Engage, one of four executive slates running in this year’s Student Government elections, is made up of third-years Raven Rainey, Myles Hudson, and Alex Levi, who are running for President, Vice President of Student Life, and Vice President of Administration respectively. Engage emphasizes their combined eight years of experience in Student Government and their commitment to sustainability, supporting marginalized students on campus, and a comprehensive plan for COVID-19 response that addresses student needs.
On COVID-19 Response
Hudson laid out a number of objectives Engage would focus on while working with the administration over the summer to develop a plan for how to handle fall quarter, whether or not it is held on campus. He listed negotiating to extend the pay of student workers, communicating with students about what federal or state unemployment benefits might be available, and directing resources to first-generation low-income (FGLI) students as priorities.
“I think there also needs to be a focus on incoming FGLI students,” Hudson said. “There is a new class that’s coming in that we’ll be engaging with on slate the same way that current students will, and it’s going to be a major question about how they’re going to be able to integrate properly into campus life.”
Rainey and Hudson both emphasized the importance of listening to demands made by groups like UChicago for Fair Tuition, Graduate Students United, and UChicago Labor Council.
“[Tuition] is a very important concern for students not even just in the college but across the graduate schools as well,” Rainey said. “The administration really needs to meet with [UChicago for] Fair Tuition and really say, ‘We hear you, we understand you’ and offer some actual benefits and ways to meet them in the middle, if not all the way.”
Hudson mentioned the importance of ensuring job security for campus workers whose livelihoods have been threatened by the COVID-19 crisis.
“The University being the largest employer on the South Side, it really needs to make a commitment to its South Side residents that it’s not going to eliminate jobs especially in the current crisis that we’re in,” Hudson said. “I think there’s a lot the University can genuinely and concretely commit to, and that conversation of course involves a serious conversation with various labor organizations around the South Side.”
On Mental Health
Changing in the culture of mental health on campus is central to Engage’s approach to mental health, according to Levi, who worked on compiling Student Government’s Mental Health Resource Book while on College Council.
“Our ideology around mental health is something called the Icarus Project, which is essentially a collective that is designed to help people who are diagnosed with mental health conditions navigate the various systems of oppression they face,” Levi said. “Really the mission of [the Icarus Project] is for everyone to come together and be vulnerable and open up to each other and offer support to each other.”
Engage has pledged to convert the Health and Wellness Committee that CARE slate started into a standing committee. Additionally, Engage would allocate a $3,000 donation to the Emergency Fund at the beginning of the autumn quarter; Rainey noted that in her time working with the Fund, she saw that many of the grants it disbursed went to help students struggling with mental health issues.
“[We want to] get admin to realize the Emergency Fund is something that students really support,” Rainey said. “Offering them money with no strings attached—they don’t have to pay it back—is something that is very powerful and important and it makes students feel seen and it allows them to be vulnerable.”
On Supporting Marginalized Students
Working from current draft legislation created by College Council representatives Bianca Simons and Tyler Okeke, Engage would create a Committee of Marginalized Student Affairs (COMSA). COMSA could function as an alternative funding pipeline for cultural RSOs and would have a voice on the annual allocations committee.
“I’ve heard numerous complaints from groups like OLAS and MEChA and ACSA [about] having their funding reduced,” Hudson said. “I think that annual allocations can make a lot of change in that respect and COMSA can definitely have people on that committee to make sure that the proper change is being made for marginalized students.”
Hudson has been working with the Center of Identity and Inclusion and UChicago’s Bias Response Team on a cultural sensitivity training program for first years. According to Hudson, the program would hold training sessions within Houses three times a year on topics such as microaggressions.
“I think again a lot of students come from backgrounds where they might not have been exposed to that kind of language,” Hudson said. “They might not necessarily understand that you can’t just call a black person articulate because they speak well or try and touch someone’s hair because it’s a different texture than theirs. I think that there’s a lot of language and action that can be refined within the student body and I’d really like people to engage with that early on in their time here.”
As a slate, Hudson said, Engage would also work to connect student activists from groups like UC United to administrators and advocate for their voices to be heard.
“I think a lot of times admin has the tendency to discount activist voices because they’re students and in [the administration’s] mind they might not have all that much authority,” Hudson said. “I do think that having a lot of that support come from the side with student government and lifting up the voices of these students and making sure that they’re in the room with administrators will really be beneficial.”
On Sexual Misconduct
One of Engage’s platform planks is to mandate sexual misconduct prevention workshops for all RSOs, based on a proposal by College Council representatives Itzel Velázquez and Summer Long.
Rainey mentioned as a case study how she was not required to go through sexual misconduct training when creating a new RSO. “We were told here are three trainings you need to go to and there’s nothing on sexual misconduct…. I’m sure a lot of new RSOs would be thrilled to learn about [sexual misconduct prevention]…something that should be mandatory in ensuring that all students are safe and all students are protected.”
Hudson acknowledged that while official recognition of Greek life is a goal of many sexual assault prevention activists, the University administration has consistently refused to do so. Therefore, he said Engage’s approach will combine pressuring administration to recognize Greek life with attempts to make progress in sexual assault and misconduct prevention in other areas.
“It makes a lot of sense to be focused on other areas where we can make actionable change simply because Greek life is such a complicated issue and we have to make sure the administration is willing to compromise with us before substantive change can be made on that front,” Hudson said.
Engage plans to push UCPD to increase transparency by making their bias and Crisis Intervention Training Procedures easily available to students in clearly accessible language. Hudson said Engage would work to arrange meetings between student activists and UCPD officers to discuss their concerns.
“We’re really focused on trying to create that substantive change for them and giving them the access that they need to UCPD and trying to create community policing efforts and other ways for alternative policing and community guidance,” Hudson said.
As a slate, Levi said, Engage would press the University to commit to carbon neutrality by 2040, a goal many of UChicago’s peer institutions have already committed to. Engage would also push the University to publicly release emissions data and support the organizing efforts of sustainability-focused groups such as UChicago Environmental Alliance.
“I think that the University has this tendency of a push and pull strategy with sustainability at least in the past,” Levi said. “I think they virtue signal with sustainability to show incoming students that they’re a sustainable campus without really walking the walk on that one. As a slate I think we’re going to be constantly pressuring the administration to put their money where their mouth is with sustainability.”
At the same time, Levi is hopeful that new changes will happen with new leadership and increasing momentum of campaigns for a greener campus.
“With the new Provost Ka Yee Lee I think it’s really promising,” Levi said. “I think it’s because there’s been a change of leadership that you start to see these changes happening…the general population is also slowly becoming more aware that sustainability is something we need to take seriously.”
On Community Relations
Part of Engage’s mission, Rainey said, is to encourage students and administrators to engage not only with each other but also with UChicago’s South Side community.
“We are the largest employer on the South Side, and we need to know that we have a far-reaching hand into the interests of a lot of people who have lived here their entire lives,” Rainey said. “[We need to ensure] that we are good neighbors…that the people on the South Side aren’t feeling like they’re being pushed out by us and that UChicago is not gentrifying neighborhoods.”
Rainey mentioned the local Jewel-Osco grocery store and the University’s trauma center as examples of positive investment in the community, although, in the case of the trauma center, one that came after years of pressure by activists.
“We have the power and we have the means to pressure the University to continue to be good neighbors,” Rainey said. “As a slate we want to pressure the University to engage with students and to engage with the community at large.”