USG continues reckoning with anti-Blackness at 13th senate

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Haley Soares, Senior Staff Reporter

This Tuesday, April 6, Undergraduate Student Government held the 13th session of the 23rd Senate. This senate meeting was centered around conversations of radical, revolutionary change within the organization following the resignation of several members due to complaints of racism and anti-Blackness within this year’s USG election period. 

Over 100 members of the Tulane community were in attendance. This included Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Laura Osteen and Dean of Students Erica Woodley, as well as dozens of students at large prepared to listen in on the several pieces of proposed legislation on the table at the meeting.

Controversy has surrounded the USG election cycle this year, wherein the infraction system has come under fire for alleged overuse and disproportionate targeting of Black candidates. These candidates have spent the past few weeks speaking out on their experiences and the mental and physical anguish that came from the election process.

Director of Student Safety Holly Steinberg, who had been elected to the position of vice president of student life, has faced backlash in recent weeks due to her involvement in the infractions proceedings. Upon being given the floor at last night’s meeting, she resigned from her current position and announced that she would not be taking on her elected role in the upcoming year.  

“While I admit that my campaign may have been a touch overzealous with the candidate infractions process, this reporting was in no way, shape, or form a personal attack on my opponent,” Steinberg said. 

Senator DaSean Spencer said that he had met with Steinberg prior to the election to commit to a clean and fair race amongst the toxic past of USG elections, and felt “shocked and betrayed” upon receiving over 20 pages of infractions written against him by Steinberg and her campaign team. 

“This entire process has been more damaging to my mental health than anything I have ever experienced,” said Senator Spencer, “I was physically gagging on my food at the Commons that night.”

USG resolution 210406, co-written by Spencer and Justin Hartley, cited the defamation of Spencer and weaponization of the infractions system during the election period and called for Steinberg’s resignation. It was tabled following her formal resignation from the role.

President-elect Jamie Roa alongside Director of Student Engagement Maggie Amen brought forth resolution 210404, condemning the “hostile, toxic, and anti-Black culture of USG” and urging USG to rewrite its bylaws through a series of focus groups. Specifically, this resolution calls for a complete rethinking of bylaws concerning the campaign period, the awards and elections committee structure, run-off elections, infractions, endorsements, ticketing, negative campaigning and hate speech/harassment. This resolution was passed by the Senate in a majority vote. 

Spencer, along with Hartley and Mia Harris, also put forth resolution 210405. This resolution called for “revolutionary redevelopment” of USG in response to the upholding of white supremacy by the organization, including power hoarding and a lack of transparency. It sought to make the organization more equitable, transparent and intersectional through the creation of an ad hoc committee that would be tasked with analyzing and dismantling these structures of white supremacy and presenting their legislation to the senate on a rolling basis. 

This resolution sparked debate amongst senators and the executive board. Executive Vice President Reagan McKinney brought up concerns relating to the ability of this committee to exist successfully within USG itself, petitioning to table the resolution and suggesting that the committee take place outside of the structures of USG entirely. 

“This sounds a lot like trying to use the master’s tools to break down the house, which if you’re calling for a radical revolutionary change from an organization like USG, this is not the way to do it,” McKinney said, referencing writer Audre Lorde

A vote was called to determine whether the legislation would be voted upon or tabled for the time being, and the body ultimately decided to table the resolution to the executive board and the Constitution and Bylaw Review Committee

The final legislation of the night, resolution 210401, was co-written by Spencer and Harris and urged USG to condemn the anti-Blackness that occurred during the election cycle. It suggested that Vice President of Student Life Jamie Roa not transition into her role as USG president as an act of accountability due to her alleged involvement in the weaponization of the infractions process against Black candidates. 

The resolution passed with a majority vote of the Senate, calling for a special election in the fall to fill any unfilled positions, including Steinberg’s position as vice president of student life. 

Roa announced that she would not be resigning from her role and would be continuing on to become USG president in the coming year. She said that she had no part in the orchestration of these attacks and that the perpetration of such had been without her knowledge, and has officially condemned anti-Blackness in the organization. 

The 13th session of the 23rd Senate, which ran just over three hours in length, is available to view here