2011 Candidates for VP for diversity

LaHaji Thomas

Candidate Statement: Connecting the pieces of diversity to form an inclusive campus. It’s too often that we speak on diversity reducing the term to just RACE, refusing to encompass all aspects of diversity like class, gender, queer community and other identities that aren’t easily recognized by the human eye. With me in office and my vision of deconstructing and reconstructing the term of diversity, I will fight for these marginalized communities, allowing my passion to drive me to eventually achieving social justice. This isn’t an option, but a must to fight and battle oppression. Join me and together we can start a revolution, overtaking the system and making it represent all aspects of DIVERSITY. Thanks for reading, I’m LaHaji Thomas… VOTE ME FOR YOUR VP OF DIVERSITY.

Why are you seeking this position?

I am seeking the VP of diversity position because I’m extremely passionate about diversity. A lot of the times people on campus recognize diversity as just the race aspect but they sort of don’t look at all the aspects of diversity like sexual orientation, class, gender, gender identity, the QSR which is the queer community – there’s a lot of aspects of diversity that aren’t recognized so I’m trying to acknowledge those issues and bring them to light and let the students know that they are here and also be the voice of those students.

What do you think is the role of VP for diversity?

The VP for diversity, the role is basically being the voice of those students being the pinpoint person to go to, fighting for diversity issues that do arise. Just making sure that this is a safe and inclusive campus for everybody because at the end of the day we’re all here to achieve higher education and there should be no inequalities.

Tell us about one issue affecting students you think the AS Board of Directors should focus on next year.

A big issue that continuously arises is the budget cuts and tuition raises and I think that’s going to dramatically affect diversity because one of the aspects of diversity I’d like to look at is class and class standing and things like that, and if you at the logistics of things, when you have the lower class and tuition going up, and budget cuts they won’t have the same opportunity and privilege of coming to higher education and so by focusing on budget cuts and how we can get around that, and how we can maybe promote the scholarship center more, promote the  resources that western does have to keep those students in here so we have a diverse campus.

This year, the AS has had to deal with funding cuts and tough budget decisions. How will you help maintain the quality of AS programs, services and events if these budget issues continue?

What I want to do, because as the VP of diversity, you’re working on diversity issues, primarily with the ESC, that’s sort of the stigma of that position, but what I want do is branch outside the AS because yes, there is the AS but we’re also students as well, and we have resources within departments and everything like that that deal with diversity. One example is the CEED, which is the Center for Educational Equity and Diversity. I’ve interned there multiple times and I love it and they have multiple resources that the AS doesn’t, and so bringing the Western community, because if we need help, we need to ask for it, and if we don’t, we’ll never know if they can help us or not and asking doesn’t hurt so bridging those gaps and those relationships would allow us to come together and be unified as one.

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Stephanie Gallardo

Candidate Statement: When I was a freshman, I wandered aimlessly with no direction around this campus! Since my involvement in the ESC and ROP began, I have learned how to use my voice, and empower my identity through social justice education and intense campus involvement. As someone who represents multiple marginalized identities, I understand the importance of the intersections of identity and the need for a diverse array of programming and support for all identities. As VP for diversity, I charge it as my personal duty to amplify these unique perspectives, engage the ESC and ROP to create a more powerful coalition in the social justice movement, and put the voices of marginalized students at the forefront of AS board decision-making. Let me be your megaphone!

Why are you seeking this position?

I’m seeking this position because I have worked for three years at Western to advance knowledge and diversity in various parts of campus. From these experiences, I now understand the need to create a more centralized Western diversity effort. And I think I’m the best candidate to accomplish that. As a Latino woman, I understand how marginalized students can be silenced, but the various identities that I hold have been empowered and cultivated through my leadership in the ethnic student center and also the ROP programs such as "Vagina Memoirs," "Naked Truth on Stereotypes," and each of these experiences has exposed me to different perspectives than my own and I gained a deeper understanding of the need for diverse coalitions. I’m the candidate that has the most experience and ability in working with diverse groups and I know I can best advocate and represent the needs of all students.

