A video featuring a white 21-year-old University of Florida senior speaking about the school's student government program has gone viral. In it, Sabrina (otherwise unnamed) explains how through her experiences within the organization, she saw how minorities were excluded and Greek students were given priority positions. She and other students who were involved in student government have begun the #NotMySystem group to demand change in UF's political processes.
The University of Florida's student government has a $21 million budget to be spent on any aspect of student life. According to Sabrina (and a 2010 op-ed from The Alligator), the student government is and has historically been run by "the System," a coalition of Greek houses and the Florida Blue Key club, which is divided into "blocs" and has "bloc leaders." The System lends itself to a Greek-run government.
Both Marco Rubio and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are non-Greek alumni of the school who have spoken about how the system in place favors Greeks and makes it difficult for independent students to run respectively. Former Florida Governor and UF alum Bob Graham told The Alligator last year that he'd "never encountered, in state and federal politics, activities as aggressive as at the University of Florida."
Sabrina got involved with student government her freshman year and was promptly "groomed" and "given lots of roles so that [she] had a very strong, robust resume" because she was in a sorority. She said this grooming was meant to ultimately prepare her for larger roles within the organization. According to Sabrina, it's allegedly apparent years ahead of time who the next student body president will be "because typically [the roles] are reserved for certain sororities and fraternities, which obviously means minority students are excluded," she said.
As her role grew, Sabrina became aware "minority students are lumped together into what's called 'the communities.'" She told Cosmopolitan.com that while communities - "the Asian community, Black community, and Hispanic community" - have leaders that advocate on their behalves, they are treated as one entity in the System, unlike each bloc, which is allowed to negotiate independently. Multicultural fraternities and sororities fall under the communities, whereas the "predominantly white" Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic organizations operate under the blocs, resulting in further silencing of minorities in UF student government.
She also learned that bloc leaders are not elected democratically; they inherit the roles from someone in their fraternity or sorority. UF political parties are given $40,000 to $60,000 a semester to run a campaign, so anyone disaffiliated who wants to run doesn't really stand a chance, Sabrina explained.
Not only were people excluded, but Sabrina also said she'd seen instances where people were "silenced" and "threatened" when they spoke poorly of her as a candidate who was backed by the System: "Any time anyone would say something negative about me, [members of the System] would go on the offensive and do immediate damage control instead of just letting students gossip. There was this sort of urgency to protect my image and to make sure I remained as untouchable as possible."
Sabrina points to politicians like Rubio and Graham as examples of why people should care about UF's student government in particular: "It's important to recognize these [students involved in government] are future leaders and they're being trained in dirty tactics and politics. If they're going to rise to national prominence then we need to ensure they're maintaining some level of ethical credibility," she told Cosmopolitan.com.
Sabrina said she's received overwhelmingly positive feedback since the video was released, which, to her, is a sign students see the need for change. Most comments on the Facebook thread are merely tagging friends, but a few people confirm the deep-rootedness of Sabrina's claims.
She also said the problem extends into the university administration. #NotMySystem held a live-streamed town hall meeting where they invited Vice President of Student Affairs Dave Kratzer, Student Activity Involvement Director Nancy Chrystal-Green, and Student Government Advisor James Tyger to come and discuss the corruption of the system - none of them came.
Right now, there are two prominent political parties at UF: the Impact and Access parties. Impact is the generally System-sponsored party that was previously branded the Unite party and then the Swamp party. The Access party was founded in 2015 by Greeks and non-Greeks to "shake up student government."
Tyger was a member of the Unite political party when he was a student at UF. During that time, students told The Alligator that fraternities and sororities punished their new members until they'd voted for their student government representative. One of Sabrina's demands of the university is for him to be removed from his position "because clearly there's a conflict of interest." At the time of this post, neither he nor two other members of UF's Student Activities office return Cosmopolitan.com's request for comment.
#NotMySystem is also demanding a more transparent voting process for the school. "Every student should be able to watch the nominating process" that goes on behind the scenes, Sabrina said. The school's student government election took place yesterday, but results have not yet been tallied.
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