August 11th, 2012 around 10:32pm
USSA National Student Congress 2012
**If you hover over the links they become clickable.
This year students gathered for the 65th annual National Student Congress (#NSC12), in sunny Madison, Wisconsin. Madison was the birthplace of USSA—formally named NSA (short for USNSA) from 1947-1978. The UW Madison campus houses the largest archive of NSA/USSA History.
What can I say about this year’s USSA National Student Congress? Way too much to post here but I’ll give some highlights. To keep it (slightly) more concise I’ll refer to the conference by the twitter hashtag #NSC12. My twitter feed may be referenced throughout. I will also briefly reference Angus Johnston’s (@studentactivism) doctorial dissertation in this post, which can be found at studentactivism.net.
I am not accustomed to blogging for the public, pardon my jumps from subject to subject. I will also focus on things I thought were important, both to me and in general. If there’s something I didn’t expand on that you’re interested in, please let me know and I’ll do my best to give you feed back. This is first and foremost my experience and opinion, and does not reflect the opinion/mission/anything else of any other person or entity.
Closing board meeting and dissolving of the board
On the first day of NSC the 2011-2012 Board of Directors (BOD) was dissolved and turned over power to the Congress Steering Committee (CSC) for the week. The last meeting of the BOD was bittersweet, reflecting on our time on board and what is in the future for the association. A hot point of discussion was how (in)appropriate it was to have Great Lakes as a sponsor for our conference when it is a company that profits from student loan debt in the Great Lakes region.
Opening dinner and a short history of the student movement
First caucus meetings; NWSC requesting gender-neutral bathrooms and bringing up some gender issues—not the level I wanted but higher than the level I expected.
I was anxious to enter the National Women’s Student Coalition (NWSC) caucus meeting, possibly even more so than I was last year at my first Congress. This is a complex space for me, which I may write about at some other time and in some other place. Despite my initial anxiety, I attended the caucus and was presently surprised by the vocal recognition of gender as a construct—to an extent. I feel that this years NWSC was more educated on gender and gender diversity than last year, but I wish we could’ve deconstructed what a woman is and why—but hey, I’m an academic. We did, however, have the direct ask for gender-neutral bathrooms from this caucus:
Making gender-neutral bathroom signs
Fittingly, when I left near the end of NWSC to use the bathroom I was approached by staff for my opinion on how to make the bathrooms gender-neutral for the conference. I was so excited that I sat down right then, made our signs and de-gendered the bathrooms.
A response from queer students; confusion on whether we have queer staff or not.
In the National Queer Students of Color Caucus (NQSOCC) a lot of discussion was had around whether we had queer staff at USSA or not. This came to light as we lack help with facilitation for our space. An AR was passed in plenary to have “Queer Cognoscente and Competent staff,” which called for the staff and BOD to have a training about inclusion of queer students and queer issues.
I made a public apology on plenary floor for assuming we had no queer staff after I was informed by more than one person that we did, in fact, have queer-identified staff. This was emotional for me because I found myself in the throws of embedded gender roles and hierarchy, having to face the fact that I assume everyone straight until proven differently. I had to check myself on my limited, binary view of sexuality that was grounded in gender roles. This is where I teared up a little, explaining that “this can [and does] happen right here in our own communities.” It was a learning and growing experience for me as the returning chair of NQSOCC, and someone that works constantly to act and think inclusively.
It is only now that I am writing this that I understand what may have led to this point. First, NQSOCC met in two separate rooms during the first caucus meeting. Both halves of the caucus met in the same room number, but on different floors. I believe this added confusion onto the fact that we’ve doubled staff in the past few months and in the chaos of Congress it’s difficult to really meet staff and sit down for conversations with them. However, it seemed unclear as to whether we had queer-identified staff members when students asked different members of staff. All in all, I think this can be taken as a learning experience for everyone, and spark the very simple question of “How do you identify?” when it’s appropriate, rather than assuming someone’s sexuality. **I could write for days on this but I think this will suffice for the purposes of this debrief.
Getting onto CSC
This year I had the pleasure (and anxiety) of sitting on Congress Steering Committee (CSC)—the governing committee of Congress while there is no official Board of Directors in place. The two main jobs that CSC is tasked with are officer elections—i.e. President and Vice President—and keeping plenary floor respectable. I’ll talk more about CSC in the section that covers the election and its several run-offs.
