written by | Kayla Shelley, 2018-2019 State Chair of Students United
My term at Students United has officially ended. I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on not just the last year, but my last three years involved in this organization. My first thought is how grateful I am. The people I have had the opportunity to meet, students, staff, faculty. I found some genuinely wonderful friends, some people who care deeply about issues and work for them tirelessly. More than anything though, I’m grateful for having something that provided me with the type of opportunities this one has. I’ve gotten insight into the processes that govern us, the innerworkings of how decisions are made that impact people’s lives. Whether that has been just at my university, at the Minnesota State office, the Minnesota Legislature, or the Federal Legislature. There are a lot of things that made me realize.
If I am honest with myself about who I was when I first joined Students United, that person seems ignorant, arrogant, and naïve. That’s not me condemning myself, I think that is the place a lot of white kids from the suburbs find themselves in when they are launched into a university setting. Much of that fell away in classrooms, but I don’t think it would have had much meaning to me if I hadn’t been given this place to test out all the things I had been unlearning, learning, and re-learning.
What I’ve realized throughout that process, while also being given the opportunity to see how these governing bodies and bureaucracies is this; titles mean little to nothing in terms of what makes someone qualified to speak on an issue, everything about trying to be equitable and inclusive is a process without a finish line, and in systems it is often the people who should have a voice at the table the most that are not invited.
Higher-ed may not tell you those things. I guess it can just maybe give you the tools where your life experience lacks, to find that out for yourself. I know students frequently feel the weight and implication of not being included in decisions at their universities. What I hope they can understand through being in Students United, is that is reflective of what happens everywhere. At every level, from school districts to the federal government and all over the world, decisions are frequently made by people at prestigious tables with titles, that have never experienced or understood the perspective of the people they are implicating with their decision. The classroom wouldn’t tell you that explicitly, but we have to remember university life is an exclusionary part of the system meant to uphold class, and no system will just hand you the keys to realize how flawed it is.
I hope students start to break into the rooms and sit at tables where decisions are made without them. More than that, I hope it makes them realize there are a million rooms with a million tables that need the same thing. You may not need to be in all of them, in fact that can do more harm than good. I think though that trying it in college in this way, has helped me see what ways I can be useful. There are times I should use my body to break down the door. There are times I should be at the microphone. There are times I just need to listen. It’s all a process, one that needs to be highly contextualized, but what does it mean if those of us who come to these realizations in things like Students United, graduate, and never do anything else with it?
My GPA in high school was not all that stellar, but my ACT score did it okay. A large part of the reason I made it to college was just because I lived in a school district with money, and my parents had the money to put me through an ACT prep course. My education does not make me smarter or more qualified or deserving, it is just debt and a piece of paper. I was, by luck, able to get there though. It got me these opportunities, it allowed me to learn, unlearn, and relearn. I was allowed to represent 65,000 people, and see how much that means. I got to see how much people aren’t at the table. So, I better do something with it now. I’m not quite sure what that is, but I plan to. I thank the staff, students, and faculty in and around Students United that helped me see that. There were likely people harmed and burdened in my process, I am sorry for that, and grateful for your patience.
For every student walking into this organization now, and especially the ones who maybe landed in university through luck like I did, I hope you learn what I did. I think if everyone who leaves this organization, and decides this process just was not good enough for students, sees how most processes aren’t just good enough for people… well good luck to anyone who tries to stop us from changing it.
Thank you all for the last three years, and for reading this rambling departure statement. Best of luck to Ola, Sandra, and Prapti, though I highly doubt they need it, I can’t think of a group of people more passionate and joyful to do this work.
All my best,