SGA Letter of Support: Taking Responsibility for Systemic Racism

June 5, 2020

Dear Muhlenberg Students,

We hope this message finds you well. First off, on behalf of SGA, we hope that you, your family, and your friends are safe and healthy. These are turbulent and unsettling times we find ourselves in. With the overwhelming amount of injustice happening around the country, we must leap into action while admitting that we haven't done our job. Not nearly enough.

We send this email, first of all, to acknowledge that we as your student representatives have failed. We have failed everyone but we have especially failed our Black and Brown students. We will not and cannot say today that we stood by you, that we have been inclusive or diverse or equitable or committed enough in the past because we know that we have not. We know that SGA has a history of being a part of a systemic racist structure designed to oppress, a system that is predominantly white and more focused on bylaws and funds than on actual care for our Black and Brown students. We stand before you today knowing that an email cannot reconcile all the moments when you have been hurting, working, and begging for help and we simply did not listen. The fact that it took the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless others and that it took heartbreak, grief, riots, mass protests and so much pain for us to do as much as create a plan to combat racism is simply inexcusable. We know. We hear you, and we know that the majority of those of us sitting on SGA will never understand the way that our lack of care has hurt you. Though we, unfortunately, cannot change the past, we stand today with open arms, open hearts, and authentic vulnerability, ready to be small, to be challenged, and to listen.

You will soon receive a second email detailing our pledge to put the needs and voices of our Black and Brown students and organizations- those who we have ignored for far too long- first and foremost.  You will also receive a detailed list of steps we are currently taking to reevaluate and restructure ourselves to actively be anti-racist and to use our resources to assure that Muhlenberg becomes a place where students of all backgrounds are heard, respected, and celebrated for the beautiful people that they are and always have been. As we will state here and in the next email, this is only the beginning of an evolving initiative focused on supporting people of all background’s needs. Our top priority is to create welcoming and respecting spaces to continue that mission.

Again, we are aware that this is all too little too late. But, we are here and we are listening. We reach out as friends to support you in ways that we never have before. This isn’t about the email we’re sending now, but about what we’re doing every day to reflect, connect, and grow together as a community. Black and Brown students - we see you and we’re proud of you, not only for what you’re doing currently but for the light you have been all along. We see you protesting, petitioning, speaking, and it inspires us to do the same. We see you being yourselves as you always have been, and we love you. Today and every day, we say with the most sincere of hearts: 

Black lives matter. 

In solidarity,

Muhlenberg Student Government Association

Special thanks to Zaire Carter '22 for helping us draft this message and subsequent action items.


 

SGA’s Pledge of Responsiveness and Action Items in Battling Systemic Racism

Dear Muhlenberg Students,

Before we share with you our action items to combat racism on campus, we would like to state that no plan we create or program we enact is as important to us as our attention to amplifying the voices of Black and Brown organizations and students who have been ignored, silenced, and hurt for so long. First and foremost, we reach out to the systems and structures in place on Muhlenberg’s campus to support, strengthen, and communicate with Black and Brown students. We offer them our full attention in providing the services and support we have to offer.

To adhere to this mission, we are actively changing the structure of Student Government. We are creating an ad hoc committee to focus on SGA’s role in diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives across campus. This adhoc will actively work with the OML council and affinity groups, international student groups, and all clubs and organizations focused on uplifting marginalized identities. It is our top priority to diversify this committee not only for the next special election, but by reaching out to Black and Brown students right now as special advisors as we make these changes. It is our hope that we can transition this ad hoc to a permanent reality in the SGA structure to not only hold us accountable, but to make sure that we are actively responding to the presence of systemic racial oppression and white supremacy on our campus and beyond. This group will be dedicated to supporting the needs of marginalized identities, especially Black and Brown students. Depending on your feedback, they also will continue the following programs we have put in place.

Financial Support 

1. Although we do not yet know our funds for the fall in order to provide an exact amount, SGA promises to reserve a percentage of the student activities fee to specifically support Black organizations and organizations of Color on campus. This percentage will also support students who need funding to go to a protest or participate in activism centered around the Black Lives Matter movement and the experiences of Black people and People of Color.

