CU Boulder Legislative Council Strike
Student leaders call out systemic racism at CU Boulder
CUSG Legislative Council Executive Committee is calling out systemic racism within administrative processes at CU Boulder. The Committee is calling on all CUSG members and the CU Boulder administration to address the issues raised by Council members and will not conduct business until CUSG and the administration agree to prioritize addressing the issues through fair, public processes.
Until further notice, the University of Colorado Boulder Student Government’s Legislative Council will not conduct any new business due to multiple attempts to call out incidences of racism within the organization through public and private requests for acknowledgement and support. Additionally, the Council was recently informed that the Tri-Executives (CU Student Body Presidents), who have been named specifically in the public allegations, signed a revised Chancellor Agreement with Chancellor Phil DiStefano, a foundational document that supersedes even the CUSG Constitution, without any public discussion or legislative review. The changes significantly threaten the historical autonomy of the CU student body and undermine the democratic values established in the CUSG Constitution. More details are provided below.
The term systemic racism means it is systemic, as in everywhere. The interpersonal and institutional examples of systemic racism shared publicly by legislators in CUSG (links below) have escalated to the point where the Legislative Council’s Executive Committee is halting business-as-usual until there is a shift in behavior and institutional culture. The Committee wants to ensure that students who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) are heard, acknowledged, and supported within CUSG and by the elected leaders of the organization. The failure to acknowledge harmful and racist behavior within CUSG has led to even more harmful change in the Chancellor Agreement between Chancellor Phil DiStefano and the CUSG Tri-Executives. The changes to the agreement, which were signed in early October by the current Tri-Executives and November 2020 by the previous Executive administration, were kept secret from the Legislative Council and student body for nearly a year and not subject to public review or discussion by the Council. New language in the agreement includes a new power for the CU Administration to fire elected members of CUSG who speak out against the Executives or administration and potentially overturn impeachment decisions of the Council.
The Executive Committee of CUSG’s Legislative Council, which includes the President, Vice-President, and Representative Speaker, is composed of a majority of BIPOC students who have raised their voices against the marginalization and deliberate silencing of their concerns. They have attempted multiple times to voice concerns and expose the unequal treatment and divisive internal culture created by both their CUSG colleagues and CU Boulder administration. The Council has exercised their legislative power to delay or deny executive appointments within the bounds of the CUSG Constitution and Council Bylaws to get the Executives and the CU Boulder Administration to come to the negotiating table. Council members have openly discussed and made speeches about their concerns since July of 2021 (July 1, 2021 recordings of speeches are here, here and here; September 30, 2021 recording of speeches are here, here and here; October 7, 2021 recording of speech is here).
Rather than acknowledge legislators’ voices, the Tri-Executives of CUSG approached Chancellor Phil DiStefano and signed a revised version of the Chancellor Agreement, which is an agreement establishing the fiscal and administrative independence of the student-run organization. The revised agreement diminishes the authority of the Legislative Branch and instead gives authority to the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, the Dean of Students, and/or their designee, to be able to “remove a student from any CUSG position if after intervention, their behavior constitutes a material and substantial disruption to the progress or continued work of CUSG. This supersedes any constitutional language, branch bylaws or impeachment proceedings.” This action is a threat to CU Boulder’s student government’s autonomy and democracy, and is unacceptable as it appears to be an act of retaliation and intimidation against vocally critical legislators. We demand that the closed door revisions of the Chancellor’s Agreement be reviewed by all involved parties in a public, deliberative process and a new final draft be ratified by the Legislative Council, signed by the Tri-Executives, and submitted to the Chancellor by the end of this academic year.
CUSG’s Legislative Council leadership has joined forces with diversifyCUnow to hold itself, the CUSG Executive Branch, the CUSG Appellate Court, and the CU Boulder administration affiliates accountable in their failure to support BIPOC students within CUSG. We call upon every student at CU Boulder, every CU administrator, and every person reading this to listen to better understand how systemic racism has escalated the tension and division within CUSG. There is no individual, nor groups of individuals to blame in a system that was designed in 1974 to exclude anyone who is not a white male. The structure of the system is to blame and change has proven to be difficult with minimal support from the CU Boulder administrators.
We demand that the students be prioritized over the system that perpetuates racism. We demand an honest and public conversation where we can be open about the biases each of us carries, and where we can hold ourselves and our organization accountable for the times when we have caused harm.
