Student Voices: Who’s Listening?

SGA and ICAN tackle racial tension on campus

Charleston was shaken in late September by an attack in which a white nationalist recruitment group plastered the College campus with stickers to strike fear into the community, and gain like-minded members.

Student group I-CAN (the Intersectional Cougar Action Network)  rushed to have the America First stickers removed from campus. According to I-CAN, the student organization’s first step was to contact the College’s Student Government Association [SGA], a group they had partnered with before in the wake of other racist attacks. 

Due to the incident happening outside of business hours, SGA said that they were unable to take immediate action. However, because of the nature of the messaging from the hate group, I-CAN knew that people’s lives could be in danger and reached out to public safety and the Charleston Police department to remove the stickers. 

Following the incident, students received an email in their inbox from President Hsu, and students were left wanting more from his response. In his brief email he emphasized diversity and inclusion, but also made clear that the College supported free speech, just not hateful speech. 

Students at the College are not strangers to Presidents’ responses to racist actions. In October of 2017 President McConnell responded to a Halloween costume that a student posted that depicted Freddie Gray, a black man murdered while in custody.

Just last year, President Osbourne responded to the women’s softball team’s Halloween costumes depicting “illegal immigrants” and ICE officers. President Osbourne also reached out to the community later that year when students shared a video from a plantation in which they mocked the horrors of slavery that had happened there. 

The issue with all of these incidents is that students are truly not part of the conversation. Until last semester, formal provisions were not laid out in the code of conduct in response to these kinds of racist events.

Following the softball team’s halloween costumes, restorative justice conversations were held to help the team understand the impact of their actions on the Latinx population on campus. Unsatisfied with the restorative justice process, Latinx students held the No Mas Racismo rally to tell administration that they believed that the softball team needed more punitive measures for their halloween blunder. 

Following the plantation incident, Black CofC students rallied together to make their voices heard to the student body and administration. Through their anti-racist demonstration, students were once again able to publicly share their pain and hope for a better CofC. 

Despite having public avenues to voice their frustrations, students often feel like there aren’t formal avenues for them to congregate and raise their issues to a greater power. 

The College’s SGA is meant to bolster student voices and support them– usually through financial means. Traditionally, SGA houses a Diversity Council that functions to hear the perspectives of underrepresented minority students. The council is usually conceptualized by the president and the executive board.

For George Hicks and his exec board, they are currently creating a board of 23 diverse representatives who span underrepresented minority groups such as the Black Student Union, Hispanic Latino Club and Prism (the College’s LGBTQ+ coalition); as well as practical offices on campus like the office of sustainability. S

GA emphasized that the council is meant to be a group separate from the executive board of SGA who will serve as a counterbalance to the SGA senate. According to SGA, this will change the board’s traditional function of answering to the executive board and put more power into the hands of students. As part of creating this board, SGA will also follow a process of writing this format into their law so that it can be upheld throughout presidential changes. 

While this is a unique and well-researched version of the SGA diversity council, some students still find this to not be an acceptable solution to the problems of ending racist attacks on campus and for further uplifting the voices of students of color. 

Student group I-CAN was hopeful about the diversity council, but was looking to advise SGA on the specifics of the council– something SGA says is not possible because of bylaws. 

I-CAN representatives were given a proposal of the council last April. In the proposal, 15 members of the council are laid out and it was determined that all 15 members would be appointed by their respective identity groups.

In its new iteration, the SGA diversity council will include 23 members who will go through a nomination and application process– two factors that I-CAN representatives say are against what they think an acceptable council would be. 

To one I-CAN representative, who wishes to remain anonymous, the increase in the number of members, and more stringent appointment process, seems like an attempt by SGA to drown out certain voices.

SGA claims that the increase in number of members and the application process is to ensure that every voice on campus is heard and properly represented. 

I-CAN was founded last fall after the softball team’s halloween incident. I-CAN says that the call of I-CAN is to “distribute the power held within our racial regime and the particularly painful history of enslavement on our campus.”

To I-CAN, these racist incidents on campus are a matter of life and death for students of color. Where most institutional entities focus on diversity, I-CAN says that the focus should turn to anti-racism.

According to I-CAN, buzzwords like diversity benefit the white folks in power who use them, where anti-racism does not benefit those in power, but distributes it. 

Luckily, the College is making marked movements towards making sure that all students voices are heard and that infrastructure exists to allow them to share their voices.

According to student leaders, the administration has been increasingly receptive to student’s needs. For members of I-CAN they hope that they can continue to find ways to work with other student organizations and on-campus resources.

When asked what makes I-CAN successful, the representative said, “we have such tremendous hope and emotional energy, that’s why we’re able to stand up for ourselves.”

Hopefully, all of our students feel that hope to keep advocating for themselves and keep finding places for their voices. 

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Zoë Murrie is a Junior Communications and Women’s and Gender major from Columbia, SC. When she’s not writing, she loves plants, burritos and house shows.

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