ service is evaluated. Outside of service learning, I’d like to see USG have a stronger relationship with our Neighborhood and Community Relations staff at Tulane, and help them enforce proper everyday engagement with the New Orleans community and take proper punitive action against students that don’t do so.

14. Do you support the USG-backed campus initiative to include All-Gender Restrooms in all buildings on campus? If so, how would you use your position to advocate for this? (Gender and Sexuality Affairs Council)

I vehemently support the all-gender restrooms initiative. We know that the administration has taken too long to get proper signage up on those designated facilities, so something Executive Board can do is apply pressure to get not only answers as to why they haven’t [performed] this work, but also [obtain] concrete solutions and timelines as to when they expect to complete it, especially the President and Executive Vice President as the only student representative on the University Senate. Additionally, as Executive Vice President my responsibility is to set the tone and standards for the internal operations of Senate, so it’ll be my mission to make sure not only one or two Senators are working on this initiative and seeking answers, which has been the case in year’s past. Collective effort and contribution is necessary for administrators to take these causes seriously, so next year’s Senate members should expect to be extremely active.

15. Have you been to a Trans 101 or LGBT 101 training? What interactions with the LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ activism have you had at Tulane? (Gender Exploration Society; Gender and Sexuality Affairs Council)

I have been to both Trans 101 and LGBT 101 training, and I highly encourage anyone who has not done both yet to do so—it’s a matter of respect for those around you, and you never know when you will need to use what you’ve learned to advocate on someone’s behalf. I say that because in my role as a Resident Advisor, I’ve had to step in on behalf of residents that identify as queer and set the tone for inclusion and acceptance, and having already learned how to be an good ally made doing so exponentially more effective. Additionally, in my capacity as President of Homecoming, my Board members and I are currently in final talks with administration to get rid of the binary Homecoming Court process that has historically excluded trans and gender non-conforming students, and we are set to implement our new gender-inclusive process this fall.

16. How would you implement more inclusive spaces for trans individuals at Tulane, including gender-inclusive housing improvements? (Gender Exploration Society)

Trans students at Tulane deserve the chance to navigate their collegiate experience, grow as students and human beings, and undergo leadership, interpersonal and professional development without having to suppress or compromise their identities or their comfort. USG has the power to demand assessments of campus systems that exclude trans students, and it has the manpower to discover ways transform them and push for their implementation. We have these powers, and I think we should be using them. My first step in doing so would be to open the door for collaboration with students, organizations and perhaps people from peer institutions that have been successful in improving campus life for trans students. Working together, we can turn a critical eye to our campus and identify which areas of campus life are limiting trans students, and we can do so in an efficient amount of time. When it comes to issues like gender-inclusive housing, I find it counterproductive that it doesn’t exist in every building on campus because by not doing so, trans students much more limited living options and if they want to be in a residential living community, they are likely barred from most of them. Issues are well within our power and responsibility to call attention to and seek change for, so we should get to it.

17. What role do you see USG playing in increasing voter turnout among students in federal, state and local elections? Will you commit to funding voter registration initiates such as TurboVote through USG’s budget? (College Democrats)

Seeing as student government was conceptualized as a means to acclimate students to the practice of civic engagement, especially through voting, I think USG has a wonderful opportunity to turn practice into real change by adopting TurboVote and similar initiatives as permanent practices of USG. I will commit to supporting TurboVote becoming a part of the USG budget because I see it as our responsibility not only to teach students to see voting and political engagement as important but also to help them actually get involved and take action to help shape the world they want to live in. USG should be in the business of amplifying student voices, and this is a step towards doing so.

18. What initiatives or changes not addressed in the previous questions will you advocate for to better serve our changing student body, especially the increasing numbers of students of color, queer students and trans students? (Progressive Voter Coalition)

Something I cannot stress enough is the importance of telling students of color, queer students and trans students that joining the Undergraduate Student Government is something they are most certainly qualified enough and important enough to do. Joining the body as a freshman only two or so years ago, I didn’t have any people on the body say that, and now that I have this platform as a candidate and hopefully as the Executive Vice President, I want to be the person to say something. I intend on using this role to reach out to other students from marginalized communities and tell them that USG is not something they should feel barred from. I am going to work towards eliminating the barriers that have kept students like us from joining Senate like inequitable advertising of open positions and disproportionate work placed on students of color. We deserve the opportunities to create change and we deserve the opportunities for leadership without tokenization just as much as anyone else. I look forward to serving students of color, queer students and trans students in any way I can, and if anyone wants to join me, I welcome you!

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