More queer-geared ARs; written by queers and allies
Last year an AR was passed to have gender-neutral bathrooms available for Leg Con and Congress. This AR was implemented this Congress and went amazingly well. We even de-gendered the bathroom in the hotel during plenary! This may have sparked more queer-geared ARs and helped to pass them. Here’s a list:
Gender Identity Awareness Workshop/Training
Providing Space for People to Identify their Preferred Gender Pronoun
Queer-geared Policy Platforms
Support Race and Ethnicity and Gender and Sexuality GE Requirements
Gender Inclusive Spaces Create Safer and more Inclusive Campuses
USSA Endorses Same Sex Marriage and supports the repeal of DOMA
USSA Endorses the Tyler Clementi Anti Harassment Act
A talking point of Plenary: Divestment from Israel
I can’t say much about this AR because I am not knowledgeable enough on the topic or the specific AR itself. What I can tell you is that there was long discussion on plenary floor about the issue. It reminded me that all these issues are complicated and personal.
A trip to the archives with Angus Johnston
Oh wow! The trip to the USNSA/USSA Archives was a dream come true. There were about 15 students that showed up to get a personal tour into the history of our association, provided by professional scholar Angus Johnston.
Besides getting a brief look into the amazingly interesting history of USSA, we were privileged to here personal stories from Angus about his student organizing days. There were also some choice excerpts from the archives that surfaced during our visit.
From The Student and the Total Community (Codification of Policy- Congress 1965)
“The role of the student involves a commitment to an educational process that extends beyond classroom training. It involves also the attainment of knowledge and the development of skills and habits of mind and action necessary for the responsible participation in the affairs of government and society on all levels—campus, community, state, national, international.
A student operating in this role is one both dedicated to truth and to preparing [the student] for leadership in a democratic society; [the student] must be prepared to face the challenges of modern life and [the student] must be willing to confront the crucial issues of public policy that affect [the student] beyond the classroom and that determine the course of [the student’s] society.”
Walmart direct action
While some of us were being enveloped in history’s essence, SLAP had a direct action at a nearby Walmart. Because I wasn’t there I don’t have any personal insight to the action, but I did hear it went well. I’ll try to update more on that soon after talking to folks that were there.
Reading from NSA 1971 Congress before dinner
Just before dinner Selma Aly read another gem from the archives. She stood at the podium and mic before students chatting, eagerly awaiting dinner and began to read an AR from 1971 Congress in it’s entirety. Here’s the tail end of the AR:
“AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:
That this new National Union of Students dedicate itself to destroying the United States government by any means necessary and replace it with a People’s Revolutionary Socialist government.”
With this the congregation clapped and cheered.
The closing of Plenary; Goodbye to Victor
At the close of plenary USSA said goodbye to their former President, Victor Jorge Sanchez Jr. (@el_sanchez7) with a surprise resolution dubbing him an honorary member for life. There were laugh, tears, and many jokes about Victor’s hair.
The VP Race:
The race for VP was possibly the most exciting election process I’ve been a part of, ever. We had a four-way race for VP and, if nothing else, it was intense. As CSC we were charged with running the election and determining the winner. Right out of the gate I was excited. The candidate debates posed issues stemming all over the continuum of student concerns and issues. Each candidate had unique qualifications and shared motivation: to fight for education. From my view, the race was up in the air from the beginning, which seemed to be proved by the voting turn out.
After counting the first vote, CSC members fell silent and simply stared at one another and the piles of paper ballots. We did a second count to make sure and it mirrored the first. We found ourselves in need of a three-candidate run-off. When bringing this to plenary floor we announced the President Elect: Tiffany Dena Loftin (@Tiffanydloftin).
After holding the second vote, CSC gathered together again to count the votes. We took a deep breath, hoping our job would be made a little easier with the second vote. The tension was at a boiling point as we counted the votes, round robin style, in silence. When the outcome became clear there was an explosion of noise from the committee (mostly me) of disbelief and a morbid kind of excitement.
We were faced with another run-off.
Although there was little chance of needing another re-vote, this third voting was still as tense as the others. This vote would hopefully determine our VP Elect, and it did. After counting the last votes and saying our goodbyes to the room we spent hours in as CSC, we announced Sophie Zaman (@Sophiazaman) as our new Vice President.
Direct action: Marching to the capitol building
We marched from the University of Madison, Wisconsin to the capitol building via State Street in a direct action addressing the privatization of Education all over the country. The procession of students followed a casket used to represent the death of education due to privatization. We marched the near mile into the capital and did a mic check calling for Legislative support of education. At one point the students said, in solidarity, “we are your constituents, not your customers!”
It was the kind of thing that made me laugh in excitement while giving me chills:
The strength in numbers. The strength of students.