Letter to the Editor: Enough target practice. Is USG the real problem?

Deja Wells

Dear Hullabaloo Editor-in-Chief and Tulane Undergraduate Student Body,

If you don’t know who I am, this background should give a little context. I am now a law student as well as an undergraduate, but I was once a Resident Advisor, a founder of Les Griots Violet, a member of Residence Hall Association Executive Board, Director of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council and a Newman Civic Fellow. I have actively participated in social activism on campus in several spaces since my arrival at Tulane in 2018.

I would like to begin by highlighting my experiences within the Undergraduate Student Government. First and foremost, USG was established on white supremacist ideology and perpetuates whiteness to the disadvantage of all students. I have not only actively experienced but also witnessed this phenomenon within my own campaigns as well as that of other representatives. I think the biggest misconception presented thus far is that USG itself or the individual actors within USG are the problem. They are not. Tulane as an entity perpetuates an environment in which students feel it necessary to not only tokenize themselves but also others thereby creating an overly competitive atmosphere that should not exist.

Inherently, the Undergraduate Student Government should foster an environment in which students are able to have discourse and build a better community. But, realistically, the environment in its current volatile state disrupts the cohesive nature of the institution, disrupts the student body and actively contributes to the white supremacist state. I am aware that throughout this letter I have used convoluted language, so for the sake of transparency, I will use myself as an example. 

As previously mentioned, I am a founding member of Les Griots Violets — an antiracist organization comprised of Black womxn from different backgrounds seeking to be a driving force for social change on Tulane’s campus. In 2020, we were able to pass legislation through the Undergraduate Student Government that established an equity fee which would add an additional $240 to students’ tuition and fees to provide accessible funding to marginalized groups on Tulane’s campus. 

Thereafter, we were targeted and threatened by students, parents, representatives within USG and even media outlets. The threats reached the level of physical harm which forced some of us to relocate from our on-campus housing. Although we had done our due diligence in having a statistician run the numbers, the Multicultural Council still insisted on implying our incompetence by running the numbers once more. Senators emerged after the vote claiming to feel threatened and pressured to vote in favor of the bill despite being opposed, insinuating that the bill’s passing was coerced and not earned.

During my own presidential campaign, I was confronted by microaggressions, anti-Blackness and sexism both within and outside of the USG space. I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to evade the identities that I held and have my competency as a candidate be determined by my character, qualifications and ambitions for USG. This left me working twice as hard to prove that I was capable of pursuing and executing the role of USG’s president while my counterparts were able to get off scot free for engaging in dishonorable acts to secure more votes. In the aftermath of the election, we were sent home with the onset of the pandemic. I was left to reconcile my feelings about the election while figuring out where I would go knowing I didn’t really have a home to go to. No one talks about that part, no one ever addresses the way that the trauma that is experienced at this institution bleeds into life outside of it.  

I have remained silent for my own health and safety, but I have realized with the current climate of student politics on campus, that I must step forward and bring to light the true nature of this entity in hopes for a change in the right direction. In being gung-ho about promoting their own personal vendettas and agendas, I think that some people have lost sight of what it really means to participate in USG. We are all students and before we are students, we are people: people with their own feelings, their own thoughts and their own lives outside of what occurs at Tulane. In unprecedented times such as these with racial tension remaining at its peak, it is easy to need someone to blame — a scapegoat for things not going the way we think they should. But the problem is not any one person or any one thing. The problem lies at the very root of the USG, at the very heart of this institution, and it won’t be remedied by targeting others. 

As an officer of USG, there is a duty to respect differing opinions and advocate for what is right — whatever you may think that is. But this duty does not come with the prerogative to bring harm to or quite frankly bash others for personal gain or a person’s demise. There is too great a focus on power and control and not enough focus on how our actions have the capacity to affect others. To put it simply, life is hard. We all struggle, and we all make mistakes, and it does not behoove any of us to lose our shreds of humanity, however small they may be. There is an unobjectionable difference between what is right in this case, and what is wrong. The actions thus far spewing from the governing body of students at this institution has been to say the least, wrong. We need to find room for reconciliation and growth. Our time at Tulane is a minuscule moment in our lives, so let’s work towards creating better legacies to leave behind.

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