Q&A with USG President-elect Fo Garcia

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Courtesy of Fo Garcia

Fo Garcia was elected USG president for the 2020-21 school year.

Gabby Abrams, News Editor

Why did you want to run for the position of USG president? 

When I committed to Tulane, I guess I committed alone. I was the first person in my family to go to college and also the first person from my school district to go to Tulane. I moved into a single on the seventh floor of Monroe, and those first few weeks of freshman year I didn’t know what was going on. People were rushing professional fraternities and started kind of rushing social fraternities and started applying for things, but this whole college concept was alien to me. I was so lost during the first two months of college that I didn’t have a sense of where I found my home and where I found my people and that wasn’t until I got involved in [Undergraduate Student Government]. Other student leaders took a chance on me, and when I think about it, I start to get kind of emotional because those are the people that helped me navigate college. They gave me a chance, and I felt valued and listened to and appreciated when things got tough. When I failed my first chemistry test, people were there and supported me throughout the way. This USG family continued into my sophomore year when I became a senator and realized all of the good work that people were doing. I wanted to make Tulane a place and make other people feel how these people had empowered me to make change and so I ran for Vice President of Student Life. While being VPSL this junior year I’ve really wanted to make Tulane a place where all students feel like they belong. And although I didn’t quite solve that in its entirety — I’m gonna be honest, there’s still a ways to go — but I’m happy with the progress we’ve made in USG, and I’m excited for what’s to come. I guess I started contemplating the idea of running for USG President over winter break. I thought back to all of the people who empowered me to make a change and actually be an impactful student on Tulane’s campus. I also kind of dwelled on the people who told me that I couldn’t do it, like people that laughed at me or tried to convince me not to run. It wasn’t an easy decision by any means but I knew at the end of it all that I wanted to pay my experience forward and be one of those student leaders who inspires others to make change. 

What was the thought process behind deciding to change the voting policy for the election, and how did you go about doing so? 

Campus was closing, and a member of our community and a close friend of mine passed away, and I think that the USG Awards and Elections Committee thought that it wasn’t worth putting the Tulane community through another day of campaigning. Personally I wasn’t in the mindspace to campaign another day. I was mourning my friend, and I was worried about how I was going to get home and all of these logistics. And so, considering the situation at hand, and again, I don’t want to speak for the AEC and other candidates, I think that it was the best thing to do in that moment. 

What are the first projects you plan to tackle when we head back to Tulane in the fall?  

The president’s job is to support other people and empower them to make change, so this is why I ran and what I ultimately want to accomplish as well as the other aspects like facing administrators and being the voice of the student body but I think that it’s no longer going to be my name associated with projects. It’s no longer going to be like “Fo Garcia’s initiative to do XYZ,” but instead I’m really excited to work with other student leaders who are trying to make a difference on Tulane’s campus. Continuing the work on increasing student wages is something that I’m really excited about and both Student Affairs and the Office of Human Resources are both really excited about it is the last thing that I heard. 

Throughout this whole coronavirus situation, we actually just funded $150,000 from our reserve fund to help students with emergency funding. If students need to get home or need better accessibility like needing a laptop or need textbook copies they can apply for that funding. It’s going to last throughout this semester and throughout the summer until we come back to Tulane.

Other things that I’m excited about are the possibility of being better. I think we failed student organizations by not giving them the resources they need. There has been this relationship where the average student just thinks of USG as a budget measure and for getting their student organization approved. I think that USG works on these initiatives and does all of these amazing projects but if we’re working on initiatives on lets say sexual violence prevention through our committee the Sexual Violence Prevention Response Committee … why don’t we include organizations like [Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline and Education]? Why don’t we include organizations like Surge? Why don’t we go to them and ask for their feedback? We need to have more of a symbiotic relationship with student organizations and that’s something that I really want to work on and I’m excited for.

What are your thoughts on the administration’s decision to remove the victory bell? And what do you think should be put in that spot as a replacement? 

I honestly really love the fact that we were able to acknowledge this and take action. I feel like the action could have come a little bit sooner, but I do think that the Presidential Commission on Race and Tulane Values has done good work in the sense of they’ve tried to acknowledge the accomplishments of people of color on our campus. And although they’re not moving as fast as I would like them to, I think their work is really really commendable in the sense that that we have one of these committees at all is something super important. I think that in my role as president I want to continue to push for student representation on this body, specifically Black students on this committee, because of Tulane’s and New Orleans’ history and the grand scheme of our country. I think that Tulane has a horrible history that we’ve never truly grappled with, and I think the idea of the bell is a wake-up call and I hope that through this committee and through USG and through students themselves we can find a way to recognize the impact of our history and make Tulane a place where every student feels comfortable.

To the second part of your question, I don’t think anything can go in its place. I feel like if we put something right there, it’s almost as if we’re pretending nothing happened and like we’re going to glaze over our history again. Instead, I think that maybe instead of covering it up and instead of replacing it we should put more student art around campus or find more buildings, rename them, fund more professorships, make sure that our classes are continuously more diverse because the bell is gone and we’ve had this wake-up call we continue to push Tulane in the right direction. We need to make this a place — and I’m sorry to sound like a broken record — where everybody feels like they belong. 

What do you think that the administration should do about reimbursing students’ housing and meal plans for this semester? 

I think it’s important that students paid for these services and didn’t receive them to their fullest and I think that that’s not fair to the student body. Me personally, I’m a junior and I live on campus still and I have a meal plan and I had housing in Aron [Residences] but unforeseen circumstances have led us to change that. There are definitely open channels with administrators who are doing the work, specifically in the Division of Student Affairs and Housing and Residence Life. We want to make sure that these communication channels are open and they are listening to the student body. I think that students are organizing and making sure that they are heard is something impactful and the administration should be listening to the student body. I think at some point they need to do something. I don’t know if it looks like a refund specifically or if they deduct some of the cost for next year but that’s tricky because I don’t know how that would look logistically with financial aid. It’s definitely messy and difficult, and I hope that the right people are thinking about this.

Who is a leader, either past or present, whose leadership style you admire and wish to emulate? 

I think that the person that I keep coming back to is my mom. She is one of the most impactful women or people that I’ve ever met. I’m getting kind of teary-eyed talking about it, but she was kicked out of her house at 16, she had a kid at 16 and moved across the country. She was from Texas and moved all the way to Indiana and everything that she does is with such poise and grace and always with other people in mind. She’s like my best friend and I think that in leadership you have to center people and I think that’s something my mom has always done, whether that be her kids or her husband or whether that be anyone she’s working for or working with. And she’s built herself up from realistically nothing and she just holds some of the best qualities I’ve ever seen in a person and I’m really grateful for her. In these past three years at Tulane I haven’t gone a day without talking to her and going into this next year there’s going to be challenges and there’s going to be moments where things get tough but I know that I can count on her for her wisdom even though she didn’t go to college and even though she’s not president of a college student body.