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March 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

News

IC SGA president brings passion for social justice to office

Junior Marieme Foote first thought about becoming Student Government Association president when she was a freshman Class of 2018 SGA senator.

She was motivated by Crystal Kayiza, the 2014–15 SGA president and the first black woman to ever be SGA president at Ithaca College.

“Crystal was really inspiring to me,” Foote said. “Seeing her made me feel like it was attainable.”

Last fall, Foote had her feet in two camps that pushed for change on campus. She was the SGA Senate chair and part of an executive board that called for a student no confidence vote in President Tom Rochon. At the same time, she was a member of the POC at IC movement, which led massive protests on campus and also called for Rochon’s resignation.

This year, she’s pushing for change in a different capacity: as SGA president.

Foote brings a passion for social justice to the role of SGA president and said she hopes to continue the critique of the college that POC at IC began last fall, but in the context of the college’s governance structure.

“This year, I’m really going to take that space and critique the campus, the leaders on campus and the structures that exist,” Foote said.

POC at IC emerged following racial incidents at the college, including protests by resident assistants about insensitive comments made by Public Safety officers during training in 2015, the planning of a racially themed party by off-campus fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi and racial remarks made by alumni of the college at the Blue Sky Reimagining Kick-Off event Oct. 8, 2015.

POC at IC demanded Rochon’s resignation, called for a democratic process to select all future college presidents, asked for the creation of a fair environment for marginalized groups on the campus, advocated for the immediate tenure of professors who supported the movement, and asked for additional students on the Ithaca College Board of Trustees.

However, Foote shies away from being known as the POC at IC president. She also doesn’t want to link her executive board, which includes Luis Torres, who was another member of the group, to POC at IC.

“I don’t think this is a POC at IC movement of a board itself, but it shares our values as individuals,” Foote said. “Two of us are active. Well, we’ll hopefully continue onto the new year working with POC at IC, but that doesn’t define us.”

Foote acknowledged the demands of POC at IC, but she said they were not without their shortcomings. Specifically, Foote recognized that the immediate tenure of certain faculty members was not something the college was able to do.

Yet Foote said she still supports students generating further demands and creating more equitable governance at the college.

Foote said that regardless of what happened last fall, she would have run for SGA president this year.

When Foote decided to come to the college as a Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar, the racial makeup of her classes changed dramatically from what she had experienced in high school.

She grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, a diverse community only 25 minutes outside of Washington, D.C. According to the 2010 census, Silver Spring is 45.7 percent Caucasian, 27.8 percent African American and 26.3 percent Hispanic or Latino.

The most recent statistics on student demographics at the college are from Fall 2015, when the student body was 71 percent white and 19.4 percent African, Latino, Asian or Native American. When Foote came to the college in Fall 2014, the statistics were similar, with 70.6 percent of students being white and 18.8 percent being ALANA.

“There isn’t as much diversity here, which took a little bit of time to get used to,” Foote said. “It was really frustrating, too, my first year.”

Foote said she underwent some culture shock at the college and was often the only person of color in her classes.

She also said she has experienced subtle and overt racism at the college.

“There’s a lot of it here,” she said. “You can find it in your classes. You’re getting it sometimes from your professors. You’re getting it from students. You’re getting it from a lot of different areas. It’s not really avoidable at all, and it’s really rough to deal with.”

Foote remembers a time when she was at party with one of her friends and her friend was called the N-word seemingly at random.

“That kind of stuff happens,” Foote said, noting that microaggressions and racially charged comments are said to her almost daily.

In addition to the lack of diversity at the college, Foote said she had to deal with misogyny as well.

“Just trying to get people to take you seriously is a whole other ballgame,” Foote said. “Especially as a woman, people don’t take you seriously, and they automatically assume you’re not a leader.”

During the POC at IC protests, Foote often acted as an SGA liaison to the group. She also helped lead the student vote of no confidence in Rochon.

Foote said last year’s protests helped her develop her thoughts on the college.

“I think that last year, I had an idea of what I was feeling, but I think I was more reluctant to call it out,” Foote said. “Last year and being in a group of students who were so passionate and being able to have those discussions really pushed me to rethink everything I was thinking about this institution at its very core.”

Foote said the college is flawed. She criticized the college’s social environment, leadership structure and method of allocating resources.

Another member of POC at IC, Marlena Candelario Romero, who is also an MLK Scholar with Foote, said Foote is a collaborative leader who seeks input from multiple parties. But she also said Foote isn’t afraid to stand up for students and will not back down from the administration.

Candelario Romero, one of Foote’s roommates, also described Foote as amiable.

“She’s very fun. She’s very adventurous. She’s very straightforward,” Candelario Romero said. “She’s just a good person to be around. She emits positive vibes.”

This spring, Foote assembled one of the most diverse executive boards the college has seen in the past five years, including herself and Ezeka Allen, two black women; Dani Weinstein, a white woman; Torres, a Latino man; and Michele Hau, an Asian woman.

The board is also the only board over the past five years to be composed of four women and one man.

“It’s a very collaborative, very dynamic team in the way that we all come from very different backgrounds,” Hau, vice president of academic affairs, said. “But, despite the backgrounds we come from, we all seriously agree on different things for different reasons.”

But the board ran unopposed this spring, which may have contributed to the lowest voter turnout seen in the past three years. Despite the lack of student engagement in the elections, Foote said she wants to work on engaging students, a similar message to that of Kayiza and Dominick Recckio, 2015–16 SGA president.

Foote also said she wants to bring attention to racism, sexism, homophobia and other anti-LGBT sentiments on campus this year as SGA president.

“We tend to skirt around the issues,” Foote said. “We don’t want to call out racism, homophobia, sexism. But I think now we’re more willing to call those things out.”

On the top of Foote’s list remains student engagement.

“I would define success as a president by getting students involved, getting students engaged,” she said. “I think that, for me, if students know their rights, if students are fully aware of what they can and cannot do, if students are willing to speak out against the institution they go to, for me that would be a successful year. If students aren’t engaged, then nothing happens.”

Max Denning can be reached at mdenning@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @TheMaxDenning