SG newcomer Zoë Washington elected Speaker of the Undergraduate Senate

Washington will be the first Black woman to serve in the position

SG newcomer Zoë Washington elected Speaker of the Undergraduate Senate

After a week of divisive internal debate, Kogod School of Business Senator Zoë Washington was unanimously elected Speaker of the Undergraduate Senate on Sunday. She is the first Black woman to serve in the role since the creation of AU’s Student Government in 2005

Washington, a junior, took her senate seat only five weeks ago and has no prior experience or relationship with SG. She said that her new perspective will serve her well, as it will eliminate any nepotism that she believes has plagued past speakers. 

In her time as speaker, Washington hopes to push for diversity, equity and inclusion training for senators, and potentially all members of SG. However, she stressed that it is only the bare minimum, and should have already been a requirement.

“I am honored and excited to serve in this role,” Washington told The Eagle. “I am in this position to serve the entire student body and look forward to being the liaison between the senate and AU administration.”

Washington also plans to give the student body more of an opportunity to publicly comment through town halls, as she believes the three minutes allocated during senate meetings are not adequate. 

The decision comes after former Speaker Ishita Jamar’s resignation from the position on March 21, sparking a fiery debate over electing her replacement. The disagreement turned into a referendum on the body as a whole last week, as members confronted each other on racial bias allegations they say have long existed within the organization. 

Tensions were high at a special meeting on March 24, where senators planned to vote for either Ryan Hale, a campus-at-large senator and former speaker pro tempore, and Michael Picchi, the senate clerk, for the speakership position. 

Both candidates came into the meeting with varied support; however, after lengthy conversations and questioning, senators raised concerns about Hale’s allegedly performative actions in the past and Picchi’s lack of concrete answers to questions such as how he would define diversity. 

Hale came under fire for interrupting former speaker Jamar in remarks after her resignation, and during her speech over racism and sexism in the senate. This incident frustrated many senators, as they felt his actions have been “contradictory.” 

He later apologized for his actions and acknowledged that he needs to have more conversations with those who he may not have reached out to adequately in the past. 

Picchi acknowledged that after these incidents, he has to reflect and learn from his actions, and with more personal development, will hopefully be able to more accurately represent himself in the future. 

He said that he does not believe he represented himself well, stating his experience in the “cultural bubble” of the San Francisco Bay Area and that he demonstrated a lack of understanding for experiences outside it.

Washington expressed her disappointment over what occurred at the meeting on March 24 but said she was glad the conversation was able to shed a light on the issues within the senate and how neither candidate was fit for the position. 

“It was simply not the right time for them to take the position of speaker,” Washington said. 

Other members of SG, including President Eric Brock, expressed their concerns over how several senators conducted themselves during the meeting. 

“If I can walk away with one interpretation of what happened [on March 24], it would be that it's troublesome, but not surprising, given that the institution has not confronted its students, let alone the institution, with its place in racism and sexism and how they are complicit in this system,” Brock said. “So, it is not a surprise when the students are complicit in that as well.”

Class of 2024 Senator Atef Hachem said that he was disappointed in his colleagues. 

“We tried to ask the candidates what they would do and how they would try to better the AU community,” Hachem said. “Some of us saw the responses given as condescending and tone-deaf.”

The former speaker, Jamar, agreed. In a statement released on her SG presidential campaign account, she criticized the body for some of the same mistakes she addressed in her speech last week. 

“The special meeting showcased the ignorance and disrespect that the members of SG hold, and the continued trauma that students of color on our campus have experienced,” Jamar wrote. 

bjohansen@theeagleonline.com, ohiggins@theeagleonline.com

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