Letter to the Editor: Tokenism, racism in USG president’s campaign

Annika Shamachar

Though I was aware that Undergraduate Student Government elections were taking place during the week of March 14, I was not particularly invested in them until a friend texted me a screenshot of candidate Jamie Roa’s Instagram post. I distinctly remember my feelings of anxiety, annoyance and shock when I fully processed what I saw. 

Jamie was a former friend of convenience; we lived in the same residential hall during our freshman and sophomore year. During our brief friendship, Jamie repeatedly made remarks I felt to be racist and untruthful, and as time went on, I began to keep my distance from her. The last time I interacted with her was more than a year ago.

Jamie’s post featured an image of her alongside me and another Indian friend, Sonil. As part of a “Get to Know Me” collage, Sonil and I are dressed in South Asian cultural attire for a 2018 Diwali event. The original photo also featured another friend, Hannah, who is white, yet the image in the campaign collage was cropped to exclude her. In my eyes, it was abundantly clear that the post aimed to show Jamie’s involvement in diverse communities and organizations. 

She never asked our permission to use this photo as part of her campaign promotion, and after seeing the post, Sonil and I felt extremely tokenized. We had not spoken to Jamie in months; she did not see us as friends, and the usage of our picture in the collage portrayed a disingenuous relationship. 

Annika and Sonil, center left, pictured in USG President Roa’s campaign Instagram post.

After seeing the post, I sent Jamie a direct message on Instagram and communicated my feelings to her. I emphasized how we do not speak anymore, how she never asked for our consent to use the photo and how it felt like she was using our identities for “diversity.” 

 I asked her to take the post down, as Sonil and I did not want our faces associated with her campaign. She sent back a simple, “sorry,” and placed the blame on her “social media person,” who she claimed took the picture from her Instagram profile. Jamie then said she would ask them to take it down.

Jamie’s message puzzled me. The image was on her personal profile; it was entirely possible for her to delete the post herself. More importantly, Jamie took no ownership of her mistake, and she made no effort to acknowledge my feelings of tokenization. Within a couple of hours of my message, the image was taken down and the picture of Sonil and I was replaced with another. The replacement image was of Jamie alongside two Black students.

A few days later, it was revealed that Jamie’s campaign was involved in racist infractions against Black USG candidates. Based on my own experience with her, I was not surprised. Her entire platform was centered around inclusivity, transparency and equity, but I felt that her actions directly opposed those values. 

The university, along with USG as an institution, has not taken any action to hold Jamie’s campaign accountable. She is still USG president and nothing has been publicly done to support the Black candidates who were harmed by her campaign. Especially in the past year, Tulane has highlighted their many initiatives to create a more equitable campus environment, yet the administration has stayed silent about racism within their own student government.

I am familiar with the feeling of tokenization; my mere existence at a predominantly white institution has made me feel othered. Racism at Tulane is a systemic issue, and these incidents involving Jamie are examples of how even student organizations can contribute to the racist system. 

My story is not uncommon; tokenism occurs on so many levels, in so many spaces. Institutions like Tulane use pictures and stories of people of color to perpetuate the idea that they are “inclusive,” to show off that students of all backgrounds are equally represented. Yet, the reality of Tulane is far from the image that is advertised to the world. Jamie’s tokenism is not my only experience of racism at Tulane, and I predict there have been far more incidents of tokenism at this institution alone. 

If you have experienced tokenism perpetuated by a student organization, the Tulane administration or another body at Tulane, I urge you to share your experiences. This issue is too often normalized and ignored.

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