SGA endorses letter of recommendation for racial justice practices on campus

Letter calls upon University for increased action.


(Collegian file photo)

By Irina Costache, Assistant News Editor

In their final meeting of the semester, the University of Massachusetts Student Government Association voted on a number of motions, including one to endorse a letter of recommendation concerning racial justice actions to be implemented on campus.

The Senate unanimously voted to endorse the letter, which is titled “The Official Recommendations for Sustainable Racial Justice Practices on the UMass Amherst Campus.”

Earlier in the day, the Graduate Student Senate had also voted to endorse the letter. It outlines a plan of action that the University should follow and divides these proposed initiatives into four sections: Education, Communication, Response and Change of Campus Campaigns.

Commenting on one of the initiatives that the letter will pressure the administration to start, SGA Vice President Nathalie Amazan said the administration should be “making more of an effort to have discussion around identity and just starting that conversation, because I know a lot people may be uncomfortable talking about this.

“But it’s something that fuels the problem itself – if we don’t start talking about it, then we never will and the problems will continue to arise,” she continued.

Some of the actions that the letter recommends are mandatory online trainings about identity and “its intersectionality, diversity, equity and inclusion, including the societal impact of a myriad of systems of oppression,” as well as curriculum to be represented in residential buildings.

The letter also calls upon the University to respond to racist incidents with a clear protocol and make sure that they have “counselors and therapists on campus who are trained

in diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice.” It also asks that the school provide support for students who may not be able to afford additional counseling and hire more counselors and therapists of color in order for students to “feel more comfortable approaching services offered.”

“When you have students that look like you, and you have teachers that look like you, you already have a more comfortable environment,” Amazan said.

The letter is also pressuring the administration to take more substantial steps in campaign slogans, as it reads, “There must be set action plans that show the campus body that these campaigns are working toward a goal such as Building Dignity and Respect.”

Discussions for this recommended action plan, in the form of a forum named the “Social Justice Coalition,” began in September after the first racist incident occurred in Melville Hall. Since September, members of the SGA have been working with many other groups, including the African Students Association, Melville Hall residents, the Black Student Union and Student Bridges.

Of the consultation and drafting process, SGA President Timmy Sullivan said that “It wasn’t just us creating this…it was people from this entire community and groups on campus who are most affected by this issue making a list of demands themselves and having the power to create policy…and then us being a supportive mechanism.”

Speaking about next steps, Senator Stacey Muanya expressed a need for pressure and follow up with administration in the coming semester. “Hopefully we’ll set up meetings and times for questions,” she said.

Amazan also said that the University administration has already been open to implementing some of their recommendations, such as online training, and seems willing to continue working with students on their proposed plans in the future.

Also voted on and passed at Monday night’s meeting was the endorsement of a letter toward legislators concerning fixed fares for the Knowledge Corridor Passenger Rail Pilot service.

The letters are addressed to the Representatives of the Massachusetts General Court, Congressmen Jim McGovern and Richard Neal, Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Secretary Stephanie Pollack and Rail and Transit Administrator Astrid Glynn, urging them to support this and establish fixed fares.

The motion, sponsored by the Social Justice and Empowerment Committee, cited “dynamic pricing fare structures…impact[ing] low- and middle-income residents and students” and “public transportation reduc[ing] traffic congestion in cities and towns, further improving public safety and the quality of life” as some of the reasons behind writing the letter and pushing for these fares.

Finally, the SGA voted to pass a motion proposing the extension of speaking time at all Board of Trustees meetings to 15 minutes. According to SGA members, such an adjustment would help to improve student relations with the Board and assist in effective advocacy.

Irina Costache can be reached at [email protected].