USG executives resign, call out anti-Blackness in organization

Apoorva Verghese, Intersections Editor

USG anti-Blackness
Apoorva Verghese

During the Undergraduate Student Government’s 12th Senate session, held this past Tuesday, several members of the organization recounted their negative experiences during their time in office, sparking a discussion about the structures of white supremacy that are upheld within USG. 

Justin Hartley, director of diversity, inclusion, and equity, announced their resignation in solidarity with Black candidates who faced anti-Black harassment during their campaigns this past week. 

“I am disappointed with this body and I believe there needs to be institutional reform that goes beyond simply changing bylaws or having the occasional CEA training,” Hartley said. “This is about the nature of USG. It is clear that this body is both intentionally and unintentionally anti-Black.” 

Following Hartley, Director of Campus Services Mia Harris, who ran for president but lost to Jamie Roa, read a statement detailing the race- and gender-driven attacks she faced, including being called racial slurs such as the N-word, and also announced her resignation. Senator DaSean Spencer, who ran for vice president of student life but lost to Holly Steinberg, read a statement detailing how damaging the election process was to his health but announced that he planned to remain in USG. 

In light of the statements made by Hartley, Harris and Spencer, USG made the decision to shift the meeting to a conversation about the organization’s culture and problems. During this conversation, Director of Sustainability Ella Catherine Strahan,  also resigned in solidarity with Hartley, Harris and Spencer. 

As the discussion opened up, many members directed their attention to the recent behavior exhibited by campaign teams and, specifically, the weaponization of election processes such as infractions. Both Harris and Spencer had several pages of infractions filed against them. Infractions filed against Harris discredited her labor by alleging she lied about her accomplishments and included photos of her crying. None of the infractions submitted against Harris were deemed valid by the Awards and Elections committee. 

Many infractions filed against Spencer, which claimed that he was taking credit away from others and misleading the public, were also determined to be unfounded by the AEC. 

“The infractions submitted by opposing candidates called DaSean a liar and implied that he is a sexist who ‘diminished the work of women,’” Hartley, who worked on Spencer’s campaign, said. “These baseless and insidious remarks will stay with DaSean for the rest of his time at Tulane and beyond.” 

As a result of his experience, Spencer has been advocating for increased transparency between USG and the Tulane community. 

“We can’t allow students to think that that election was the slightest bit fair and free and wasn’t riddled with anti-Blackness and targeted harassment,” Spencer said. “I want to call upon to students to take note and demand they release information on the events that transpired during this election, as they promised me in my infractions hearing, and as their bylaws explicitly state they must.”

As it stands, the bylaws of the AEC state in Article VII Section 3G that “The AEC must release all additional election information it deems necessary to promote transparency and student accessibility.”

President-elect Roa condemned the behavior exhibited this past week, including that of her team and expressed support for abolishing the infraction system. 

“I’d like to apologize for the infractions on behalf of my campaign, and I’d like to condemn the words and the name calling used against the candidates,” she said in the session. “There is no place for this language, there is no place for these infractions, and quite frankly it is too toxic to continue like this again.”

Beyond the actions exhibited during elections, several members pointed out the pervasiveness of anti-Blackness throughout USG. 

“I know the bylaws like the back of my hand and every single change I’ve helped push forward or that I’ve thought of making or ‘solution’ I’ve thought about to help ‘reform’ this body in anyway is in some way consumed by white supremacy culture,” Executive Vice President Reagan McKinney wrote in the chat of the Zoom meeting. 

Harris argues that USG is intentionally structured so that only a certain type of member is able to hold positions of power. 

“Really, the whole notion of a student government, anyone should be able to run and be able to represent the student body, but that’s not how it works,” Harris said. “You kind of have to be, we’ve been calling it, ‘the heir apparent’ to the USG. So, I think that’s the way it is because it’s an organization that’s been built by people who like to hoard power and who like to uphold white supremacy.” 

Despite the revelations of the Senate session and her personal experience, Harris expressed belief that USG can change. 

“The system we have right now just doesn’t work, it doesn’t,” Harris said. “I think everyone acknowledged that in the meeting, and we can move from here and we can go to something that’s better, that works for people, that people can actually feel proud of.” 

Hartley also expressed their belief in the possibility of change within the USG but emphasized the role of accountability. 

“I believe there will be change in USG — if the perpetrators of these actions are held accountable,” Hartley said. “If they are not I believe the organization will backslide into similar patterns.”

Changing the bylaws immediately was proposed during the meeting, but USG executives said that rewriting the laws that night would not be “the most productive thing.” They did, however, immediately suspend the infraction form on Wavesync pending review. 

Members of USG are currently planning on reaching out to candidates who were affected by the student elections and also plan on discussing the possibility of rewriting the organization’s bylaws.