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Op-eds, Opinions

Sachar ’20: UCS, Do You See Us?

By
Op-Ed Contributer
Saturday, May 9, 2020

Student government has the ability to play a vital role on our campus, but its constitutive organizations are severely struggling to be transparent and accountable to the students they serve. At Brown, student government is composed of three different organizations: Undergraduate Council of Students, the Undergraduate Finance Board and the Class Coordinating Board. Amidst all the havoc in the world right now, I’m shocked to see that UCS has pushed to restructure student government, deciding unilaterally to remove CCB as a branch, without informing other student government organizations or the student body. This recent initiative has also caused confusion within the Brown community about inter-student government relations in general. As a Senior Co-President of CCB, I would like to provide some historical context regarding the UCS-CCB relationship this past year. 

Student government holds more privileges than other student groups, and while these privileges provide the power to make change for students, they also allow student government to forgo the responsibility of being transparent to those they serve. From my experience, I can tell you candidly that CCB, for one, has many ways in which it can improve. I’ve seen a lot of change happen internally over the course of four years to create a better culture and presence for CCB on campus. However, this change is limited, as CCB cannot optimally improve without feedback from students. The fundamental problem is that student government organizations struggle to adequately inform the student body about their internal operations, and without this transparency, students cannot authentically engage with these organizations. By providing context for one discourse in the student government bubble, I hope to shed some light on the inner workings of student government and start conversations on how these organizations can collectively serve the student body more effectively. 

The three branches of student government at Brown hold distinct roles. UCS does policy-driven initiatives, UFB allocates funds to student groups and CCB puts on events that are intended to create a sense of community on campus. I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with CCB starting my freshman year. Until last spring, there had been little collaboration between UCS and CCB. 

In April 2019, as part of CCB’s sustainability initiative, we discussed creating communication channels with UCS and UFB to standardize some of our practices and increase visibility of student government as a whole. After meeting with UCS and UFB leadership that month to discuss future partnerships, we worked together over the summer to prepare an elections info session for incoming first-years, send a class-wide email to the first-years and run collective elections. This process went smoothly: Nobody objected to our mutual status as branches of student government. In fact, all three organizations have been recognized as student government (according to the Student Activities Office as seen by their student governance status on Bear Sync). However, these elections were the first time we represented ourselves as a unified front (using the specific wording of “branches” to represent our different organizations), with the hope of making it easier for first-years to contextualize each of our very different roles on campus. In the fall, we successfully worked together to run collective elections. For the rest of the semester, the branches didn’t collaborate on much, which made sense considering our distinct and non-overlapping missions of policy-making, funding and community-building. 

However, at the end of 2019, CCB attempted to collaborate with UCS again for spring elections, only to learn that we had been removed from the conversation before it even started. On Dec. 9, 2019, CCB Election Officials reached out to UCS Election Officials to start planning for spring elections. Almost two months later on Jan. 26, 2020, in an email reviewed by The Herald, UCS Election Officials responded, “it would be difficult, timeline-wise, to combine everyone (UCS, CCB, and UFB) into one elections process this year as our (UCS and UFB) elections procedure is undergoing some big changes as well.” Given how long this response took, CCB was confused as to why we were left out of the conversation and asked to further discuss how the branches could work together. UCS, by declining to hold collective elections, had made a decision about student government as a whole without considering the views and values of CCB.

Shortly after CCB received this response, on Feb. 5, a few UCS senior leaders attended CCB’s general body meeting because they had heard that we were going to discuss whether there should be an amendment to our constitution regarding CCB members being on multiple branches of student government at one time. From my perspective, the ensuing dialogue was unproductive; UCS leaders disrespected our community norms, employed a patronizing tone when talking and asserted their positions of power as members of UCS in determining our own internal policies. I’ve never seen UCS attend a meeting of any other group of students to police how they run their group, and as such, this behavior was extremely distressing. UCS undermined CCB as an organization, and most importantly, as a community. While it might not have been their intent, UCS’ unannounced arrival and subsequent encroachment did cause community harm. On Feb. 19, CCB 2023 (First-Year Board) detailed this harm in a letter that called for senior leadership on UCS and UFB to “lead by example” through “interbranch training” to “promote respect and collaboration” and “better avenues of communication,” among other things.

I can’t speak for all of CCB, but from my perspective, this event was one of the most disconcerting experiences I’ve had at Brown. This was the first time I became aware of underlying tensions between UCS and CCB, and I was confused as to where they came from. This was the first time CCB as an organization was going to discuss the potential policy change, and we planned to include UCS and UFB after deciding internally what route we wanted to go. 

The same day as the CCB meeting UCS attended, UCS sent out an email, reviewed by The Herald, to senior leadership and elections officials on UCS, UFB and CCB asking for a meeting to discuss the “standardization of the elections process and student government overall,” which is ironic because they originally denied our request to plan elections together. Frankly, this conversation should have been mediated by a third party as there was a lot of tension in the room. Ultimately, through two different meetings that followed, both CCB and UCS agreed that it would not be beneficial for this working group to continue, given our different missions. To this day, I still don’t understand why these conversations turned from fruitful to harmful and wish both branches had more openly communicated their frustrations. 

