On March 21, Chomp the Vote hosted the Public Policy Career Day inside of the Reitz Grand Ballroom. To put on the event, Chomp the Vote partnered with the Bob Graham Center, the UF International Center, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Beyond 120, the political science department, the College of Journalism and Communications, the Career Resource Center and Civic Duty Florida. The event featured more than 20 universities with public policy and administration programs, such as Tufts University, Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University, as well as employers from the public and private sector. The event director and planning team within Chomp staff created this event with the intention of bringing an event on campus for students to be exposed to educational and professional opportunities within the public policy sector.
The purpose for writing this letter is to address that the Department of Homeland Security which, at some point during the professional fair portion of the event, displayed a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement banner at its table. For those who may not know, ICE is a law enforcement agency created in 2003 and is tasked with enforcing U.S. immigration laws. When concerns were brought up to Chomp’s leadership about this, the response was dismissive and failed to understand the students’ worries.
When looking at a situation like this, it is important to know how to differentiate between intent and impact. The intent of inviting government agencies and hosting the event was to allow students to advance professionally. Ultimately, part of the impact was negative due to the displaying of this banner at the event and the knowledge that this is an agency with a track record of terrorizing this country’s immigrant community. Students from the immigrant community at UF, namely members of UF Chispas, expressed they felt unsafe, hurt and angry in a letter to the editor after seeing ICE’s banner.
To the concerned students whose feelings were belittled during these encounters and with Chomp leadership: I am sincerely sorry. As someone whose family immigrated to the U.S., I’ve grown up directly understanding the hardships our community faces, and I know what it’s like to feel the daily battle of worrying about your family’s fate and safety in this country. I know what it feels like to have your community not be heard or regarded with the same level of importance as other communities. I apologize that an organization I lead allowed the opportunity for something like this to happen.
To address those who have said Student Government and Chomp should not be apologizing for this and have repeatedly claimed this to be a partisan issue: It is not. This is a human issue. As students who are allowed within SG to represent a greater student body, it is our responsibility to understand this. We cannot turn a blind eye when the community affected is not our own. This is my address to the current and future SG: I challenge you to be leaders for the students you are representing on this campus. I challenge you to take intentional action to be allies of students that come from different walks of life. Attending training (such as the Undocupeers training UF Chispas mentioned in its letter to the editor), and lobbying for issues at the local, state and national level, does not make a meaningful impact without direct support. What does this mean? Reach out to students who are part of the communities you say you are an advocate for. Sit down and listen to their stories and involve them in the decision-making process. If you know there are student organizations across our campus that are experts on certain issues, make an effort to collaborate with them. They are incredible resources to learn from and will help you enact the best steps toward making a meaningful impact. Hold yourself accountable when you make mistakes. Ask different communities throughout the semester what you can do to make their experience at UF better and then actually work to do those things.
Moving forward, I hope this occurrence serves as a wake-up call for SG officials in all three government branches and our university’s administration to do better, as it has for myself along with others. As a university that prides itself on inclusive excellence, we should be making purposeful steps toward making this inclusivity a reality. It starts with us.
Shannon Pinzón is a Chomp the Vote co-chair.