2. SGA Student Engagement will be hosting several events and activities throughout the summer and fall semester. All events will be accepting Venmo donations. Proceeds will be sent to support organizations of your choice that promote the Black Lives Matter mission. This is the only way we can support organizations according to Muhlenberg’s current guidelines. We will be sending out a survey soon for you to submit your recommendations.

Increasing Communication and Representation

1. We want to hear from you! SGA is working to create an anonymous form for students to tell their stories about the way their identities affect their experience as students at Muhlenberg. We want to hear your stories, your suggestions, and we want to know how you feel. You have been doing the work. It’s past time for us to actively listen.

2. For far too long, SGA has been a predominantly white group of students. We know this prevents us from understanding and advocating in ways that are helpful. This needs to stop now. Beginning with the next special election, SGA will seek out Black organizations, organizations of color, and marginalized groups on campus, as an added step from simply disseminating general info about student leadership. We know that information is not the problem, rather, it is our ability to create an inviting space that listens and actively responds. Our plan to actively communicate will help us change as SGA to create a welcoming space that celebrates Black Students and Students of Color.

Administrative Change

1. Muhlenberg’s curriculum needs an overview. We know that some classes not labeled as centered on whiteness are indeed centered on whiteness. This is the root of our efforts to draft a plan to reevaluate the names of Eurocentric courses to increase transparency while diversifying curriculum in courses are not in reality Eurocentric and adding additional diverse course options.

2. We are drafting an email to Muhlenberg’s Chief Financial Officer to explore the ways that Muhlenberg’s endowments and funds might harm Black individuals, particularly looking at Muhlenberg’s History of receiving funding from private prisons. This is directly related to Black Lives Matter due to mass incarceration and racial oppression in the criminal justice system.

Increasing Opportunities to Explore Anti-Racism for All Students 

1. SGA Student Engagement is reaching out to administration to create a Virtual Round Table event during the summer. This event would give all students a chance to come together, share stories, brainstorm, and work towards change. Considering Muhlenberg’s demographics as a PWI, we will focus on authentic allyship in addition to actively listening to Black and Brown student voices.

2. Since January, we have been planning a mandatory Intergroup dialogue training for SGA members. The goal is to assure this happens soon and to then reach out to train all executive members of clubs and organizations as an attempt to further increase intergroup dialogue and respectful understanding of difference on campus.

3. In addition to these plans, SGA members are each making a personal commitment to explore the role of race in their own lives. Like all of you, we are learning, listening, initiating difficult intrapersonal conversations, petitioning, donating, reading, reflecting, and standing with our Black community members. We are exploring the difference between performative social media allyship and a true allyship that is a daily mindful practice lived in discomfort, uncertainty, and love. We’d like to share a few resources we’ve discovered in this journey:

https://linktr.ee/ceeetrl

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

The first link was accumulated by writer and publicist Mireille Cassandra Harper and comprehensively contains suggestions for books, documentaries, and media threads in addition to providing petitions to sign, funds to donate to, tips for safe protesting tips, and more. The second thread has some similar items but also includes additional resources, pre-written letter templates, and a map of protest sites. 

In addition to these actions, Black Lives Matter is requesting that we all contact our local mayors to request defunding of police organizations and replace them with social and educational services, infrastructure improvements, and arts programming. Check out the 8 points https://linktr.ee/8cantwait by Campaign Zero to request an end to police violence as well. These efforts are crucial in ensuring lasting governmental impact for the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Please contact us at studentgovernment@muhlenberg.edu with any of your thoughts. We want to hear from you about this plan and any other needs or suggestions you have. Our priority here is not to make something that seems inclusive to us or the administration but to be truly communicating, listening, and responding to our Black and Brown students’ needs and celebrating their lives and to assure that our entire student body, especially our white students, has the resources to do the same.

BLACK LIVES MATTER.

In solidarity,

Muhlenberg Student Government Association

Special thanks to Zaire Carter ’22 for helping us draft these messages.