Student government's Executive Committee aims to prioritize initiatives such as a Diversity and Inclusion event and the development of a Committee of Marginalized Student Affairs.
Student Government's executive committee, the Engage Slate, made up of (left to right) Alex Levi, Raven Rainey and Myles Hudson. Provided.
Student Government’s Executive Slate is coming up on its one-quarter mark. In that time, it has been laying the groundwork for a committee to support marginalized students on campus, amid controversies about its relationship to student activist groups.
The Engage Slate, comprising fourth-years Myles Hudson, Raven Rainey, and Alex Levi, emphasized the creation of a Committee of Marginalized Student Affairs (COMSA) in their platform. According to Hudson, the committee will advocate for minority students and work with student organizers to “challenge and dismantle systems of oppression on campus.” It will also provide additional funding for marginalized students and recommend policies to the Executive Slate or university administration. While COMSA will be a temporary committee, goal is to make it a permanent, standing committee by writing it into Student Government bylaws, said Hudson. Applications to join the committee opened on Nov 9.
According to Hudson, Annual Allocations, a process that provides university funding to Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) every year, “has historically neglected marginalized student organizations.” Hudson chalks this up to the long arduous nature of the decision-making process, which means that there are often only two or three people deciding budgets in the end. And these people often aren’t marginalized students, Hudson added. “[Through COMSA,] we hope to at least increase the transparency of funding decisions,” he said.
COMSA will be chaired by second-year College Council representatives Tyler Okeke and Bianca Simons, who Hudson described as “the architects of this entire committee.”
Beyond the establishment of COMSA, Engage’s other movements for minority students include an event on diversity, equity and inclusion scheduled for Winter 2021 and that was prompted by the slate’s meeting with #MoreThanDiversity, a faculty-led campaign calling for increased support for critical race studies and diversity and equity on campus.
But the slate has had a complicated time with its stance on these systems of oppression that it seeks to challenge and/or dismantle—in particular, the issue of abolition of the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD). Rainey’s father is the chief of UCPD, and she was pushed to make a statement on this in June during protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd and others. On June 15, she posted an open letter on Facebook, asserting that she “wholeheartedly support[s] and stand[s] with #CareNotCops,” a student activist organization that advocates for police abolition. In her statement, she noted that she was only just beginning to process the concept of abolition.
Although Rainey declined to comment on whether her understanding of abolition has developed since then, she said that she is "always willing to work with any student organization on campus" and has followed through on her promise in the letter of holding a safety and security town hall featuring her father, which took place on Oct 29. Along with UCPD Chief Kenton Rainey, the slate brought in student presenters who spoke to the mission of Care Not Cops, such as Zebeeb Nguse, Chair of College Council, as well as Fan Ye, a speaker from the mental health RSO Active Minds.
Some— including members of the current College Council— have expressed confusion at an apparent inconsistency in her letter, namely the fact that her professed support for abolitionist student organizations didn’t seem sincere, considering their mission is one that she “[does] not understand completely," according to the letter.
Rainey sought to clarify this alleged inconsistency in her interview with Exploring Race, citing Student Government’s broad aim to “support all student organizations on campus, even ones whose purpose” is not supported by the university. She added later that this support extends only to organizations that “aren’t causing harm to other students"; this statement was made in reference to organizations on campus with missions that could harm BIPOC students.
But Hudson conceded that “support. . .is kind of a nebulous word,” and said that the slate’s aim was to “see what support means for different groups.”
He specified that the slate wants to develop a better working relationship with abolitionist organizations like Care Not Cops. He acknowledged that activist organizations may be reluctant to work with Student Government because of its ties to the university administration, but said that the slate is "eager to find common ground."
"We know that student organizers have been laying the groundwork for police abolition long before we came to UChicago, and we know their work will continue well after we leave office," he continued.
Although the slate advocated for abolitionist organizations such as Care Not Cops and UC United to speak at the Safety and Security town hall, said Levi, the university’s administration didn’t feel comfortable presenting alongside Care Not Cops. The compromise they reached was to have student presenters from safety-related organizations instead.
“I think it’s shameful that as an institution that prides itself on rigorous discourse, UChicago chose to selectively exclude the perspective of an abolitionist organization,” said Levi.
Both Hudson and Levi support the abolition of police forces, including the UCPD. Levi also noted that there can be different interpretations of abolition, saying that “there [are] central ideas but everyone would tell their story with abolition [differently.]"