My specific involvement in the Ethnic Student Center has been being the current MeCHA steering committee representative, which I think is totally relevant to this position since I will be serving as the chair for that committee next year. And I think its just really important to have that type of experience because if you don’t have that experience next year it's kind of coming into the position with just a lack of knowledge and understanding of the as processes. And before that, I served for two years as the representative for MeCHA as well, and I am the current co-0chair for the MeCHA low rider show which is one of the largest and most anticipated events on campus every year. My involvement in the ROP has been the "Vagina Memoirs" which was a really, truly life changing experience and it's probably one of the most memorable things that I'm going to take back from my college experience when I graduate and Women’s Center has been crucial in involvement this year. My first "Take Back the Night" was almost a really, really emotional experience. I almost cried the first we [were] all together to take back the night. It was really wonderful and awesome. And I guess I just want everybody to know that I have experience in many different sectors and if there are certain communities where I have not established a connection, I am currently trying to make that connection and I really want everybody to understand that I am trying to be the most inclusive representative of the students.

What do you think is the role of VP for diversity?

My position specifically serves as the direct liaison between underrepresented students and the board of directors. And I feel that my job is to amplify the voices, perspectives and needs of students who often go unheard or unrepresented on campus. The job specifically entails chairing the ESC steering committee, advising ROP programs and working closely with the ROP director. As well as doing these things, I plan on going beyond the call of duty by becoming strategic in how student voices are heard. I plan on organizing, facilitating and strategizing the most effective ways to make our voices heard in Olympia as well as D.C. If elected, I plan on creating a coalition of student representatives who will help identify and advocate for student needs to the board. I think it would be naïve of me to say that I can make this change alone and so because of this I plan on working with all groups to make sure that all voices are amplified.

Tell us about one issue affecting students that you think the AS Board of Directors should focus on next year.

I think the most pertinent issue affecting all students on this campus is the lack of unity and inclusivity. While it may be subtle and unnoticeable to some, I feel like those who are being left out on the margins of inclusion are feeling the impact the most. Students have confided in me about their need to feel like a part of a mainstream diversity effort to help build a coalition to help students from all different backgrounds. And I think that with budget cuts being so intense and immense changes currently happening in this institution there has to be a unified effort from students to work for the interests of those who have less representation in the school. The board of directors needs to understand and support the value of diversity programming and to make a more apparent and viable effort to support marginalized students' needs.

This year, the AS has had to deal with funding cuts and tough budget decisions. How will you help maintain the quality of AS programs, services and events if these budget issues continue?

As I previously talked about, I think that coalition building and unification of power and knowledge is so important and in order to keep the quality of programming high there needs to be a shift in focus from, “Let’s put certain groups and their traditions on display,” to more of a mutually beneficial educational exchange. I feel like you can never tell a marginalized group of people to educate the masses on their experiences because that further marginalizes them, but it’s important to value the unique perspectives and qualities they bring to the school. And I think that if we don’t embrace our differences, we can’t unite our similarities and move forward in the fight for educational equity. I plan on helping to unify student voices and working more closely with the VP of governmental affairs next year to lobby and rally for active change in the budget and systems of institution. I definitely think there has to be more of collaboration between VPs next year. I haven’t really seen that a lot this year and I totally think that collaborations are really important in making things effective and making voices heard and understood.

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John Deng Duot

Candidate Statement: My name is John Deng Duot. I am running for Associated Students vice president of diversity. I am a junior, double-majoring in LDJ (Law, Diversity and Justice) and International Relations pursuing work as lawyer and activist. I experienced the realities of voiceless people six years ago in Sudan, where I saw death, violence and families shattered by discrimination and neglect.
Currently, I am the president of the African and Caribbean Club; I represent ACC at the Ethnic Students Center presidential council. I understand the extreme consequences of under-representation and believe no one should be neglected or discriminated against because of his or her sexual identity, religion, beliefs, race or creed. If elected I will empower and train minority club members to become more involved leaders.

Why are you seeking this position?

