Sunrise GW, other leftist student groups address complaints of racial inequity

Updated: May 2, 2020 at 12:56 p.m.

Sunrise GW created a working group to address equity and racial issues in the organization after being accused by members of five student organizations for lacking inclusivity.

The Justice, Equity and Anti Oppression Working Group – chaired by sophomore Pranay Somayajula – will work to address racial justice issues in Sunrise GW, the organization posted on Facebook Sunday. The announcement comes after Students Against Imperialism published last week a letter, which was deleted Wednesday, denouncing racism within progressive organizations like Sunrise GW and GW Students for Bernie. 

“We welcome the input of any student who is interested in working with this group to help lay out a plan of action for ensuring that leftist spaces on campus, including Sunrise GW, remain equitable, anti-oppressive and inclusive to all,” Sunrise GW’s letter states.

A letter the organization posted Friday states that Somayajula, who currently serves in the role of justice, equity and anti-oppression coordinator, will lead meetings with SAI members to ensure that Sunrise GW’s 11 principles which govern their movement are implemented to include racial justice.

The organization plans to announce initiatives to address the SAI letter’s grievances by the first week of June, according to the Sunday statement

Somayajula declined a request for comment.

Eighteen students identifying as members of Young Democratic Socialists of America, Progressive Student Union, GW Students for Bernie and Roosevelt at GW demanded a response back from student leaders involved in each group with steps they would take to prioritize the voices and concerns of students of color. 

Representatives of SAI declined to comment on the letter.

YDSA, PSU, Sunrise GW, GW Students for Bernie and Roosevelt at GW posted their own letters in response with steps to address SAI’s concerns. The changes include integrating the “progressive stack model” – which would prioritize marginalized students’ voices – into discussions at the end of every general body meeting and partnering with more off-campus organizations that prioritize “anti-racism, anti-imperialism and immigrant justice.”

Roosevelt at GW also pledged Friday to create a chair of diversity and equity to host listening sessions about race and policymaking with students of color and other leftist organizations, according to its statement.

The letter states that members will be required to attend a mandatory diversity training seminar with the Multicultural Student Services Center, and the organization will hold events covering all students’ ability to advocate for students of color.

Sarah Crowley, the president of Roosevelt at GW and a junior majoring in peace studies and political science, said the organization’s leaders felt implementing a diversity and equity chair would help ensure marginalized students feel comfortable at meetings.

She said the SAI signers’ calls to action would help students of color’s voices become more included in discussions about crafting public policy.

“We were very grateful for them for speaking their mind, and we were thankful for an opportunity to address this,” Crowley said. “And we tried to take very meaningful steps. We did not want to write a fluff letter saying that we’re committed to something without any actionable concrete decisions.”

Crowley said the organization plans to take further steps after gathering more diverse input from its members to prevent implementing one-sided policies by members who think similarly. She said the organization will strengthen itself by addressing students of color’s concerns and ensuring the University and the “progressive agenda” honors and respects diverse students’ backgrounds.

“The fact is that policy spaces are usually populated by privileged people,” Crowley said. “And so we hear the concerns made, we acknowledge, we agree with the concerns. And we’re working hard, and we’re working diligently to listen and to try to improve.” 

Representatives of YDSA and PSU declined to comment. Representatives of GW Students for Bernie did not return requests for comment.

This post has been updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Sunrise GW’s justice, equity and anti-oppression coordinator position is newly created. Pranay Somayajula has held the role since it was created in February. The Hatchet also incorrectly reported that all signers of SAI’s letter are members of that student organization. Only half of the signatories are members. We regret these errors.

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