Editor’s note: Jason Sydoriak is the president of the Associated Students of Colorado State University, a student organization that manages about $2.5 million of student fees each year, through the $40 ASCSU fee.
The culture within ASCSU has been one of excessive competition and the desire to dominate others through ideas influenced by the misconception that we are an official “government”. Within this notion of domination is an ideology that resembles hypermasculinity and white privilege, which is threatening to certain identities. This strong-willed and opinionated environment ultimately discourages participation for those other identities. Unfortunately, these circumstances have been brought on by failures of communication within ASCSU and the swift turnaround of administrative leadership each year.
Before going any further I want to publicly apologize for not being able to mend the cultural discrepancies that have prevented some from participating in this organization. Nothing pains me more than knowing opportunities may have been hindered in any sort of way. As someone who has seen true oppression in the farmlands of Afghanistan and the city streets of Iraq, nothing is more important to me than the elimination of even the slightest hints oppression. I also want to acknowledge the good-hearted people in ASCSU that have always done the right thing. This opinion piece is not meant to upset but rather encourages everyone to join the discussion about how to continue moving forward.
In light of a recent Collegian article, I believe we have an opportunity to take a hard look within our organization and determine if we are truly representing all of the students. There is an issue of culture within ASCSU, which time and time again is illuminated by specific unfortunate instances of harassment. This issue encompasses not just one branch or aspect of the organization, but every single interaction that occurs.
Historically speaking ASCSU began as a male-lead organization in the early 1900s and since the 1980s there has been an effort to define us as a system of government. By accepting that we are some form of a governing body, we are fostering an environment of inherent tension and domination. This is especially true if our institution mimics the federal government, which was founded on, and still faces, immense challenges of equality, justice, and a political dynamic that breeds toxic rhetoric towards other branches and ideologies.
By domination I mean to use the notion put forward by Jeffrey Stout, a religious professor at Princeton who has focused on democracy, which describes the tendency of those in positions of power, whether political or not, to wield power arbitrarily over others who may not be able to influence those decisions of power. For ASCSU this can range from legislative actions to interactions between different genders or diversity backgrounds.
Our organization has long been overdue for comprehensive and reasonable institutional reform that enhances the dynamic to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment. No action, harassment or discrimination that impedes an individual from participating in our organization will ever be tolerated. I have laid out eleven initiatives within a memo to my staff on how we will tackle this issue of culture not only for our administration, but also for future administrations.
This memo will be made public, and some of the key initiatives will be creating a “Reframe” phrase similar to what the WGAC has created aimed towards shifting the cultural consciousness of our organization from domination to empowerment. In addition, we are instituting certain practices into our bylaws that will be carried over to future administrations, such as implementation of climate surveys, diversity training and workshops, and streamlined conduct processes. Many of these initiatives I will have direct involvement in; however, in an effort to understand how my own privilege can obscure these efforts I will be delegating these responsibilities to those who can better apply other identities.
It is time that we as an organization take hold of an opportunity that will revolutionize our space. The closed door meetings on how to dominate one another or some other branch through legislation or campaigns needs to end. We are a union of students comprised of unique perspectives. Despite the complex situation that stands before us, I am confident that ASCSU will prevail in ensuring that this diverse and inclusive union will be one grounded on empowerment and not pushing others away. Of any other group of people I have worked with I cannot think of another group of individuals more able to seize this moment than that of ASCSU. We can use all of the help that we can get. Please join in on this discussion if you believe you can help us change our culture so that it truly reflects the values of our university.
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt of a memo sent to the staff members of ASCSU by Sydoriak.
A concerted effort must be taken to change the culture within ASCSU. It must be done in such a strategic way as to ensure that efforts made transcend onto this administration and future administrations. Any efforts that are not institutionalized should focus on current individuals and their well-being, who may have felt slighted.
Therefore the initiatives that will be pursued, but not limited to, shall be:
- Streamline conduct-reporting process within ASCSU to ensure that complainants have appropriate access, when needed, to an external conduct evaluation process, especially in cases of harassment.
- Add in to the Executive Bylaws that all harassment training must be completed by mid September for all future administrations.
- Enhance current efforts within Senate trying to establish mandatory diversity workshops within ASCSU.
- Continue advocating for the Diversity Bill so that barriers to entry for minority perspectives are limited. This will provide the opportunity for them to engage once they feel comfortable with the culture within ASCSU.
- Develop a unique “Campus Step-Up Program” specific to ASCSU, which will be mandatory to all Executive staff and for any other ASCSU members who attend the annual ASCSU retreat.
- Partner with already established practices within the Lory Student Center on climate surveys. These will be made mandatory by being established within the Executive bylaws and will be recommended to be implemented mid semester for the fall and spring.
- Create a unique “Reframe” initiative specific to ASCSU through a collaborative effort within the office and other outside stakeholders with relevant expertise.
- Start discussing and reforming the removal process of individuals within Senate who harass or discriminate against other individuals. To include: a conduct process to evaluate the circumstances then determine if issue is serious enough to circumvent already established cumbersome impeachment processes. In addition, remedial training should be provided to those individuals that act unprofessional, but not necessarily harshly enough that it qualifies as harassment or discrimination, which would lead to the removal.
- Pursue diversity and inclusion consultation that is external to Colorado State University in order to provide professional and unbiased advice on how to overcome the cultural issues within this office.
- Host a moderated ASCSU office culture round table open to the public so that a constructive conversation can begin on how to overcome perceived shortcomings.
- Ensure that all office doors remain open unless engaging in a meeting. This will be accomplished through Executive Order.