Associated Student Body leaders acknowledged the lack of minority representation in student government at the University of Mississippi in a diversity, equity and inclusion town hall on Wednesday night.
“Coming in as a Black president, as an African-American president, I was keenly aware that ASB, in the past, has not always been the most accessible and equitable organization,” ASB president Joshua Mannery said. “I think that acting like that wasn’t the case and trying to brush all of that under the rug would be a huge disservice to the groups we might have hurt or didn’t support.”
Mannery and Swetha Manivannan, the ASB principal of inclusion and cross-cultural engagement, agreed that the focus for this year is on repairing the student government’s relationship with marginalized and minority groups on campus. Specifically, Mannery said he has begun close conversations with the Black Student Union, the Vietnamese American Student Association and the UM Pride Network.
Manivannan is also working with other members of the ASB on the process of reapportioning the ASB Senate seats to better represent the perspectives of the student body.
“This goes along with cultivating more representation within ASB for the diverse communities who are a part of UM,” she said. “Our aim is to better establish representation, for different minority groups especially, who might not be accounted for under the current apportionment of seats.”
Other inclusion events that Mannery and Manivannan discussed include mass emails to the student body, a table in front of the student union for people to hold regular discussions with ASB members and a campaign to increase awareness for proper gender pronoun usage.
“We, as a campus community, don’t do enough together,” Mannery said. “We don’t have a shared vision or a shared identity to want to come together enough to effect change.”
For this reason, Mannery and Manivannan encouraged ASB members and other students to attend events hosted by organizations they are not affiliated with and learn about the values groups outside of their own hold.
“Through the student activities fee, that’s a way we can provide some financial support, but oftentimes, sometimes even more than financial support, human support can really drive events,” Manivannan said. “Just having ASB members connect with our student population and the events they’re putting on is a way that we can better support and help organizations sustain their growth knowing that ASB is intentionally supporting them.”
Even though Mannery and Manivannan agreed upon the importance of human support, they recognized the issue of minority organization leadership feeling as though they are underfunded.
“As an African-American student a part of a lot of these organizations, I’ve heard the sentiment that a lot of these organizations have felt like they haven’t received proper funding,” Mannery said. “It almost seemed like they thought it was intentional, and that’s something I take seriously when I have the power and the privilege to take it seriously.”
ASB treasurer Gianna Schuetz plans to implement diversity, equity and inclusion training into the funding process for the student activities fee funding process. This would require student organizations to undergo training before receiving funding and incentivize organizations to take active roles in “building a stronger and more inclusive campus community.”
Ultimately, Manivannan said the goal of events like the town hall and the campaigns they discussed is to create a welcoming atmosphere in student government for smaller and minority organizations.