Given that our Student Government treats minorities like chewing tobacco, I guess I am surprised that I have lasted four long years here.
This past week has been a long and painful one for SG, especially in the context of race and reconciliation.
I should have known it would be a horrible week starting on Sunday when the Senate Judiciary Committee altered a resolution that condemned Liberty Woodley’s racist instagram post and implored UF to rescind her acceptance.
The committee’s chair, Seth Longland, started off the question period by asking the author his “intention” behind adding “the female’s” name to the resolution. During committee discussion, Senator Thomas Wildermuth said he felt “strongly” about having the committee take another look at the resolution to “see if that’s really necessary” to have Woodley’s name included. He said that passing a bill with her name on it wasn’t considerate for Woodley’s safety if she was to become a student.
While debating over edits to the piece, committee members argued to soften the language of the resolution, opting to have the resolution recommend UF “review” Woodley’s application (which it was already doing) as opposed to “rescinding” it. Senator Sydney White suggested that “I think admissions is something that we really shouldn’t comment on that much.”
Senator Annabelle Groux cited the death threats that had been made toward Woodley during the committee’s debate on removing her name from the resolution. Longland said removing her name was “out of respect, not trying to put a single target on a single individual.”
He said he said leaving the name out would address the issue while “saving people’s lives,” to which Senator Marcus Nelson, the lone Black representative on the committee, responded saying that if someone were truly planning on killing Woodley, he wasn’t sure if the wording of this resolution would really make a difference.
Longland responded saying that you never really know, which is why it would be better if her name wasn’t included. It was perplexing to watch the committee try so hard to protect the racist girl.
The committee outvoted Nelson 8-1 to remove Woodley’s name.
Last Tuesday, the full Senate fought among ourselves for two hours to put Woodley’s name back in. Much of the remaining four hours were spent confirming residual executive appointments.
Thursday was the meeting of Student Government’s Diversity & Programming Committee.
This committee is primarily tasked with the "promotion and selection of speakers, shows, and concerts" but is also allowed to recommend policies to the Student Body President. President Trevor Pope had called for the committee to meet via an executive order to essentially solve racism at UF. It did not.
Comprising high-ranking SG officials and the presidents from the “Big 8” cultural organizations, the committee could have been a great place to crank out policy recommendations. It wasn’t.
The Black Student Union (BSU) was not in attendance. Accent Chair Steven Wolf went on and on about how his agency’s image had been ruined by the Donald Trump Jr. event. Cultural organization presidents brought up their funding difficulties before pointing to BSU’s petition and their demands, gently reminding the SG officials that they had the power to help.
In response, Pope did not directly address the petition, alluding to an unspecified “elephant in the room” to chat about later.
However, Vice President Lauredan Official immediately transitioned the conversation into talking about “another elephant that we have in the room”: COVID-19 and how that affected student programming.
Eventually, the committee finally took a look at the “Decade Ahead plan” which is apparently what UF’s diversity action plan was rebranded to. Official opted for a “group reading” approach to the document with different committee members taking turns reading the document out loud, just like in elementary school.
After the committee finished reading the page, Pope asked for recommendations. One president shot back that BSU’s petition had plenty of recommendations. Pope responded that those demands were limited to “just BSU” which is why he wanted to “come together as a group and more or less expand the scope, ‘cause diversity is much more encompassing than our Black population at UF." All demands matter, apparently.
As the meeting closed (with no tangible policy recommendations hashed out), Official, who is Black, took the time to remind everyone that SG’s weekly trivia night would be happening that night. Another president responded saying that BSU was hosting a town hall at the same time.
In case you’re curious, Pope went to trivia night.
On Friday, screenshots of SG’s recently appointed Internal Affairs Agency Head Branden Pearson saying all of the bad forms of the N-word hit social media.
The minority party in the Senate had been fighting against his confirmation for the entire summer. Because we had a third of the Senate, we blocked his initial appointment. Pope never nominated anyone else for the position, and instead, the majority party exercised the nuclear option to change the threshold for approving executive nominations from two-thirds of the Senate to a simple majority—they changed the rules to get Pearson into power.
An independent senator had created a petition to “stop racist homophobe Branden Pearson from becoming UF Internal Affairs Director” as a last ditch effort to prevent his nomination, but the majority party ignored it just like they ignored all of the minority party’s previous warnings about Pearson and his long history of problematic behavior.
For years, Pearson was rewarded for his cruelty and malice with positions of power.
Pearson served as the Senate majority party leader, judiciary committee chairman, within the Budget and Appropriation Committee, within the Replacement and Agenda Committee and on seven different university committees.
Then, he was rewarded with the internal affairs position—until someone from his high school saw the petition and decided to go public with the screenshots of Pearson using racial slurs. The rest is history.
This past week has proved once and again that SG is wholly incapable of engaging in racial reconciliation. It also goes to show how hard SG will work to change the rules to empower toxic, hateful people.
For as long as Student Affairs continues its hands-off approach of not-supervising SG, we will continue to generate lawsuits and endless embarrassment for our university. Without top-down reform, we will never be a place that welcomes minorities, and we will continue to tokenize minorities during elections, chew them up and spit them out.
That is why I believe that the best course of action is to abolish SG. Burn it all down and start from something new in order to never let SG get as toxic and ineffectual as it is now.
Does UF truly care about its minorities or will they continue to let this dumpster fire burn?
Zachariah Chou is a political science and journalism senior and serves as the Murphree Area Senator.