When Kim Samala, BC ’20, ran for Barnard’s Student Government Association, she was excited at the prospect of representing the student body in her role as vice president of communications. But now, after two semesters on SGA, Samala said she has faced significant challenges as the only person of color on the Executive Board on top of doing the work she was elected to do on a daily basis.
“Being the only woman of color on the Executive Board, being in close spaces when big decisions are being made for the campus, it’s hard not to feel like I have to represent my identities, even when I don’t want to,” Samala said. “Although this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a student leader on campus, it’s a job that I can’t quit on. I feel passionate about making sure that we’re equitable, but I had my bylaws to follow, juggling so many things.”
Samala’s concerns were a significant factor in spurring changes to SGA’s newly ratified constitution, which now outlines multiple new positions on the Representative Council, including the vice president for equity. The position will focus on intra-SGA equity initiatives and will be trained by Barnard Student Life to be prepared to handle some of the difficult situations they may face while serving the role.
The SGA Representative Council consists of all class presidents and vice presidents, all heads of committees, members of the SGA Executive Board, and the representatives to the Board of Trustees.
The VP for Equity will also sit on the Barnard Council for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The council was created in 2017 by Barnard President Sian Beilock, and consists of a board of students, faculty, and alumnae representatives—it primarily focuses on funding initiatives for inclusion on campus.
According to Samala, this position will lighten the load that currently rests on the shoulders of students of color to address questions of inclusion and equity within SGA. It reflects SGA’s goal to become more accessible to the student body and represent marginalized identities.
“We’ve always had women of color, people of color on SGA, but there’s a point where I think it becomes a question of what they do once we’re there. … Having [a vice president for equity] will allow students of color or other students of marginalized identities to focus on what they signed up for,” Samala said.
Constitutional changes are made possible every three years and are decided upon by the Constitutional Review Committee. This year, the committee is led by Vice President for Policy Mia Lindheimer, BC ’19.
One major change is the official adoption of gender-neutral terminology, reflecting representatives’ desire to create more spaces for a wide range of gender identities within SGA.
“We’re here to represent our entire student body and our entire student body is not cis women,” Lindheimer said. “We’re here to serve the whole student body, and the whole student body should run to be on SGA or be on a committee. And if the SGA Constitution is telling anybody that they can’t be, that’s a serious issue.”
Another change, which was met with backlash from some representatives, was the removal of vice presidents of classes from the Representative Council, meaning that vice presidents will no longer be allowed to attend Monday night meetings or participate in voting for referenda and statements. Before this revision was made, both vice presidents and presidents of classes attended Monday night meetings along with the heads of other Representative Councils and the Executive Board.
In the SGA constitution’s new bylaws, class vice presidents are required to “represent their class” and serve on their class council. Before the revisions were made, vice presidents served on Representative Council as well, but starting in fall of 2019 this will no longer be the case.
According to Lindheimer, this change was made to make the vice president role more accessible to potential candidates interested in running for the position, as well as to limit the number of people on Representative Council.
“For many people, taking them off made former vice presidents feel that their hard work was being invalidated, but we’re hoping to add more pathways to representation and not delegitimizing it,” Lindheimer said. “The people filling those positions right now clearly add an immense amount to Rep Council.”
The constitution also added a University Relations Committee, which will be led by Barnard’s University Senator, whose job is to attend Senate plenaries and represent Barnard students in the wider University community. According to Lindheimer, the new committee will create an accessible avenue for students to express grievances to the senator. This policy will also increase transparency surrounding the Senate’s role and combat students’ apathy toward it.
In line with its dedication to creating additional spaces for different identities on campus, the constitution now promises annual funding for Bold, Beautiful, Black at Barnard, an annual event founded last spring to celebrate black women at Barnard that features a different lens to celebrate blackness each year. This year’s theme is black femme artistry.
“I just hope that this event is a spark, where people understand that this is what a community is about. … Let’s build a safe space where everyone is welcome, and that’s what Bold, Beautiful, Black at Barnard is about. If you’re in an arts group, the most discriminated against person will be the dark skinned black woman. So let’s talk about that. And then let’s go from there,” said Representative for Arts and Culture Phanesia Pharel, BC ’21, who founded the event. .
Brianna Johnson, BC ’21, co-secretary of the board for the Black Theatre Ensemble, said that the new bylaw is an important step prioritizing black women on Barnard’s campus, creating and funding spaces for students of identity groups to build community.
“I know there’s going to be black women at Barnard until kingdom come. Because we’re at a predominantly white institution; minority groups can kind of be insular. BOSS is amazing, we have our people, and it's easy to feel underappreciated,” Johnson said. “This is directly placing us in the center, in the moment, and saying that we’re here and deserve to be seen.”
In order to ensure that their official statements are representative of the student body’s views, SGA will hold referenda more ;frequently before releasing any official statements on behalf of the student body.
“Student government is not just a bunch of people running around doing it for the clout,” Samala said. “We do things, but it doesn’t reach the students. All students are members of SGA, we serve you. And the new constitution reflects that.”