I am seeking position of VP of diversity. I think [the position] needs someone who has experience and who understands what diversity means. I came from a country, which is a country of 600 tribes and that’s Sudan. I’ve experienced a lot of difficulties and a lot of things have something to do with the [representation]. I have lost my dad. My mom, she’s disabled now because of how she was beaten, and that was because of lack of representation. With me having those experiences, I have to say: Okay, the school needs somebody with experiences, why not me? Why can’t I try out and see if I can represent. I started my school, I was born in Sudan and because of war my mom left Sudan to Kenya and I went to school in Kenya. From there, I was the minority, one of the minorities within the minority. I was the only Sudanese and I had to adapt, so I accept people based on who they are, based on whatever they are, so that I can be treated the same. So, with the issue of diversity here at Western, we have different people, different identity, different religion, different beliefs, everything is different. So, with my life I think I have taken that position. I wanted to help students who are not represented, who are voiceless. I wanted to represent their voice and get their voice heard. Last year, I ran for VP of diversity and I also ran for president of African Caribbean Club which is one of the ESC clubs here. I personally attend all the meetings. Back in the day there were problems, and the time I was elected the ACC came together and they are no problems right now. I represent ACC at ESC events and everything is alright within the ACC right now.

What do you think is the role of VP for diversity?

The role of VP of diversity is to represent all of the students who are minorities. The role of VP of diversity is to work as a core officer, representing the LGBT as a voting member, and as a member of the board of directors. And also facilitate meetings within the ESC.

Tell us about one issue affecting students that you think the AS Board of Directors should focus on next year.

Well, I think there are a lot issues affecting minority students here at Western. One, within the ESC here, within the ESC club there is kind of division. A lot of the clubs within ESC are not organized, and I think we should work on that so that every club will be organized as a club by everybody and no one should vote against other clubs. We do, as a school, get a lot of minority students, but we lose them easily. This is because we don’t have a good advising system. We don’t track the students who are having problems and with that I think there should be advisers who are assigned to [clubs] to monitor who is having problems, which member is having problems and because of that they’ll have a chance to interview that person who’s having problems. We can find a way to talk to that person so that person can take easy classes that will bring his or her GPA up and make them to be here in school rather than kicked out. Also, the issue of tuition increase will be one thing that will affect our students [and] students of color here at our school which we should be focusing next year, and as students here who may be paying their school fees through work study, and now work study will be gone. I think the school should focus in on getting more scholarships for minority students so that they can be here at school. If they cannot be here at school, then they might be going home and not even having a job and sitting at home stressed out and then they may be getting pulled over or arrested by police. If we have a system whereby we have scholarships, that person will not get that chance of going to jail. So, I think people should work on the issue of scholarships. Also, I think our school needs to come up with a system whereby, because we do have freshman every year and when you sit in the class you see when someone sees a different person who looks differently, people tend to be like, ‘Wow, who is this?’ We are all the same. If we can come in here and expect to see somebody who is different who doesn’t look the way you are, who looks different, and from that our school will have more diversity and we will not have this problem with seeing people as others. We will be accepting people based on their ideas, beliefs, sexuality and identity, and I will come from where we train people, teach people and let people know that we are all human beings, regardless of how we look or beliefs or whatever.

This year, the AS has had to deal with funding cuts and tough budget decisions. How will you help maintain the quality of AS programs, services and events if these budget issues continue?

Budget cuts are something we cannot stop, and we cannot just cut everything. We have to see: What is the effect of that cut? We have to address that before we cut it. In terms of how am I going to help, the cut will affect the students, and the little bit I can do is to come up with a back-up plan rather than just cut it and let it go. If we’re going to cut something, then must have some back-up plan. If we’re going to cut work-study, we have to have learning services, and learning services will help those who are working, who are using work-study to pay for their school. Make those people go to work and learning services and turn their working hours, like if you make 300 hours then 300 hours turn into tuition. So, if all those cuts come up, we need to address it. We need to see the long-term effect, not just the short term and just not cut it. If we cannot cut it, then I don’t know what to do, but we have to address it. We have to address it and come up with a plan than just cut it. I know it’s hard. If we’re going to come up with activities that we’re going to cut, we need activities that can replace those. Like education, we cut education, then its like sending us home. So if we can cut somewhere else rather than cut important things. Like me, I started my school under the tree. The first time when I started using paper was when I was in 4th grade, and if you cut any school now like computers whatever, where will I go? That means my schooling is done. So, we need to see a long-term benefit than the short-term benefit.

