ASUCD Town Hall Hosted at Center for African Diaspora Student Success

TAYLOR LAPOINT / AGGIE

Fear, anger expressed at first public forum since controversial election results

The ASUCD Senate held a public town hall in the Center for African Diaspora Student Success on March 8, reinstating what is, according to the ASUCD Bylaws, supposed to be a quarterly gathering.

Outgoing ASUCD Vice President Adilla Jamaludin began the town hall by thanking the CADSS for allowing usage of the space for the meeting and apologizing for any perceived intrusion. She stated that the reason for the town hall being at CADSS was because the government wanted to better engage with communities face-to-face, “especially those who are most marginalized.”

“In my opinion, I think that we’ve done a terrible job,” Jamaludin said in regard to ASUCD’s student engagement.

The floor was opened up for questions shortly after the introduction of each ASUCD representative. Attendance included outgoing ASUCD President Josh Dalavai and incoming President Michael Gofman and Vice President Shaniah Branson, as well as most senators and commission chairs. The intended structure of the meeting was to alternate between questions from those in attendance and questions that had been gathered online.

The floor opened with a member of CADSS speaking about how she felt ASUCD was encroaching on CADSS space. She noted that most members of the African diaspora in attendance were only there because ASUCD had come into their space while they were studying or otherwise utilizing the center.

The student stated the demographic was “still the minority in this space.”

Senator Gaven Kaur said she felt responsible for feelings of encroachment. She mentioned that while she conversed with Dr. Kawami Evans, the Interim Associate Director of CADSS, about utilizing the space, Kaur failed to contact the organizers of the community. The purpose, she said, of the town halls is to promote inclusivity, not make people feel isolated in their own spaces.

A question was then read from the online form, asking how commissions came to be within ASUCD. Gofman answered and said that commissions have been created throughout the timeline of ASUCD. He was cut off by Becca Nelson, the chair of the Gender and Sexuality Commission, who criticized Gofman for speaking about commissions when he had not attended any of her commissions’ meetings.

Another member of CADSS turned the topic to newly-elected Senator Jumoke Maraiyesa. Mention of Maraiyesa was met with cheers from the audience, and a question was asked concerning how those returning to Senate would be helping Maraiyesa achieve their goals.

Julienne Correa, chair of the Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission, said she had already begun working with Maraiyesa on stopping hate crimes on campus, mentioning that a task force was in the works to address such incidents and relay the information to university administrators. A few other senators also included that they had talked with Maraiyesa and looked forward to working with them on achieving their goals for the upcoming term.

A little while later, Maraiyesa joined the crowd, having left class to attend after being informed of their role in the discussion.

“None of you [except Rahi] made any attempt to talk to me during my campaign,” Maraiyesa said. They later said they felt obligated to come to the event because they did not want people to put words in their mouth and wanted they and their community to be properly represented and respected by ASUCD.

One senator responded that there were 22 candidates in the election, so it was hard to meet everyone before the results came in. This statement was met with a groan from the audience.

Maraiyesa also mentioned during their emotional speech that there was a rumor that law enforcement would be in attendance at the town hall. This statement was met with shock and anger from the audience, with members of CADSS specifically outraged.

One student in attendance asked how anyone could think it was a good idea to bring law enforcement into CADSS, knowing the strained relationship between the black community and law enforcement.

Dalavai interjected to clear up the confusion; he said that Aggie Host Security offered services to ASUCD after hearing rumors of a student protest unrelated to the town hall gathering. He said that this was not the first time such an offer had been made from law enforcement, and that each time Aggie Host asked if security was needed at an ASUCD gathering, their offer had been declined.

The elections results, which have been a source of controversy since their announcement, were also brought up. Kelechi Ohiri, a fourth-year sociology major and one of the student assistants to the chancellor, asked to address the “elephant in the room.” Ohiri asked for Gofman and Branson to clarify their platforms, their commitments to campus communities, and their steps to action items that Ohiri believed were not clear to many of those outside of ASUCD.

Gofman and Branson reiterated their platforms and talked about their commitments to increasing transparency, ending housing and food insecurity and bridging the gap between the four-year student experience and the transfer student experience.

Branson said that she recognized that the election has caused a lot of controversy, and said that students are right to feel that way. She also said that allegations that Gofman is racist are “not something we stand for.”

Other criticisms of Gofman included his relationships with the Davis College Republicans and Aggies for Israel. Gofman refuted these criticisms, saying his personal political views have nothing to do with his capacity to act as ASUCD’s new president. Gofman encouraged people who wanted to have a conversation to come to his office so he could begin reaching out to communities.

“I am not the best advocate for any of your communities,” Gofman said. “But I want to make sure that the people who are are given the proper resources.”

A student in attendance countered Gofman’s point by saying that is not the responsibility of campus communities to come to Gofman, but his responsibility to reach out to the communities and initiate these conversations. Gofman took the contact information of a few students who wanted to talk.

Senator Yajaira Ramirez Sigala criticized Gofman’s relationship with his agricultural fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho. She levelled claims against the fraternity concerning sexual assault, rape and racism.

“I don’t feel safe sitting at the same table as you,” Ramirez Sigala said to Gofman.

Russell Thomas, a third-year gender, sexuality, and women’s studies and American studies double major, asked for Gofman and Branson to publicly denounce white supremacy, gay and trans oppression, ableism and Zionism, among other ideologies. Gofman said that he refused to denounce Zionism, saying that as a member of the Jewish community he does not wish to denounce a historically-oppressed group’s movement.

Gofman and Branson agreed to denounce the other listed ideologies with nods and quiet affirmations.

 

Written by: Taylor LaPoint — campus@theaggie.org

Corrections (updated 4/3/18 at 9 p.m.)

A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Becca Nelson. The comments were instead made by ASUCD Senator Yajaira Ramirez Sigala. 

This article previously stated that Nelson was requested to make a public denouncement, which is false. Shaniah Branson was asked to make the denouncement, not Nelson.