Opinion: Building a More Progressive USG

by Devashish Basnet and Alexis Fisher

Devashish Basnet and Alexis Fisher are political science students running for Undergraduate Student Government positions with A Hunter United.

You wake up at 1 p.m. and begin your routine. First Twitter, then Instagram, maybe Snapchat, definitely TikTok’s #fyp, and then repeat. Your unwavering boredom leads you to scroll through the Hunter College Students Facebook group. Someone has made another unacceptable racist comment. You could make a post in response, but you’re tired of having to do this every time. Where’s your university? Where’s USG? That’s where we come in. As candidates for junior and senior senator, we’re proposing a bolder, more progressive USG, one that takes a strong stance against prejudice. We envision a USG where the word advocacy is not a slogan, but a practice — especially in this historic moment. 

These are unprecedented times and as NYC is the epicenter of this public health crisis, COVID-19 hits way too close to home. This pandemic has exposed systematic weaknesses in our city, revealing disturbing inequalities affecting Black and Brown communities and provoking hate crimes against Asian-Americans. It has created financial burdens and other overwhelming challenges that Hunter must address. To do so, we must focus on first-generation, low-income, undocumented and LGBTQ+ students. 

While it is still uncertain whether in-person classes will resume in the fall semester, what is certain is that we will return at some point. And when we do, USG can’t pretend as if nothing happened. As some public figures around the country guarantee a return to normality, we are fully aware that “normal” was never acceptable and that “normal” always comes at the expense of the most marginalized people in this country — we need to fight for better, not normal. USG must advocate for students as the administration learns the lessons of the coronavirus, so that in the future, emergencies do not have such harmful effects on students.

Sometimes there is confusion about the forces that propel Hunter; this is a feeling that both we and our friends have felt at some point or another since attending this college. Questions about decision-making and funding to elevator renovations are valid and necessary. As the voices of students, USG should promote justice by holding administration and each other accountable. Through initiatives that uplift our voices, we can make Hunter a welcoming space for all.

We love Hunter because its students are diverse, multi-faceted and hail from regions around the globe. USG can honor this diversity by building a broader leadership coalition. Our theory of change is energized by the importance of amplifying student voices at every stage of the decision-making process through a three-pronged approach, characterized by A Hunter United as Access, Build and Continued Success

In order to increase access and build, AHU is introducing a new initiative dubbed the Moderated Caucus program. In the past, USG has worked to uplift student voices through USG Town Halls and their Ambassador programs, but they can do more. By tapping into existing student ethnicity and identity groups and clubs, we can foster conversations about pragmatic solutions to problems affecting students. For example, the differently-abled community has expressed the need to expand their lounge space and the queer community has made it clear that we must expand gender-neutral bathrooms and make sure that students’ preferred pronouns appear on rosters. Through the Moderated Caucus program, we will make sure that institutionally underserved communities are heard.  

In regard to continued success, AHU will continue to spearhead strategies that are grounded in our collective commitment to standing up for what is right. By working with the University Student Senate, CUNY’s highest student governance body, we will pass progressive resolutions to help foster a cultural shift. For instance, if the Indigenous Lenni-Lenape land that Hunter College is built on is acknowledged, we will be able to open up the larger conversations about our history as an institution. 

Hunter USG’s involvement in the CUNY USS has been minimal. We propose increasing engagement with USS to exemplify our shared commitment to each other. The USS prides itself on progressive policies. Their activism and advocacy, such as opposing tuition hikes and condemning bigotry, demonstrate that they are an outstanding body that Hunter USG can learn from and expand upon. 

Now more than ever, it is imperative to respond to issues people in our community face, such as anti-Blackness and the recent spike in anti-Asian hate crimes. By taking a firm stance against prejudice, USG can commit to creating an inclusive Hunter community. In making sure that we as students are standing up for each other, we must also stand up for our environment and ensure that our university works towards climate resilience. 

In the wake of COVID-19, we as students are left in a moment where we can choose to take our slice of the world and make it a little better than it was before — to fight for a world that is both kinder and more progressive. Our vision is rooted in a deep commitment to the transformative power of solidarity. Through this power, USG can help create an environment that protects and honors progressive values, so that Hunter is a better place for all of us.

The authors at an organizing event in February. Photo courtesy of Devashish Basnet and Alexis Fisher

Devashish Basnet is a rising junior majoring in political science, minoring in human rights, international relations and music, and earning a certificate in public policy from the Roosevelt House. A grassroots organizer with the national Student/Farmworker Alliance, he is running for junior senator with A Hunter United.

Alexis Fisher is a rising senior majoring in political science, double-minoring in Chinese language and literature and Asian-American studies, and earning a certificate in human rights from the Roosevelt House. A community organizer with New York Fair Food, she is running for senior senator with A Hunter United.

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