Views expressed in guest columns are the author's own.
Nov. 20 was my last day as a graduate assistant for Stamp Student Union and as Graduate Student Government president. In mid-October, I notified the GSG Executive Board of my intention to resign for both personal and political reasons. I explained I would be happy to stay on until the end of the semester to help the transition and maintain the activities of our student organization. Unfortunately, that timeline is no longer possible.
Under my leadership, the GSG has done great things; in particular, we have focused on those most marginalized and under-served in our student population with initiatives that include:
- Facilitating the expansion of the airport shuttle system, with the passionate help of a few student groups, namely Yuva and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association. The shuttle picks up international students from Washington Dulles International Airport to help them feel more at home at this university and in College Park
- Starting International Thanksgiving Dinner, a program that included both socializing and counseling services after international students articulated a need for support in the wake of last year’s presidential election
- Fighting against the international student fee, a new $125/semester fee for all new full-time international students, which did not follow the transparent fee review process set down by the Committee for the Review of Student Fees
- Supporting the Nyumburu Cultural Center — a space for black social, cultural and intellectual interaction on the campus — in its desire to increase the center’s student fee. The fee would go toward hiring an additional staff member
- Co-sponsoring the second UMD Disability Summit, one of the world’s largest interdisciplinary conferences that supports the disability community, with more than 400 attendees participating in 2017
- Championing affordable housing for all students, including hosting a town hall with the SGA, the city of College Park
- Participating in monthly meetings with the leadership of the Student Government Association and Residence Hall Association, which facilitated collaboration between graduate and undergraduate student communities — the first time this alliance has been forged between the three groups
- Working with the University Senate to host a Sexual Assault Town Hall, which influenced the inclusion of graduate students in the new Campus Sexual Assault Policy
- Establishing a graduate student house in the CHUM Housing Cooperative, the Flamingo Paradise, to give graduate students a housing space within the CHUM community
- Participating in the One College Park Coalition, a group of students, staff, faculty, residents and advocates working to increase dialogue about social change within the College Park community in the wake of tragedy
- Passing legislation in the GSG Assembly to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in support of the American Indian Student Union’s call for this university to remove the celebration of a genocidal colonial force from our calendar
- Passing multiple pieces of legislation to support undocumented students on the campus
- Working toward achieving collective bargaining for graduate assistants
- Sponsoring events with the “4G” Network GSG, the Graduate Legal Aid Office, Graduate Student Life and the Graduate School
- Hosting a town hall with the SGA and ProtectUMD to address the murder of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins
We have achieved a great deal in one year, and there is so much more you can do now; supporting the most marginalized people on our campus is more vital than ever.
In my year of leading GSG, I know that this student organization can be, and has been, a place of significant institutional change. My hope is it returns to that place quickly under new leadership, and that by accelerating the transition to a new president, the graduate student body can get back to the things that really matter.
On Nov. 3, I was not permitted to address the GSG Assembly to submit my resignation; instead, a fellow student moved for my impeachment. This was a heartbreaking surprise.
In the days that followed, the things that were said and printed (in this very paper) did not reflect the collective decisions of GSG to support fair wages and vulnerable communities, but instead pointed to individual flaws.
I sincerely believe this approach is both distracting and ineffective. I am disappointed, as it has become clear these actions are not anchored in a desire to strengthen and preserve our graduate student body. This situation is not healthy or sustainable, not merely for myself but for the GSG Assembly members, many of whom only just entered the organization.
I resigned early in the hope that the GSG can get back to doing what is needed — advocacy for all of us, for the most vulnerable among us, and to build coalitions toward change.
I believe that with greater training of the Executive Board, with an emphasis on increased transparency regarding the budget and internal GSG committees, you can help the organization move forward. I sincerely hope the remaining members will take this fresh start to make these necessary changes.
Unfortunately, I can no longer facilitate the transition I had envisioned. Instead, per our constitution and bylaws, I will leave leadership in the hands of our Legislative Affairs Vice President, Adria Schwarber, until the new president is elected on Dec. 1.
If you want to see change on this campus and beyond, this is your moment. Do not let this color your entire vision of this organization, nor my own advocacy and passion for the change that is possible. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to lead GSG over the past year; it has truly been an honor to serve the graduate community.
Stephanie Cork, your fellow graduate student
Stephanie Cork is a Kinesiology doctoral student and the former president of the Graduate Student Government. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.