The University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government announced Thursday night at a virtual town hall that they are establishing a bundle of new changes meant to address a past “elitist” and “racist” culture within the organization.
“Last town hall, one of the biggest criticisms of the Undergraduate Student Government was our culture,” interim USG President William Schad said. “How we often were elitist. We provided for a culture where racism and sexism not only existed but thrived.”
Schad said they are looking to create an environment where every member involved feels supported. He said later that he thinks the organization has made “a lot of progress.”
The organization has eliminated dress codes, updated the language and structure of legislation and will now allow any undergraduate student to speak at any time during meetings.
“It makes us more like students and less like people pretending to be politicians,” Schad said.
“It makes us more like students and less like people pretending to be politicians,”
In the past, USG, like many other campus organizations, have used “Robert’s Rules of Order.” This is essentially a formal way of conducting business that is used at the governmental level – where people make motions and must get recognized by a superior to be able to speak.
The organizations leaders conducted an internal survey following its previous town halls and the use of Robert’s Rules was widely complained about, Schad said.
Now they will operate under “Douglas Rules of Procedure,” named after Chief of Staff Damani Douglas, a system with less official language that more closely resembles plain English, according to Schad.
To lower the barrier to entry for prospective newcomers, USG has taken steps to standardize their activity. They have established meeting times and limited legislation to one form, in an attempt to simplify an often-confusing system. Schad said a recap of all meetings will be posted by committee chairs within two days, including a draft of meeting minutes when possible.
Among other in-house changes, USG announced it will add a chief diversity officer (CDO), elected by the student body, to the organization. Whoever is elected as CDO will be involved in all paid and non-paid appointments to make sure that the organization is representative of the student body, according to Douglas.
The position will be paid and will be a voting member of the governing board, Schad said. Therefore, it will bear similar responsibilities to the president and comptroller.
Douglas also said a diversity and outreach commission will be created to work in concert with the elected CDO. The commission will also work in recruitment and hold university-wide trainings on inclusion.
“We will also make [the diversity and outreach commission] accessible to our Tier II organizations, particularly the ones we work with through our funding system,” Douglas said.
“We will also make [the diversity and outreach commission] accessible to our Tier II organizations, particularly the ones we work with through our funding system,”
Outside of trainings, Schad later mentioned the organization is looking to increase their collaboration with culture centers to prop up communities it has not entirely supported in the past.
USG is also looking to work with the Students First Fund to give money to students in need, Schad said. They have also increased their food insecurity budget “drastically,” he said.