Recently, CCB has received direct and anonymous comments on Dear Blueno, a Facebook page that solicits anonymous posts, from members of the student body asserting that we are not a form of student government. This type of discourse has never happened before in my time at Brown. As there seemed to be no apparent catalyst, CCB members were confused as to where this rhetoric came from. I soon found out that UCS had published a diagram on their website, which I had never seen before, that portrays student government as only two organizations — UCS and UFB. 

Upon reaching out to UCS leadership on April 29 for an official response to these claims, I was informed in an email reviewed by The Herald that UCS views CCB as a Category 3 group — decidedly not student government. In fact, UCS officials were confused as to how CCB could think we were a form of “student governance.” The obvious question is: What changed? How did UCS and CCB go from welcoming the first years to Brown together, and having the same first-year elections, to CCB suddenly not being recognized as a form of student government? 

I look up to UCS leadership as people who do great work in the Brown community, and I truly believe in the role of UCS as an institution. That said, for UCS leadership to exclusively determine who is or isn’t a valid student government without being transparent about their process and without adequate representation from CCB is a disservice to the student body we each serve. It is shocking to see UCS invalidate CCB and the important work we do. If UCS means to question how student government at Brown is set up, CCB should be a part of these conversations to encompass the breadth of Brown’s elected student representation.

At the end of the day, I’m deeply saddened by the community harm that has been caused by this spurned partnership over the course of this year. Despite the tension this past year, I am optimistic that one day these organizations can eventually learn how to support one another to better serve the student body. Student government has large problems to tackle in the coming years, such as increasing transparency and broadening student engagement. We must replace invalidation with cooperation to leverage the breadth of student government’s resources to support the student community during this global pandemic instead of squabbling over the “title” of student government.

Sonia Sachar served as a Senior Co-President of Class Coordinating Board (CCB) during the ‘19-’20 academic year. She has also represented the Class of 2020 as their respective CCB president in the three previous years. She can be reached at sonia_sachar@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

Correction: A previous version of this op-ed stated that “historically” CCB has been recognized alongside UCS and UFB “as student government,” citing the student governance status of CCB on Bear Sync. The word “historically” has been removed because the CCB status on Bear Sync was “Campus Services & Events” rather than “Student Governance” as recently as March 2020, and this change in CCB’s Bear Sync classification occurred outside of the standard procedure for changing Category listings. Additionally, the word “confused” has been taken out of quotations in the phrase “UCS officials were ‘confused’ as to how CCB could think we were a form of ‘student governance’” because this word is a paraphrase rather than a direct quote. The Herald regrets the errors.

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3 Comments

  1. Unconvinced student says:

    I fail to see why CCB should be considered student government whereas BCA or SPEC should not. They both organize similar events that are as equally, if not more, important to the student body community. If these two student groups held open elections for their club members, would they have grounds to be considered student government?

    • Sonia Sachar says:

      Thank you for your comment & for your engagement in this issue! Just for some background information, CCB was created seventeen years ago by the division of campus life & alumni relations to build and maintain a sense of community at Brown. The way we were created and structured was as a form of student government. This does NOT mean that we govern people but we do represent the class voice when it comes to organizing class programming, overseeing large budgets, and developing class unity & sustaining traditions like Gala and Senior Week. Furthermore, when we graduate, we plan class reunions and serve on the Brown Alumni Association of Class Leaders.

      It’s important to us to be considered by UCS as a form of stud gov’t because that we’ve historically been operating as for the last seventeen years. I think if UCS is interested in restructuring student government (which is honestly a good move because as a whole stud gov has some severe structural issues with accountability and representation) I just think they should include CCB in that discourse because that would be treating us with respect for the community work we have done and continue to do. Thus, it’s not about us fighting for the title of student government, we already have it. However, if that title/role on campus is now changing (without our knowledge), we should probably restructure to not be elected/function just like BCA or SPEC (as you mentioned). However, be mindful of the fact that it means we probably won’t have the bandwidth or university resources to plan events like Senior Week or Senior Nights. Just like BCA, we would choose one event and just do that. I personally think that the twenty-four events we put on every year (and staff ourselves with no pay) help represent students diverse interests and aids in their experiences at Brown, but that’s just my opinion. But once again, in this article I’m not trying to argue that CCB should or shouldn’t be student government, I’m just calling for more actors like CCB or other representative bodies to be involved in this discussion since right now CCB is confused as to where we sit in the university structure.

      I’m not a 100% sure of how “becoming” stud government works because I’ve never had to think about it and also am not that well versed in university policy, I would recommend directing your questions to UCS (UCS@brown.edu) or SAO (sao@brown.edu). I’m sorry that I couldn’t be of more help but hope you get an answer from them 🙂

      Hopefully this response helps with some of your confusion but also if you still have questions please feel free to reach out to me at sonia_sachar@brown.edu!

  2. Most of the UCS itself is a waste. At least CCB does something that’s kind and good for the greater Brown community. Though I love some of the students on UCS, others have struck me as deeply pretentious, rude, and toxic. Sorry that CCB has to deal with that too!

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