We demand that the statements of the CU Antiracist Creed be read, discussed, and considered by CUSG members in an attempt to get us all to understand when, where, and how incidents happen and escalate the interpersonal and inter branch conflicts within CUSG. We plan to present a resolution to adopt the CU Antiracist Creed upon return of business. As stated in the CU Antiracist Creed
Transcript of speech given by CUSG Legislative Council President Sophia Khan during the public and recorded meeting on October 7, 2021 (recording of just the speech is here, recording of entire meeting is here):
First and foremost, I would like to start with an apology. I cannot ask anyone for transparency and accountability without applying those same standards for myself. Swearing in speeches is not the professionality I pride myself on. Secondly, Legislative Council is not the time or place to be going back and forth with other members of our organization and it is certainly not holding up the decorum and principles of Roberts Rules. However, I want to make it very clear that I am not apologizing for the content of my speech last week or for standing up for myself and my legislators. Now it has become more clear than ever that there is a systemic issue with how the Legislative Branch and our legislators are treated within CUSG. There is a clear lack of respect for the important service that this council provides to the student body and within CUSG. CUSG cannot be the same organization that claims to be autonomous and powered by students when at any point in time administrators have the ability to step in and dictate when we can and cannot hold meetings as well as what we can and cannot have on our agendas. CUSG cannot claim to be independent when we are being told what can and cannot discuss at our meetings. We cannot claim to be autonomous when we are not transparent with what rules that students, legislators, and Cabinet members need to abide by. Changing the Chancellors Agreement without a ratification by Council and refusal to disclose the changes that were or were not made puts Legislative Council in the position of not knowing what the rules of the system are; in a Council that prides itself on rule making and rule following, not knowing what the foundational document of our organization says sets Legislators up for failure.The process of amending the Chancellors agreement, just as with amending the constitution of CUSG, needs to be a PUBLIC, TRANSPARENT, and COLLABORATIVE effort by all branches of CUSG. The students of this university have a right to know what agreements their leaders have signed with the administration at all times and to be provided a platform to voice their dissent if needed. The current issues have been a failure by the executive office and the administrators involved to uphold the principles of this organization and are a great disservice to the generations of students who have worked to build the student government we have today. What we have here is special, there’s nothing like it at any university in the country. This is more than a vehicle for student input, it’s about student power and there will always be people who find student power inconvenient and will always try to chip away at that any chance they get.
Legislative Council was more than within their rights to postpone ratifications for as long as they deemed fit as per our own governing documents and we have followed the rules when doing so. Even tonight, if we had wanted to strike everything on our agenda including student org funding or weeks back if we decided we did not want to act as SOAC (before a SOAC chair candidate was found) we would have been well within our rights to do either of the two. It is the culture of Legislative Council to put our personal issues aside to help the student body even at the cost of standing up for ourselves and our dignity as students and legislators. That is why last week we disclosed that we would be moving ahead with appointing cabinet members and why this week in Appointments, Legislators voted to pass cabinet members to Council for the sake of being the bigger person. But no one talks about the loneliness attached to being the bigger person. You’re silencing yourself and dismissing your feelings because you don't want to come across as aggressive for showing basic emotions. I and my fellow legislators have silenced ourselves and ignored our own struggles because we don't want to come across as aggressive when we fail to contain our frustration. Voicing our issues and criticizing the administration or the Executive Branch does not negatively affect the student body because the vast majority of individuals in CUSG who are directly elected by the student body are here in Legislative Council. It is our job to provide oversight and speak up when we see things that are wrong. If the student body doesn’t like the decisions this council has made, then they can vote new legislators into office in less than two months.
Ultimately, It is not fair, not responsible, nor right that the executives have not disclosed what is in the Chancellors Agreement. Especially when they have held it over our heads as a threat to silence this council and to get us to do what they want. I don’t know what is in that agreement, but I do know that Council deserves to know and most importantly; deserves to have a say in any changes being made. I am disheartened that this was a conversation taking place since April of last semester. Even worse, allegedly the changes being made would allow administration to step in and suspend the stipend of or fire anyone in CUSG. This is a direct attack on legislators and their right to vote and speak freely on difficult issues… but most importantly; these changes would be an attack on student voices and student autonomy. Our ability to criticize the administration without fear of retaliation is at stake.
I want to be honest, when I first heard that these were the changes being made my first instinct was to quit. Because I know that I, as the leader of this council and an outspoken critic, am probably the first person who’s going to get their stipend suspended or be fired for not doing what I’ve been told. But I want to be very clear: the ONLY people who have the ability to take me out of office, are the people sitting around this table as per the constitution of this organization. And if that is the case and that is what legislators ever wanted I would happily go. But, if anyone who is not a legislator decides that they want me removed from office because they don’t like what I’ve said or done then they’ll have to take me kicking and screaming- because I'm not going anywhere. -President Sophia Khan, Legislative Council meeting, October 7, 2021
CU Antiracist Creed
As an anti-racist Boulder community and University of Colorado Boulder member,
I agree to:
Be accountable for intentional and unintentional racist comments and behaviours I make and/or witness.
Take full responsibility to learn why my comments and/or behaviours are racist and be willing to repair the damage/impact I caused; all while educating myself and growing to dismantle my prejudiced/racist behaviors and thinking.
I agree to acknowledge that phrases such as “tolerating differences” and “recognizing differences” perpetuate racial inequities where BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) experiences are socially constructed as “differences.” Such phrases deny the historic and intentionally systemic forms of racism that white supremacy subjects BIPOC people to.
In my agreement to all of these points, I, as an antiracist CU community member, commit to ACT in the face of racism, and to make sure that CU, as an institution and as a community, is truly committed to racial equity and justice for its BIPOC/POC members.
I will reference ‘An Antiracist CU’ for further guidance in how to recognize systematic prejudice and how to be actively antiracist.
(CU Antiracist Creed) Written by Radical BIPoC Women & Femmes, Summer 2020