"Shall the undergraduates direct the USG Senate to establish a standing committee that works with the Interclub Council to annually collect and release demographic information, such as race, gender, and academic major, about the members of each Eating Club, and additionally, for each selective (‘bicker’) Club, its applicants (‘bickerees’)?
We voted on the eating club demographics referendum almost a year ago. In turnout and support, this referendum was one of the most popular measures to stand in a Undergraduate Student Government election, passing with — more support than the last two USG Presidents have won in their elections.
Eleven months later, what do we have? We don’t have demographics. We don’t have a plan to get demographics. We don’t even have a committee tasked with collecting demographics. Two rounds of sign-in and bicker have passed, and nothing has happened.
The blame for this lies squarely with the current USG Senate.
When I first proposed the eating club demographics referendum last December, I sat down with 2016-2017 USG president Aleksandra Czulak ’17 to make a plan for if it passed. At the time, Aleks asked me if I would be willing to co-chair the standing committee erected by the referendum along with a member of the Senate, in order to collect demographics. This dual leadership, Aleks proposed, would combine a clear vision of the referendum with knowledge of the ins-and-outs of the USG system.
Aleks recognized the importance of this referendum. Sadly, she couldn’t act on the issue before the end of her term. Ultimately, the issue was tabled when academics took priority during fall exams period.
In January, the baton was passed to a new administration. I met with 2017-2018 USG president Myesha Jemison ’18 early on about her plans to see the referendum through. Together, we came up with a plan to start collecting voluntary demographics at the start of the spring sign-in and bicker period.
Myesha agreed that the plan seemed reasonable. But the next day, Myesha told me that she needed to consult the rest of the USG Senate before acting. I said fine; maybe some caution was merited. I let the matter drop from my attention. I assumed USG would take the results of this referendum seriously and act on them quickly.
In February I got an email from U-Councilor Olivia Grah ’19. It turned out that Myesha and USG had decided that the way to deal with the referendum was to create a committee to decide whether to form a committee to collect demographics. Olivia, to everybody’s surprise — including her own — had been spontaneously appointed the new chair of this committee-committee.
I reminded Olivia that it had already been two months since the referendum, so swift action would be ideal. She said that the report on the committee's findings would be finished quickly, and a committee hopefully selected by the end of spring break.
In April, the committee-committee decided to form an actual committee to (hopefully) act on the referendum. Their report was quite good. But then nothing happened!
Forming a USG committee is a two-step and two-week process. Our semesters are only 12 weeks long, and by April we were about halfway through the spring semester. Applications for the new committee should have gone out by mid-April at the latest; a chair and committee members could have been confirmed by the end of April. But, when I asked Olivia about the progress during reading period, she reported that USG wasn’t meeting anymore, let alone working on the committee.
Because of this, the referendum committee lost three months of summer planning time and couldn’t act during fall bicker and sign-in.
Also, despite Aleks’ suggestion, the committee-committee had decided that the actual committee on eating club demographics would have one chair instead of two. Olivia said only that the committee-committee had decided that a single leader was better. They had also decided that of nine members-at-large, three would be selected from the student body and six would be picked from current members of USG. With this new structure, would there be a place for me, and for the others who had worked on the referendum campaign, on this committee? I asked. I was told there would be.
Finally, towards the end of May, I noticed that a ‘Prince’ report on a USG Senate meeting said that the committee would not collect demographic information.
I emailed Myesha and Olivia for clarification. Yes, they said, this (not yet formed) committee wouldn’t need to collect demographics. Why had they made this decision, especially without consulting me? Apparently, they talked to the chair of the Graduate Interclub Council board, who told them that the University wouldn’t help with the referendum. From this, USG officials decided on this major change. (They did not confirm with the University.)
Instead of being publicized clearly in a USG email, this decision only barely came to public attention. If I hadn’t read the ‘Prince’ report, I wouldn’t have learned about it. So even if the committee had been formed by the end of spring, it wouldn’t have pursued the goals of the referendum.
By fall semester of this year, I’d learned that without prodding, USG would procrastinate. I reminded Olivia that it had been ten months since the referendum passed. Could we get the committee formed as quickly as possible? I asked. I suggested that maybe it would be better to select a chair first, so that the chair could publicize the committee applications.
Three weeks later, USG instead sent out committee and chair applications at the same time. They did such a poor job of publicizing the application that they didn’t get enough applications and had to extend the deadline a further week.
Yesterday the new chair was announced: a former member of the USG Class Government. The committee is stacked with seven USG insiders, leaving only three spots open to students at large. We’re back to the status quo, with no real change on the horizon. At this point, I have lost all faith in this committee, in USG, and in its ability to act on this referendum.
USG has made many foreseeable mistakes. They decided to cut the people who’ve worked on and care most about the referendum entirely out of this process. As a result, they made a series of poor decisions that hurt the cause of this referendum. Accidentally or not, USG set this referendum up to fail.
Many students are frustrated with the dynamics of Prospect Street. A lack of demographics hurts students on this campus. Transparency and inclusivity are a problem in the eating clubs; we all know this, and that’s why the referendum won with 68.9 percent of the vote. USG’s refusal to act on it shows a lack of respect for the voices of the students it claims to represent.
Maybe this just is how USG is, you say. Yet, in the winter of 2015, USG President Ella Cheng sat down and realized that USG had been miscommunicating with the student body. So she revived the defunct USG Communications Committee and quickly filled it with a chair and new committee members. Ella realized that USG had to reach outside of its body of insiders, and appointed a maverick, non-USG chair for the committee. That committee is still flourishing today.
The current USG administration pales against Ella’s USG leadership. What she did with the Communications Committee should have — and could have — been replicated for the referendum committee. But it wasn’t, and the soul of the referendum is lost. I know I’ll be expressing my dissatisfaction come November, and I hope you’ll use your votes to join me.
Leila Clark is a senior in Computer Science from Tai Po, NT, Hong Kong. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.