I never thought I would get involved in Associated Student Body (ASB). I am an out-of-state, non-Greek-affiliated, mixed-race woman, and I thought this would limit my chances of getting elected during my freshman year. After becoming a legislative aide, I learned from mentors of all backgrounds who encouraged me to run for an open Senate seat and eventually moved up the ranks to become a Senate chair. I learned eventually that who I am did not disqualify me for office, but how was I to believe otherwise?
During the academic year of 2016-2017, the year before I came to Ole Miss, the legislative branch was staggeringly white: out of 48 Senators, 45 of them were white. With the 23% enrollment of ethnic minority students on University of Mississippi campuses the following year, that 9% ethnic minority representation on Senate signaled a stark contrast between ASB and the student population. That doesn’t even mention the gender imbalance in leadership; that year, all six ASB executive offices were held by men.
Thankfully, with a lot of hard work, this landscape is far different now since ASB has made strides to improve inclusivity over the past year. The Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement chairs introduced a scholarship to cover dresses and fees for more inclusive participation in the Parade of Beauties. Mandatory bias training is now included in the Code and Constitution. However, this change didn’t happen overnight, ignorant of biases and identity. When I was appointed to be the ASB Senate Chair of Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement last year, I was told to “avoid identity politics” in my legislation and “find a way to unify campus.” However, for women and ethnic minorities, what people perceive identity politics are simply our regular politics, which can hurt our prospects in the political process.
A study published in 2017 found that while women and ethnic minorities are punished for mentioning diversity and identity in the political sphere, white men are applauded for it. Look no further than our own ASB presidential elections last year to find evidence of this. After Barron Mayfield’s election the DM published a story titled “Mayfield elected ASB president,” where he was noted for being “vocal about his support for the ASB Senate resolution to relocate the Confederate monument from the Circle to the Confederate cemetery before it passed.” Leah Davis, his black and female run-off opponent, co-authored the legislation and led conversations about the statue among ASB leaders before the legislation was even proposed, but these accomplishments were not mentioned in the article. I applaud Barron for supporting diversity, but what should be noted is that UM elected a man whose campaign was primarily celebrated for supporting what his black woman opponent did.
In order to make the University of Mississippi inclusive for all, its leadership must represent the student body. Today, petitions are available for the spring general election on ASB’s website, and I encourage everyone who cares about this school to run, no matter what you think might be stopping you — whether it be race, gender or Greek status. You matter, and you have the opportunity to show people like you that they matter, too.
Katie Dames is a junior international studies major from St. Louis, Missouri.