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Brad Mills

Candidate Statement: My motivation for running stems from the fact that I was born and nurtured in an environment that really is a microcosm in our society. I was raised by two women and attended Metropolitan Community Church in Seattle which supports the queer community, people of color, those with HIV and AIDS, and maintains a commitment to social justice. Through my immersion in this community I gained an early commitment into fighting for the rights of those who have been suppressed in the expression of their identities. Because we as people are infinitesimal in the identities that compose each and every one of us as individuals, I would like to recruit student voices in order to focus on the identities in particular that are underrepresented.

Why are you seeking this position?

Well, it goes back to my roots as a child. I was raised by two women and so that was kind of a unique situation and within my family we attended Metro Community Church in Seattle and that was kind of my family growing up and for people who don’t what metropolitan community church is, it’s an urban community church that supports the LGBT, those who are affected by HIV or AIDS, and those who are impoverished in general and it had a large range of cross sections of identities. People who are gay, people of color, allies. So growing up in this kind of microcosm of diversity when I entered kind of what I call the real world, which is kind of just the mainstream and I entered the public school system, I realized that not everyone was fair and accepting of all identities. You know my family definitely wasn’t very integrated into society and that just kind of for me what sparked my interest in inequities in general. I faced a lot of bullying and harassment and I wasn’t even gay, it was my parents who were gay, it wasn’t me. I was still directly affected by abuse and so I realized how much this hatred could permeate and it made me want to fight for anyone who didn’t have a voice or who were being trampled or stepped on. And so that’s kind of what has lead me up to this point and what made me decide to run for diversity.

What do you think is the role of VP for diversity?

You know, diversity is an umbrella category. It represents a multiplicity of identities and for each and every person, their identities are [infinite]. Anybody can break down their identities into their constituent parts, and then break then down even further. So I would say to really narrow it down and kind of touch on what the diversity position, ideally would do is to represent those who are being marginalized. As I said before, it’s kind of like where my interest lies, in inequities, and so to kind of gain an idea of whose not being fairly represented, whose not fairly being incorporated into our mosaic and to kind of work on that in whatever way we can, whether that be focus groups or just the gamut as far as figuring out how to deal with these issues because college can be lonely place. Everybody is away from their families, so you need a community here and if you’re not feeling that sense of community, it can be very depressing and you can feel on the outs. So it’s important that everyone gets a sense of comm. Here and that’s kinds of what I feel like the role of diversity is.

Tell us about one issue affecting students that you think the AS Board of Directors should focus on next year.

Well, obviously I mean funding cuts, and that’s a huge thing. I think especially in regards to the diversity position, one thing that I’ve thought about a lot is [undocumented] students and funding capacity to support those students, but we cant even support students who have illegal status, and it’s just really depressing that a lot of groups, minorities in particular, are going to take a really just hard hit from this. I know that a lot of—I’m an Achievers Scholar—and luckily that is what took me to college, but with the increasing of costs and the decreasing in funding and nonprofit organizations as well, it’s just going to be drastic, and so I think that’s something that needs to be addressed in every capacity. It’s a huge crisis in higher education that we’re facing.

This year, the AS has had to deal with funding cuts and tough budget decisions. How will you help maintain the quality of AS programs, services and events if these budget issues continue?

Well, I think one of the major things that I’ve heard from students just on word-of- mouth, particularly in regards to the diversity position, is student dinners. That’s one thing that’s like major for a lot of the ESC events is the dinners that really kind of bring a sense of community, a guest speaker comes out, and a lot students aren’t able to afford these events and so I want to make them more affordable somehow whether that be finding more sponsors having like sort of a centralized sponsor group who works on this…. I think just in general, alumni connections are very important. Facilitating relationships with alumni because you know there are alumni out there who are grad students or who have pursued graduate studies and have money and all and are off doing their own thing and they look to give back so I think its important to foster those relationships, possibly create more mentor programs and kind of find ways that we can fund things without tapping the resources that we have as students because we already know that things are going to be spread really thin as is and so look to different horizons and see what ways I can fund without having to pull from a very kind of sparse money bank.