The University of Connecticut’s Graduate Student Senate (GSS) President Chriss Sneed resigned last week. Their decision to do so is unfortunate, but the thinking behind the resignation is what makes it significant, and what could lead to justify it.
Sneed chose to leave their post due to anger over both the university’s policies and those of President Donald Trump, the first of which mandates that, in order to be visa-compliant, international students must pay $700 annually, according to a recent article in Daily Campus article. The Senate and Sneed drew attention to this subject because, after the money used for processing people’s visas, “the remaining cost is used to fund a number of…campus projects.” This means that international students are, as Sneed pointed out, “paying tuition for the rest of us.”
Even more alarming to the senators (and, hopefully, readers of this editorial) is the fact that executive board members of GSS are considered “employed” in their functions because of a small stipend they receive. Such a rule precludes international students from serving on the executive board because of the 20-hour-work-limit stipulation of the F-1 visa. In fact, former GSS Treasurer Deepthi Varghese was forced to resign so as not to risk the legality of her living in the United States.
Sneed probably presumes they can focus on more controversial issues like these and speak out easier as a senator, rather than as president. GSS responded to Sneed stepping down by expressing solidarity with their fellow senators affected by President Trump’s travel ban, increased hostility/vigilance toward immigrants/immigration and questionable university/GSS guidelines.
It is undeniable that Sneed has brought more attention to these matters with their choice to leave their post. The question remaining, then, is a philosophical one: is it more effective to work against perceived prejudice/injustice from a highly visible role within an organization, or to do so in a less noticeable position, perhaps even outside of said body? With Sneed, we will soon find out.
With that said, the importance of student advocacy in situations like these cannot be understated, especially when those affected have been rendered relatively voiceless. While it remains to be seen whether or not Sneed’s tactics will be successful, they have demonstrated that they will not be silent in the face of affronts to their colleagues.
Although GSS seems to be in the midst of a difficult confrontation – as they are in disagreement with state/federal law – the group has taken up a mantle of fairness that, they recognize, implicates not only them and the graduate students they represent, but the current struggle of the country writ large.