12 senators have resigned from the Students’ Association (SA) over the past two weeks, citing their belief that SA’s bureaucracy makes it difficult to effect real change.
Senior and former senator Amanda Liang spearheaded the mass resignation in a speech she delivered during the senate meeting on Feb. 22. In this speech, she described SA as a “gatekeeper” that softens student activism until it becomes ineffective.
“I refuse to continue participating and legitimizing a bureaucracy that was built to fail,” she said. “This is a machine where not only are there scapegoats and snakes but a systemic lack of responsibility. Policy-making may not be opaque by design but it is opaque by default.”
In a later interview with the Campus Times, Liang referenced an incident last year when a student harassed a group of Tibetan students and monks meeting in Starbucks, which sparked a campus-wide debate on the autonomy of regions that China claims as part of their country.
“This is sort of what drove me to run for student government, was just that whole incident, and how everyone fucking did nothing. Didn’t say anything, didn’t have the balls to stand up for anything or release a statement,” she said.
Senior and former senator Sakhile Ntshangase, who was previously an Opinions Editor for CT, said he agreed with Liang and called on his fellow senators to become more unified and assertive in their dealings with the administration.
“Accountability is not sucking up to admin,” he said. “Accountability is not coming here and saying that, ‘Oh, everything is okay,’ or saying that they’re doing the best that they can, because they’re really not. So if we have to be aggressive in our method of advocacy, then so be it. If we have to show up to protests if we have to show up as a collective.”
Referencing an hour and a half meeting planning the resignation the night before, Ntshangase called out his fellow senators for not being able to come to a consensus on whether to resign en masse, as well as for making little effort within their roles and sometimes not showing up to senate meetings.
“I think we’re lying to ourselves,” he said. “I don’t think we’re honest to ourselves. So either we’re all going to resign, which I’m totally down for, or we start impeaching some people in student government that are not doing their job.”
Sophomore and former senator Andre Tulloch criticized SA for not supporting student activism, asking his fellow senators where they were for the UR Abolition Coalition DPS occupation.
“I was the only senator there. […] And when I brought it to your attention, what did you do? What did you do? None of you did nothing. I told you, Mangelsdorf came out there. Dean Fisher came out there, had these conversations, and none of y’all did shit.”
First-year senator Blaine Dillingham suggested senators instead organize rallies with specific demands and consistently find and email administrators to pressure them into action instead of resigning. Liang countered that while that would be effective, SA is unable to undertake that kind of direct action, because it would violate various policies.
Sophomore and former senator Rusama Haque expressed concern for what comes after the mass resignation. “I know people will rush here when they know there’s going to be drama,” she said, “but when there needs to be change, everybody disappears.”
She also asked if SA would replace the resigned senators through a “popularity contest,” and asked why other comparable positions on campus (such as Students Association Appropriations Committee and an RA) require applications.
Both she and Liang, along with several other former senators, criticized the administration for not listening to SA and for using them as free labor to do their jobs for them.
“Last week, in our conversation with the deans, I asked, ‘Why is sexual harassment [policies] not clearly pronounced, not clearly talked about?’” Haque said. “And they said, ‘Oh, we didn’t think about it.’”
“Every single year we have a protest where we’re like, ‘We don’t want Public Safety to have guns,’” Liang said, later adding, “Why has the power continued to expand? Because the bureaucracy continues to move like a leviathan and it does not stop.”
Haque later said that having been a senator, she believes that an ordinary student has the same authority as SA does.
“Do your thing. Burn shit down. Email people to make change[s]. Show up and shout at them,” she said.
In an email to CT, senior and Speaker of the Senate Alexander Pavlicin wrote that SA is pulling from remaining eligible candidates from the 2020 senate election to fill the vacated seats.
According to him, 12 senators have now resigned. Including their substitutes, this has left SA with 11 senators.
“We are fully committed to making sure the needs of the student body are met despite this disruption,” Pavlicin wrote. “We plan to consolidate our advocacy structure temporarily to make sure the most important student concerns like Mental Health, student equity, and COVID[-19] are addressed.”
Ntshangase spoke again later in the meeting to resign, first offering an apology to first-year senators “who came here with spirit.”
“But I am very sorry also to say that we don’t have power as senate,” he continued. “Whatever convinced us that we had power, there is no power here. There’s no voice here. There’s no influence here.”
Ntshangase further added a message to the administration.
“With all due respect to all members of the admin, you guys were not there,” he said. “If you’re ever going to listen to this, you guys did not listen to us.”
Liang plans to use the time she used to spend on SA to engage with student and community activism through protesting and volunteering. She also plans to focus on her research, which she says relates to medical carcerality.
“Should you choose to join the organizers that are planning direct action throughout the semester,” she said in her speech, “I hope to God that your boots are warm.”