Letter to the Editor: SGA leadership’s performative actions on Diversity, Equity and Student Belonging

Graphic by Corrina Reiss.

The Butler Collegian is committed to sharing diverse viewpoints from across the university and to upholding values of free speech. However, The Collegian does not endorse or promote opinions contained within any letter to the editor.

With four weeks left of the semester, I have decided to resign from my position as Executive Director of Diversity, Equity, and Student Belonging of the Student Government Association. The decision was officialized after being blatantly disrespected and yelled at by SGA President Will Gigerich — this has not been the first instance. I am writing this Letter to the Editor 48 hours after the latest incident of disrespect, with still no apology or acknowledgment of the unprofessional behavior from Gigerich. 

Though my final straw for resignation was decided after the events of a peer being disrespectful, demeaning and contemptible, it is not the sole reason for my resignation. Overall, as a woman of color, I am aware of how undervalued I can be in a position of power, yet I have never been so overtly disregarded for my intelligence and experiences that I can and have already brought to the table. 

From the beginning of the school year, I have never known what the goals were from this administration when it came to Diversity, Equity, and Student Belonging and to what capacity I would be allowed to work. Whenever DESB was mentioned, there was a clear discomfort in the room, and I personally did not feel heard when discussing these matters in executive meetings. 

It was very difficult to navigate this school year as the first person in my position. One would think that an administration that created this seat would have thought more about how to make this position more inclusive themselves, but with all honesty, it seems to be a position created as a performative response to the racial and social justice rise of 2020 and 2021, and the problematic politics of the Senate on student government last year.

I never knew how exactly people in the executive cabinet felt about my position. I felt ostracized from some of the executives when it came to bringing forward my initiatives. There would even be times where I would leave when the meeting would end, while everyone else stayed in the room.

I would have greatly appreciated transparency and honesty from the executive cabinet on what the expectations and limitations were when it came to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Instead of these conversations, I had to experience hostility and resistance for nearly all ideas to improve DEI.  All ideas for improvement sparked from minority student outreach, and no ideas solely my own. 

Nonetheless, my commitment to DESB remained unwavering. One of my biggest accomplishments this semester was bettering the historically poor relationship between the Diversity Center and SGA. I held two weekly office hours and often spent much of my time in the DC, as my friends and I hung out there between classes and just for fun. This has led to a major issue that was brought to my attention: the inadequate lack of study space for students in this area. 

If you have visited the DC, you would know that we have old C-Club tables with some missing chairs and not enough space for how busy the DC can get. With the new renovations and modernization of space in Atherton Union pushed by this administration, I often requested that the DC would be involved in this plan. After all, the Diversity Center is a space in the basement of Atherton Union. 

After many failed attempts of being heard from Gigerich, I included Annie Ventura, Marcos Navarro-Garcia and Meet Patel to also share their thoughts on the benefits of new furniture in the DC that they have also heard from students who spend time studying there. 

This then led to our meeting with Gigerich discussing how new study tables and chairs would be paid for in the DC. What we did not expect was so much hostility when we arrived and for Gigerich to share that it was not SGA’s “responsibility” to pay for the furniture students would utilize in the DC. The four members  mentioned earlier  attempted  to explain the importance of equity when it comes to SGA funding the furniture in the DC. For one, this space would allow adequate study spaces, modernize a location within Atherton union, and even better – help students with a place to study on campus. With his hostility to fund student space it makes me wonder – what is the main purpose of SGA if not to help students? And not just help, but help ALL students?

Not only is it extremely rude to not include a space of Atherton Union as part of the current administration’s renovation plans, but it was also extremely insulting to not even listen to the requests from four prominent DEI student leaders. Overall, this led to frustrations on both sides, and Gigerich took out his frustration on me by raising his voice and speaking in a patronizing manner – something extremely unprofessional and an event that I should never have to experience as a student on this campus. 

Gigerich recommended that funding should come from the Diversity Program Council’s budget. Yet, DPC is the only DEI and social justice-specific group on campus that has a budget supplemented for DEI initiatives and education. The majority of their finances are used to fund events organized by the numerous student groups located in the DC since those groups aren’t given a budget. Which leads to the question: why should funds be subsidized by DPC’s budget rather than from the ABUNDANT sum of money sitting in SGA’s savings account that is currently not being used for requested  students’ needs on campus? That would be the equitable thing to do.

Overall, there are many other issues that I could list in my resignation letter, but I want to provide advice for future administrations that come after. 

  1. Continue the Executive Director of DESB Role – This is crucial work on campus, but there needs to be a direct conversation at the beginning of the election year with the administration’s expectations for DEI. 
  2. Support all areas of DESB on campus – Just because DEI efforts aren’t coming from the DC or DC organizations doesn’t mean we should not still support their passion and interests in DEI. Why should it just be limited to certain groups on campus?
  3. Allocate the rest of my Executive Director of DESB salary and budget to the furniture of the Diversity Center. We unfortunately do not know if the DC will get new furniture. At this time, the Diversity Center does not have a large enough budget to pay for furniture alone. I would only hope that this money is allocated for students on campus and not filtered through SGA’s savings account. 

I am a woman of color. And although I entered this role knowing, and even expecting, the ways that I could be – and was – belittled and underestimated in this position of power, the next woman of color holding a position of power should not. Be better, SGA. I am hopeful that there’s a better future for the Student Government Association and that those who run on the platform of DEI will truthfully mean it.

Maya Sanchez

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