SGA multicultural and identity senator resigns, citing ‘perverse power dynamic’

Melina Khan, Associate News Editor

Following a Student Government Association (SGA) election season that yielded an all-white male executive board (e-board), the multicultural and identity (M&I) senator for the 2021-22 school year has resigned, in part due to inequitable conditions.

Gabriella Colello, a senior political science major, was the sole candidate for two M&I positions in the spring election. The M&I senator represents students of minority races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities and religion. According to SGA’s constitution, the senator’s role is expected to “advocate for the needs of their respective constituency in the most representative form possible.” 

Gabriella Colello resigned from her position in the Student Government Association as multicultural and identity senator less than two weeks before the fall 2021 semester began. (Photo contributed by Gabriella Colello)

Colello submitted her resignation letter on Aug. 18, to the SGA e-board. In her letter, she cited her reasoning as twofold: the first, that she could not commit to the demands of the position.

“Another point that informed my decision to resign was my inability to justify filling another uncompensated equity role on campus,” Colello wrote in her resignation letter.

Each member of SGA’s e-board receives a $5,000 tuition scholarship per semester of their incumbency. No other members of SGA receive financial compensation. 

Colello, who also serves as the vice president of the Indigenous Student Union (ISU), said when she ran for the M&I position, she was unaware of the compensation the e-board members receive. When she found out about the scholarship, she said she found it “really difficult to justify.”

“I know students in the (multicultural) community who deserve a $10,000 scholarship for the crazy work they’ve been doing, and the identity that they cannot walk away from,” Colello said.

As a Pacific Islander, Colello emphasized the taxing nature of equity work, especially on students from marginalized backgrounds.

“A lot of the students in multicultural orgs aren’t just having fun at their meetings, they are working, and they’re working for the benefit of students after them,” Colello said. “A lot of us are working on things that we’re never going to be able to enjoy. That’s a demand, and it’s a demand that you’re forced into because of your identity.”

As one of ISU’s founding members, Colello said she wants to spend her time working on developing indigeneity initiatives on campus.

“At the end of the day, I realized that I don’t think me being in (the M&I) position is going to be helpful,” Colello said. “I also just couldn’t justify doing equity work in a position where I felt like there was a perverse power dynamic and inequitable compensation for a role that is extraordinarily taxing.”

Ambar Pagan, a senior political science major, served as M&I senator for the 2020-21 school year. She echoed the demanding nature of the position.

“It’s not an easy position,” Pagan said. “You have a huge weight and a huge responsibility of making sure that you represent so many cultures, so many identities, so many languages, so many students.”

When it comes to receiving a scholarship or other financial benefits, Pagan said she thinks SGA will always have a structure that will benefit some over others, but that it is always evolving.

“If something isn’t working, then we need to find a way to make sure that other voices, including students of color that are running for these positions … can also gain opportunities like e-board members are also having,” Pagan said.

Colello said she received positive responses from the e-board upon her resignation. 

Jeremy Gustafson, SGA’s vice president for diversity and inclusion, said he is sad to see Colello resign, but that the concerns she outlined would be taken under advisement.

“The points she makes, all of them are very valid, and they’ve been talked about before within SGA,” Gustafson said.

Resignation letter Gabriella Colello submitted to the Student Government Association’s executive board.

In regard to the scholarship money received by the SGA e-board, Gustafson hopes the benefits for underrepresented students involved on campus will be improved in the future.

“It’s going to be a part of a much larger conversation, I feel, this year, on ways where we can ensure that students are receiving the recognition that they need for their work that they do on campus,” Gustafson said.

When it comes to the criticism of the lack of diversity on the e-board, Gustafson recognized the privilege they hold.

“I mean it’s quite obvious that we are all white males,” Gustafson said. “The student population did vote us in, however we have to recognize that we come from all privileged backgrounds and we must talk to people to figure out what the actual problems are that we’re not facing on a daily basis and ensure that we can represent all students no matter their backgrounds and identities.”

Gustafson said he is working on improving SGA’s relationship with underrepresented students on campus by being “proactive when stuff arises,” such as helping organize guest speakers for multicultural organizations. He said he is planning to meet with executive board members of the Multicultural Student Leadership Council (MSLC) every month.

With fall elections coming up, SGA is hoping to fill all vacant positions, including the M&I senator position. Gustafson said the e-board is working to have a diverse pool of candidates.