After a contentious campaign cycle, the Georgetown University Student Association inaugurated its latest class of senators at a virtual meeting last weekend.
The 15th GUSA Senate has broken records for female and Black representation, with many GUSA members hoping the accomplishment will lead to more inclusion and lasting diversity within the student government. The new senate’s first meeting on Sept. 27 may have confirmed that hope: Members from the Progressive Coalition, a group founded last semester that aims to support BIPOC and other marginalized communities on campus, won elections for all of the senate’s major leadership positions.
GUSA Senator and Progessive Coalition co-founder Leo Teixeira (COL ’21) won senate speaker, the highest leadership position in the senate. Teixeira hopes the new senate will better represent the student body and support activists and student organizations on campus. Past senate groups underrepresented women and students of color.
“I’m tremendously grateful to have the opportunity to lead the most progressive and diverse Senate we’ve ever had,” Teixeira wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Going forward, I believe the Senate is going to enter into an era of collaboration with all of the activists and organizers on this campus whose work we will amplify, and with the marginalized communities on this campus who we will uplift and fight for.”
Both Teixeira and former Senate Speaker Daniella Sanchez (COL ’22) were nominated for the speaker position; however, Sanchez declined the nomination. Sanchez said she did not enjoy her tenure as speaker, citing pressure she faced to please many different groups while she held the position.
“The way the senate is structured, and the way GUSA was structured, I just realized that I hated being the speaker,” Sanchez said during the meeting. “I felt that my hands were tied behind my back. I did that to myself. I’m not going to blame anyone for that, that was me, and I tried to please everyone, and in this position you cannot please everyone. And I was the person who took the fall for everything that the senate did, everything that the senate didn’t do.”
The most competitive election of the night, the Finance and Appropriations Committee vice chair election, saw incumbent GUSA Senator Olivia Kleier (SFS ’22) running against incoming freshmen Senators Bella Fassett (SFS ’24) and Lara Sophia Santana (SFS ’24). FinApp is responsible for allocating funds to student activities. Fassett was ultimately elected to the position, promising to improve FinApp’s accessibility to the student body and to better collaborate with clubs as FinApp vice chair.
“I think it’s important to recognize that FinApp as a space has been historically very exclusive and kind of inaccessible,” Fassett said during the meeting. “I think previous people involved in FinApp have used the rules and the complicated processes surrounding it as kind of a barrier to receiving funding, and I would like to make FinApp accessible in the sense that we would work with and for clubs and not against them.”
Though the meeting was a symbolic fresh start for many, several senior senators reflected on the senate’s faults and urged new representatives to address the institution’s past failures surrounding diversity and accessibility to the student body.
As a woman of color, Sanchez felt she faced more pressure to be the perfect leader and was treated more harshly if she failed to live up to that standard.
“And for my experience, you know women of color just in general are held to a higher standard,” Sanchez said. “I think that we’re just treated so harshly by society that people think we have thicker skin, more endurance, greater strength, and I’ve tried my best to keep it all together. But in reality, I’m just learning and growing right beside you all.”
Sanchez also urged the incoming senate to hold the university administration accountable for their recent policy blunders, rather than blaming senate leadership and individuals.
“Redirect this energy to the administration, who’s not doing what they’re supposed to and not properly reacting to us because we fought hard, and they didn’t care,” Sanchez said.
Teixeira, Sanchez’s successor, pressed the new senate to support student groups and activists.
“I’ve been in the body, at this point, for close to 17 months, I think since April of 2019, and in that time, frankly, I have seen the senate fail in a lot of ways,” Teixeira said. “And I think the ways in which the senate has tended to co-opt or offer their own half-hearted advocacy or activism in lieu of empowering other student groups already committed to doing this organizing here on campus has been a great failure on our part.”
Teixeira believes the new senate leadership will be able to better fight for the student body, particularly for marginalized communities on campus.
“I think this is a huge victory for the Senate, for the Student Body, and especially for all of the marginalized communities and individuals who placed their faith in the possibility of a radically transformed, progressive Senate,” Teixeira wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The election results speak for themselves, students overwhelmingly voted for more progressive, and more diverse candidates to represent them.”
Elections for other senate leadership positions produced the following winners: Senator Melanie Cruz-Morales (COL ’22) as the vice speaker, Senator Leo Rassieur (COL ’23) as the Policy & Advocacy Committee chair and Senator Makayla Jeffries (COL ’23) as the vice chair, Senator Winston Ardoin (SFS ’21) as the FinApp chair and Senator Nicole Sanchez (SFS ’22) as the Ethics and Oversight Committee chair with Senator Jordan Brown (COL ’22) as the vice chair. Senators also approved the rules for the 15th GUSA Senate.