In the letter to the editor published last week, Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Representatives Edward Bennett for the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing and Maleeka Aljawad for the College of Arts and Sciences attacked the Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative (UDC) for presumably failing to achieve its purpose and thus called for its immediate dissolution. As a member of the External Communications Committee of UDC that worked closely with both Former President and founder Brittany Chung and current President Lilly Tesfai, I was disappointed and appalled by the abundance of misinformation, inaccuracy and explicit bias on the parts of the representatives.
By the very first paragraph of the letter, it is clear that the representatives did not have even a marginal understanding of UDC, or their own organization for that matter. UDC does not purport to be a legislative body, but rather a collaborative bent on the support and uplifting of groups that contribute to the diverse cultural background of Case Western Reserve University. UDC membership does not preclude USG involvement. This is a misconception that could have easily been cleared up had either representative even attempted to do research with the organization before speaking on issues with which they are unfamiliar. The representatives should focus on the efforts by which they can further diversify their body instead of attempting to dissolve UDC.
In order to clarify for the obviously misinformed representatives, UDC has multiple functions for its member organizations. First, there is the funding aspect in which UDC, in a process similar to USG, funds its organizations. Being a member of a UDC organization does not mean that students cannot run for USG. Any lack of diversity within USG is the fault of that organization. Beyond that, support and advocacy is something the overarching organization provides. While it is true that UDC is without a legislative aspect, it is disrespectful to assume that the organization’s influence is thus lacking. I have had the privilege of watching on in awe and admiration as both presidents, past and present, have sought and achieved outstanding change on this campus. This summer I was present as Tesfai worked tirelessly with administration and other student organizations in expressing discontent with the RNC, as she spoke to media on behalf of UDC at protests and as she planned and spoke at the vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting.
Not only did the letter lack any kind of factual basis, it established a clear belief in the supremacy of USG’s model. In the study of cultures, the belief in the superiority of one’s own understandings and practices is known as ethnocentrism, and the representatives have ironically managed to engage in a similar practice in their insistence on knowing what is best for underrepresented groups on this campus. Are Bennett and Aljawad members of UDC organizations such as those they listed? If they are, in fact, members expressing the opinions of their organizations, the letter could have been a commentary on the failure of an organization to serve its members instead of two USG representatives decrying a fledgling organization with which they disagree. If they are not members of these organizations, where are the opinions of UDC organizations? Why the insistence on this saviorism of organizations that are perfectly capable of advocating for themselves within their own body?
UDC is far from perfect. The organization is only in its second year. There is room for growth and I know as a member that the president and executive board are open to criticisms, feedback and suggestions. They hope to grow as an organization and better serve their member organizations. The letter by Bennett and Aljawad does not offer suggestions, feedback or even legitimate criticisms so much as it showcases a personal vendetta. These two individuals see no value in UDC, and instead of attempting to learn more about the organization or change it from within, they would prefer that their limited worldview of what a “useful” organization should be is supported. As representatives of a Student Executive Council organization, I would hope to see more professionalism and collaboration. As representatives of our student body, I would hope to see more open-mindedness.
While the letter by Bennett and Aljawad is riddled with falsehoods, oversimplifications and misinformation, I take greater issue with their willingness, insistence rather, on signing off using their representative positions in the Undergraduate Student Government. As an involved member of student leadership on this campus, I have learned that my opinion is something that can easily be tied to my involvements and, as such, I contextualize accordingly. In stating their positions in USG, the representatives assumed to speak for the whole of their organization. They thus portrayed an opinion that I hope USG does not hold. In their insistence on using their positions in an organization to attack a group it works to collaborate with, these representatives overstepped beyond their positions. They have failed USG and they have failed their constituencies in their lack of professionalism and shortsightedness.
Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative – External Communications Committee