The 2011 National Student Congress of the United States Student Association is winding down today — as I type this, the group’s newly elected 2011-12 Board of Directors is meeting for the first time. It’s been a whirlwind of a conference, so I haven’t had the chance to update as much as I’d have liked, but I’ll be compiling a full report here over the next few days.
The conference began with a couple of days of speeches and workshops and meetings. The Congress site was Florida A&M University, the first historically black college or university (HBCU) ever to host a USSA annual meeting, and they were wonderful hosts — it’s a hell of a campus, and a hell of a student body. If you’re ever down here, be sure to stop by their archives — it’s one of the best-curated university galleries I’ve ever visited, as well as being a gem of a small museum of the history of race and racism in the United States.
Nothing huge broke in the first few days of the Congress. No huge drama, no dramatic developments. The association’s sitting vice president, Victor Sanchez, drew one competitor in his race for USSA President, while National People of Color Student Coalition chair Tiffany Dena Loftin was unopposed for the vice presidency.
The Congress was looking like a quiet one as Monday broke, but Monday — plenary day — turned out to be a doozy.
The plenary was scheduled to begin at nine in the morning in the FAMU basketball stadium. Students entered down a long stairway past row after row of deeply raked seats, taking their positions on the parquet of the stadium’s center court. Technical glitches delayed the start of the session for a couple of hours, but spirits remained good as the group started work, held a brief session, and then boarded buses for a barbeque lunch, step show, and rousing speech by a Wisconsin union leader on that state’s recent student-labor uprising.
The group reconvened early in the afternoon, making its way through the agenda to the first contentious issue — a constitutional amendment altering the makeup of the USSA Board of Directors.
USSA’s board is based on a hybrid structure combining regional representatives and identity-based caucuses representing various student constituencies. Monday’s amendment proposed adding a designated seat for each member State Student Association, giving those organizations — which, along with USSA’s campus chapters, make up the Association’s membership — a direct role in the group’s governance for the first time.
In the eyes of the proposal’s authors, the change was intended to strengthen USSA’s relationship with its member SSAs, to encourage non-member SSAs to join, to foster the development of SSAs in states where none exist. To some opponents, though, it represented a power grab by already powerful factions within the Association.
The proposal was brought up Monday afternoon, and passed by a comfortable margin. After the vote was completed, but before it was announced, the body went into recess for fifteen minutes. During that time some simmering frustrations bubbled over, and several delegations who had opposed the amendment walked out of the meeting.
…and my flight has just been called. More soon.