Updated: March 24, 2016 at 3:54 p.m.
After an effort to mobilize the multicultural community during this year’s Student Association elections, minority-backed students won big on election night.
Eight of the 11 candidates jointly endorsed by a group of 17 multicultural and minority student organizations were elected, including Erika Feinman, the community’s choice for SA president. Out of those eight students, at least five identify as minority students.
The community’s three picks for undergraduate senator from the Elliott School of International Affairs, Keiko Tsuboi, Nate Pasko and Sydney Nelson, all won a seat on the senate. Four of next year’s five undergraduate senators from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Devan Cole, Ivette Headley, Luke Plowden and Imani Ross, were also endorsed by multicultural organizations.
Ross said the election was “a start” in ensuring the minority community was represented in student leadership.
“Overall there will be new voices in the SA,” she said. “However it’s just one year, things could still be different next year. Still, this is a major push in a more inclusive direction.”
Student leaders encouraged the multicultural community to be more engaged in this year’s election, which they said could help ease long-standing concerns about how multicultural groups are funded and represented on the SA.
Ross said there was “a lot of apprehension” from students when she told them she was running because the SA’s relationship with the multicultural community has at times been strained. She said as an SA senator she would work to see more low-income students become leaders on campus.
Michael Tapscott, director of the Multicultural Student Services Center, said the center always encourages active engagement with the SA, including urging students to run for leadership positions. He said the MSSC is excited to expand discussions surrounding diversity on campus “even further.”
“We have seen many of our student leaders both minority and majority feeling refreshed and encouraged around the future of our diversity at GW,” he said.
Victoria Goncalves, the president of the Organization of Latino-American Students, said the SA has consistently underfunded multicultural student organizations.
Members of the community were outraged last month after the senate’s finance committee repeatedly denied funding for a South Asian heritage celebration. Following the controversy, SA President Andie Dowd mandated diversity training for all SA executive cabinet members.
“There’s generally just a lack of understanding by the SA of what our community is and what our needs are,” Goncalves said. “The only way to fix that is to have people from our community in those positions, making those decisions.”
Student leaders organized an election week candidate forum focused on issues relevant to the multicultural community. Goncalves also sent a email to members of multicultural organizations in February encouraging them to run for senate positions.
“It definitely felt very surreal. It made it feel like you made a big impact,” Goncalves said of the election results. “Our community was very engaged in the process.”
Goncalves said some minority students are discouraged from running because being on the SA is “easier for people with higher-income families.” Goncalves, a former SA senator, said she and other student leaders from multicultural student organizations assisted candidates with their campaigns.
She said the election showed what a unified multicultural community can achieve on campus.
“If the community hadn’t organized around the issue, then the SA is going to keep looking the way it has. If we hadn’t come together as a community and hadn’t told each other we were going to be supporting each other, members of our community wouldn’t have been as inclined to run and be a part of the SA body,” she said.
Even with more minority representation on the SA next year, the current SA Director of Diversity and Inclusion Jennifer Bryan said there is more work to be done. She said the SA must make funding decisions more equitable, pointing to a change made earlier this year to eliminate conflicts of interest in funding.
“We always want to see diversity and inclusion,” she said. “It can’t be, ‘We have multicultural people here, so everything is going to be solved.’ It’s about changing the mind frame of the entire student body.”