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Credit: Jess Tan

Dissatisfied with how Penn Student Government addresses diversity, members of the six branches are pushing for internal reform.

The proposals include organizing diversity training and releasing diversity reports, steps that members say are crucial for groups that conduct internal elections. 

Members are specifically pushing for PSG to be more transparent about diversity in membership and leadership positions, and for members of all six branches to be more conscious of diversity to be able to adequately work on behalf of the student body.

College and Wharton senior Maria Curry, the director of the Undergraduate Assembly’s Dining, Housing, and Transit committee, said the UA often urges peer organizations and Penn's administration to be conscious of their diversity, but the UA itself does not reflect upon its own diversity enough.

Curry is calling for PSG to release public diversity reports, urging the six branches to collect data that would allow them to “analyze” themselves. 

She also wants mandated diversity training for all members of the six branches — the UA, Class Board, Nominations and Elections Committee, Social Planning and Events Committee, Student Activities Council, and Student Committee on Undergraduate Education. 

Curry said this training is especially important for governing bodies, such as the UA, which internally appoints a treasurer, secretary, speaker, and committee directors.

“With internal elections, unconscious biases and things like microaggressions are, if you’re not the target of them, hard to notice,” Curry said. 

College senior Elena Hoffman, vice chair of SAC and a UA representative, echoed Curry’s calls for greater diversity initiatives.

Hoffman said the UA would benefit from “unconscious bias training” for its members and wants to see all branches release diversity reports that compare the diversity of general body members with leadership diversity.

“Even if the students themselves are electing minority members into the body itself, the true power only comes when you’re in these powerful positions, so who amongst the leaders are diverse?” Hoffman said.

She cited low Hispanic representation on the UA body as a concern and said minority students typically have less of an incentive to run for the UA compared to the SAC board. Hoffman explained that there is a "tangible benefit" for minority students to be involved with SAC because they can advocate for more funding for cultural groups supported by student government. 

But in the UA, Hoffman said minority students may find it harder to achieve improvements for minority groups on campus. 

College senior and UA President Natasha Menon said that although SAC board members do have to abide by SAC's funding guidelines for allocating money to student groups, it is an "important point" that SAC board members fund groups that "support the voices of marginalized groups on campus."

However, Menon added that UA members from minority groups often use their experiences to influence the projects they choose to work on, citing an example of first-generation, low-income students working with Penn First to create a "FGLI guide" to help FGLI students navigate life at Penn.

College junior Urooba Abid, the NEC vice chair for Nominations, said the group currently hosts retreats for its members in the fall and spring for diversity sensitivity and anti-bias purposes.

Abid, who is a Daily Pennsylvanian columnist, said she supports expanding diversity training to all six branches of government, calling it a “priority of the NEC to push inter-branch collaboration regarding diversity initiatives.”

College and Wharton senior Arman Ramezani, the external chair of SCUE, said increasing diversity is a top priority for SCUE recruitment. 

SCUE reaches out to students in smaller schools, such as Nursing and Engineering, and makes a conscious effort to include voices of students from various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, Ramezani said. Unconscious bias training would also be helpful for improving SCUE internal elections, he added, saying it is something that SCUE "will definitely look into."

Curry said she will lobby for bias training and diversity reports this year, and said that UA leadership has been receptive to and supportive of her ideas.

Menon said she supports implementing diversity training and releasing PSG-wide diversity reports, and plans to discuss this with the heads of the other student government branches at the first PSG Steering meeting of the semester.