Guest Voices: CSG resignees reflect on student government

Guest Voices is an occasional series that invites students to share their views about a topic of importance and interest to them on campus.

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By Taylor Pelow, Ava Roberts, Miranda Shea-Wood and Hanna Theile


The four resignees from Chatham Student Government reflect with heavy hearts on the events and conversations that transpired during our last CSG Senate Meeting on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. We will never forget what we learned that day so long as we are part of the Chatham community; they will remind us of what we do stand for and what we can’t. 

Today, we believe our student government truly does not represent us, nor the student body. We hope that CSG will take action to truly advocate for students and their beliefs, produce meaningful legislation and further accountability and transparency.

 

Reflection from Taylor Pelow:

“I am tired” is how I finished my resignation from the Vice President of Communications because it was the truth. Leaving CSG was not a choice that I took lightly nor one that I enjoyed. After pouring myself into the organization for three years, resignation was never a thought until recently. 

I watched previous CSG cohorts attempt to tackle issues such as food insecurity, textbook exchange systems and the removal of the former C134 name. This year, I watched a bloodbath of conversations take place where members defended racist comments made by staff, accepted that the school would carry on through a pandemic without any regard for the hardships we may face and made excuses for the performative actions of the institution. Never before had I heard the word partisanship used by members, including the executive president, to avoid the discussions this university does not want to listen nor respond to.

CSG Senate and the Executive board played their role in my resignation. The Executive board is made to be a team of students to work together to help the Senate and their respective classes, but I felt as if I was just thrown into my own dark corner where I was given orders and reprimanded when I took actions that reflected my views. 

Outside of the public Senate discussions, two events reassured me my resignation was the correct choice. The first was the response to Hanna Theile’s resignation: dead silence, only broken when Marianna Touloumes, Executive president, bluntly asked when the next meeting zoom link would be sent and who should replace Hanna – not a single “thank you for multiple years of service” or discussion. 

The second event was when I had a surprise zoom call with Dr. Dean Black and Touloumes in which I was grilled about removing a post advertising an event by the PCWP – the same day multiple students voiced concerns regarding the event. During this meeting, Dr. Black asked me about my knowledge of the ramifications and how my actions reflected on CSG as a whole – actions that fell well within my described duties to represent the student body. While I was being questioned, Touloumes sat in silence. She offered no support for her peer and 3-year co-member of CSG. I felt like no one had my back within the organization. 

Repeatedly I was made to feel unwelcome in a space that I had worked so hard to develop, and as much as I hated to go, it felt like it was my only option. When you are told things such as “Frankly I don’t want to talk to you” and are described as “hostile” because you advocate for the rights of students, leaving is your only choice. I plan to continue working to advocate for students outside of CSG because working outside of CSG gives me room to make change. I no longer have to explain to students why human rights are a non-partisan issue.

 

Reflection from Ava Roberts:

I wish I had run for the Class of 2022 President because I thought “this school is boring” – a sentiment that was widely echoed by fellow Chatham Student Government members in the now infamous Senate meeting on Jan. 28, 2021.

I realized, in that moment, how fundamentally different my values are from CSG. 

I ran for office because I wanted to see change at Chatham. I wanted Administrative transparency and devotion to students, not profit; I wanted to keep students safe during COVID-19; I wanted to help our student body become more sustainable, equitable and inclusive through starting our microaggressions prevention project. 

Now, I understand why more tenured Chatham community members discouraged me from running for CSG. 

I’ve had multiple male Senate members attempt to silence me for fighting for my values. I’ve witnessed notoriously unproductive Executive Board meetings where we’ve barely managed to pass a handful of proclamations between Aug. 2020 and Feb. 2021. I’ve begged for accountability as I watched, in disgust, as Senate members used insensitive language towards those that belong to racial minority groups. Finally, I’ve seen disinterest in and animosity towards my colleagues and I for demanding administrative accountability at Chatham. 

CSG continues to show complete disinterest in making Chatham more comfortable and safe for all students, especially by not condemning the recent US Capitol insurrection and by poorly elevating the Black Student Union’s demands last fall. 

There are many who can still inflict change, despite CSG’s dysfunction; I’m leaving a lot of wonderful, devoted people in the class of 2022, especially. I’m sure they will thrive under Rebecca Pennington’s leadership, whom I admire very much. 

But like Taylor, I’m tired. I’m tired of expending energy on a club masquerading under the veil of nonpartisanship, which local, state and federal governments don’t pretend to do. CSG excuses inaction by using the weak and lazy “that’s too political” card; if nonpartisanship is so important, perhaps CSG should encourage and actually listen to all student leaders even when they have progressive beliefs.

This semester, with the help of an outstanding group of student leaders, I will be helping guide Chatham Green Team into becoming a 350 Pittsburgh affiliate to make meaningful, sustainable changes on our campus and the greater Pittsburgh community – and host some fun events, too! Additionally, I will continue to work with Chatham Student Power as the Communications and Social Media Coordinator, where we will keep elevating Chatham students’ voices, and furthering progressive change in the greater Pittsburgh community. 

Change begins and ends with passionate, value-driven students – and change can happen without CSG. 

 

Reflection from Miranda Shea-Wood: 

I originally joined CSG the fall semester of my sophomore year as the Vice President of the class of 2022. I decided to become a member of the organization because I thought that it was the best vessel to make substantial change on campus. I knew that Chatham had problems like any other university, but I also knew that we could find solutions to these problems as a community, and student government seemed to be the best way to do that. 

During my first semester in CSG, I was unaware of the bureaucracy that prevented any meaningful legislation or change to occur within the confines of the organization. I remember that I spent most of that semester trying to understand how the club worked and what exactly our purpose was.

By my second semester, I finally felt as though I understood the intricacies of student government enough to begin speaking up on issues that I thought impacted Chatham students such as racism, food insecurity and a lack of transparency between administration and the student body. I felt as though we were beginning to make some progress within the club when we were suddenly forced online by the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to the dedicated work of the class of 2022 board, we were still able to finish our class project for the year. 

However, I began to have doubts about our organization when many Senate members and the Executive board showed apathy towards my own concerns and those echoed by my colleagues. This was especially prevalent when we would discuss issues that impacted Chatham and the greater Pittsburgh community, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the riots that occurred at the Capitol on January 6th. 

What ultimately prompted my resignation on January 28th was a member of the Senate saying that he didn’t think it was the student government’s job to worry about issues such as those because they don’t affect the Chatham community. I realized then that it would be impossible to make any important change within the confines of an organization that had little to no regard for students such as myself. 

I am saddened that I had to make this decision, but I know that working with other, more dedicated organizations on campus, such as Chatham Student Power, will yield more positive changes than if I had chosen to stay with student government. 

 

Reflection from Hanna Theile: 

Collaboration, communication, and community: these three “c’s” were the principles I ran on back in 2018, when I was an excited first year running for Chatham Student Government. They were the foundational blocks that I knew would help our student body be the best they could be. 

Over the years I have felt as if these core principles were getting pushed within student government. That transparency has become less, and less, and fellow representatives are not standing up for what is right. Yes, you cannot solve world issues within a small student government, at a small institution, but representatives must hear all voices. There should be no picking and choosing. I applaud the work of student leaders across campus in their clubs, and I hope CSG will learn from and follow them.