USG Leaders attend Summit in Los Angeles

Kaylee+Wong%2C+on+the+right%2C+serves+as+the+co-chair+of+the+Jesuit+Student+Government+Alliance.+%28Courtesy+of+Thomas+Reuter%29
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USG Leaders attend Summit in Los Angeles

Kaylee Wong, on the right, serves as the co-chair of the Jesuit Student Government Alliance. (Courtesy of Thomas Reuter)

Kaylee Wong, on the right, serves as the co-chair of the Jesuit Student Government Alliance. (Courtesy of Thomas Reuter)

Kaylee Wong, on the right, serves as the co-chair of the Jesuit Student Government Alliance. (Courtesy of Thomas Reuter)

Kaylee Wong, on the right, serves as the co-chair of the Jesuit Student Government Alliance. (Courtesy of Thomas Reuter)

Sarah Huffman and Joergen Ostensen

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Over winter break, three members of Fordham’s United Student Government (USG) attended a meeting of the Jesuit Student Government Alliance (JSGA) summit. Discussions focused on diversity and equity, LGBTQ+ resources on campuses and environmental sustainability.

JSGA is a coalition of student leaders from 27 Jesuit colleges across the nation. Students from 21 schools attended this winter’s event that Loyola Marymount University (LMU) held in Los Angeles, California.

Kaylee Wong, GSB ’20, who is the executive president of USG, is among JSGA’s main organizers and was elected to the position of co-chair of JSGA.

She said her main issue of interest was gender-inclusive housing, which is especially important to her because Fordham has dorms with communal bathrooms.

“It’s a really unique problem that some of our students face, and they probably face it very quietly and alone,” she said. “And I think that’s so important to give a voice to.”

According to her, a point of contention with the university has been over Catholic values. She said meeting students who are working on these issues at other schools has helped strengthen her arguments for her purpose.

“So often, the response is we cant because were Jesuit. Right,” she said. “We cant have gender-inclusive housing because we’re a Jesuit school. We have a guest policy because we’re a Jesuit school, but then you go to these conferences, and we actually hear from other Jesuit schools, and sometimes that’s not the case.”

She said Regis was among the schools that are examples of a more progressive Jesuit institution, which she hopes to cite in discussions with the university.

“Regis has gender-inclusive housing floors, and we can then come back here and say look, other Jesuit institutions are doing this,” she said.

Another priority for Wong coming out of the summit is pushing Fordham towards creating multicultural and LGBTQ+ resource centers, areas which she said other schools have done more in than USG has been able to.

Ashley Qamar, GSB ’20, the executive vice president of USG, also attended the summit. She said her biggest takeaway was how far Fordham needs to go to provide adequately for its students.

“We are lagging behind when it comes to addressing the social needs of students at Fordham,” she said. “And we need to move forward in changing the types of support that students get on an everyday basis.”

Some schools, according to Wong, are very strong in some areas and lacking in others.

“Some schools are really great in certain areas like Seattle is awesome in sustainability, but they really struggle in diversity,” Wong said.

Students from the other schools were able to learn from USG’s achievements around diversity, according to Wong, like the preferred pronoun policy and the land acknowledgment that was passed last year by USG on the Rose Hill campus.

“We talk a lot about our Diversity Action Coalition and the work that they do,” she said.

No faculty or administrators oversaw the conversations. Wong said the USG advisor at LMU helped with logistics, but was not present during any of the discussions.

“It’s really a space for the student leaders to speak and kind of have these conversations free from administrators,” she said.

The lack of supervision and the fact that everyone there was an elected student leader helped foster a suitable environment for equal and productive discussion, according to Wong.

“There’s no one who steps up (and) is like I am in charge here, because we all do that in our institutions,” she said. “And so instead we all just kind of share ideas and smaller discussions and then we share them in larger discussions with the whole group.”

Qamar said she thinks traveling to Los Angeles will help inform her work in the coming semester.

“I attended the summit because, in my opinion, it is the most important space that we have to come together as the different leaders of our respective campuses,” she said.

Wong and Qamar, who are both entering their final semester at Fordham, wanted to bring younger members of USG with them. Thomas Reuter, FCRH ’22, was able to make the trip with them.

Reuter is USG vice president of communication and said he wanted to attend the summit as a way to collaborate between other Jesuit schools. His main goal was to garner information about how other Jesuit universities structured their respective student governments to best promote diversity, equality, sustainability, safety, programming, etc.

“I am also optimistic for the continuation of the Jesuit Student Government Alliance and the ability for our joint statements about relevant issues facing all of our Universities to carry weight, legitimacy and effectiveness,” he said.

Wong said she has enjoyed creating relationships with others serving in the same capacity as her at other schools.

“It’s so nice to go to an environment where there’s so many people who are doing the exact same thing, facing the exact same problems,” she said. “And you can really relate to them on another level, so it’s first of all just nice and refreshing to meet other student leaders.”

Qamar said she enjoyed the social aspect as well, especially because it brought together so many young people committed to the work of having these tough conversations.

“We come together to form friendships,” she said. “But we also come together to support each other in our work through Jesuit values.”

Wong said she hopes the meeting leads to a strong semester for USG, and she plans to commit herself to serve as an advocate for the student body.

“We are committing ourselves to things as well as calling on our universities,” she said. “I think that’s a really important thing to do, as a group, and then I also just feel like when we’re going into meetings, we’re stronger.”