SG town hall discusses potential racial justice courses, student and Senate accountability
Student Government (SG) is reaching out to students directly by hosting weekly town hall meetings to address issues and concerns arising within the USF community.
Spencer McCloskey, the Tampa governor, and Zach Blair-Andrews, the Tampa lieutenant governor, hosted a remote town hall for the Tampa campus through Microsoft Teams on Friday afternoon to answer questions and address concerns from the student body.
With about 10 attendees — four students and six SG members — the meeting covered topics ranging from the implementation of a general education requirement focused on racial/ethnic studies to ways SG is holding the student body and its own leadership accountable in regard to anti-racist beliefs.
As students started raising concerns regarding general education requirements on social media, Student Body President Claire Mitchell said during the town hall that discussions on ways to implement a course requirement for students, faculty and staff focused on anti-bias, race and gender have started.
In a meeting with undergraduate deans from the Tampa campus on June 10, Mitchell addressed the students’ concerns as well as ways in which the university can implement a new general education requirement within the student curriculum.
Among the avenues, Mitchell said one option would be to reach out to the General Education Council, an independent standing committee of the faculty Senate, to have it review the requirements currently in place and make changes to the student curriculum.
As a way to increase students’ interest in and accessibility to such topics, Mitchell said the plan is to allow students to choose from a list of different courses focused on cultural diversity.
“They’d be able to choose from a list of different courses that may suit their needs, their wants and their interests,” Mitchell said. “And so it would provide them a little bit of flexibility but these courses all would revolve around those topics but it would allow them to have a choice and that would also help as well to satisfy some of the requirements that are already in our curriculum.”
Besides the General Education Council, Mitchell said SG is also talking about creating programs focused on these topics and then reaching out to officials like the Board of Governors to make such changes to the core curriculum.
“There’s a lot of avenues that we’re going to be able to take with this so I’m really excited to continue that conversation and to develop those presentations to be able to get that passed as soon as possible,” Mitchell said. “Of course, it’s education, it takes a while but we’re working towards that.”
Although the meeting had low attendance and started off slow, students were still able to raise issues pertinent to the student body within the one-hour meeting.
Maya Givens, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences, was the most active student during the discussion. She focused on how SG is working toward holding the student body accountable in terms of hosting discussions about racism and social justice.
“It starts with the students and you have to be able to have those uncomfortable conversations and be able to hold students accountable because feeling unsafe on a campus and feeling unwanted on a campus starts at the culture,” Givens said. “This is what causes issues with retention, this is what causes the low percentage of black students in a predominantly black community.”
For McCloskey, reaching out to the whole student body can be a challenge. In order to hold the student body accountable, he said the conversation should start with “each and every student.”
“We have to be able to touch 40,000 students and, oftentimes, we aren’t in these conversations with 40,000 students,” McCloskey said. We are in these conversations with 50 students. So trying to disperse that information through word of mouth, that this education is very important is kind of what we could be shooting for.”
“Promoting the anti-racist ideology falls on each and every student,” McCloskey said. “It’s not just the Student Government’s role. We can set that example for racism has no room in the United States or even at the University of South Florida so we can start there and then we can spread that throughout the rest of university.”
In regard to the current protests against racial injustice taking place around the country, Givens is concerned with how SG leadership would reach out to people of different races as well as use their platforms to advocate for change.
“I do think it’s important for us to kind of dig into our brains in what we actually believe in,” Givens said. “So spreading how people can be educated, going out of their comfort zone and doing things like that with people that do look like us is what we need to promote because oftentimes people are stuck in their ways and that’s just a fact.”
Under leadership roles to represent the students’ interests, Givens also asked in what ways SG is holding its own staff accountable in regard to anti-racist beliefs.
“We can’t really tell senators like, ‘hey, you need to be doing things’ because it’s kind of a tough question,” McCloskey said. “And it’s kind of stumping me, I’m not going to lie. So, we will definitely reach out to more senators and say, ‘hey, I want to see some resolutions about this and I want to see some action plans from a team of 40 senators’.
When it comes to addressing the issues directly to the Senate, Blair-Andrews said if students want to hold senators accountable, they should be actively involved in the meetings as well.
“There’s a part in all committee meetings and Senate meetings called ‘open forum’ where students can express their thoughts and concerns to the Senate, and all eyes will be on them,” Blair-Andrews said. “So I definitely recommend that students use those platforms.”
As a way to provide more transparency to students, SG is developing a new app known as “Guidebook” to provide students with important information on meetings as well as ways to contact senators and SG leadership.
In addition, the app will provide detailed information on each branch’s role across all three USF campuses.
Besides the app, Blair-Andrews said the SG website is currently being overhauled to provide more resources to students, including an archive for all Senate resolutions and tabs for the different campuses.
As SG continues to host weekly town hall meetings every Friday, Givens said they are a “step in the right direction, but it’s falling on deaf ears” due to low attendance.
“The town hall in theory is a good idea. However, knowing the student body, SG has lost a lot of its credibility over the years and there isn’t enough student interest to host these,” Givens said. “I think it’s great they’re trying to make themselves accessible but it does no good without an audience.”