See how executive candidates have engaged with DEI this election cycle

Jacob Ritondo, Race and Identity Reporter

Several candidates for the SGA executive council have made promises to advance diversity, equity and inclusion on campus if elected. The Crimson White reached out to each candidate to let them share how they’ve worked with DEI-focused student groups during their campaigns and address questions about their DEI track record.   

President – Collier Dobbs and John Richardson

Collier Dobbs has committed to increase outreach to student organizations and create a student fashion show that would contribute to the addition of a gender-expression closet to the Crimson Closet, stating in a written statement to The Crimson White that “diversity, equity and inclusion should be at the forefront of our [UA’s] efforts as UA grows.”  

Dobbs commented to The CW that he has met with the Black Student Union twice during the last week to discuss his platform and previous support of legislation that would financially compensate Black Faculty and Staff Association ambassadors for leading the Hallowed Grounds tour on campus. Although, according to President of the BFSA Ambassadors Dequiala Kelley, Dobbs did not reach out to the BFSA Ambassadors organization directly. Instead, Dobbs said that when he spoke to the BSU each time during the past week, there were also BFSA ambassadors present with whom he discussed the compensation legislation and his platform goals. 

Regarding his Crimson Closet student fashion show initiative, Dobbs wrote to The CW that he talked to several human environmental sciences students, who were very excited about the prospect, and some student members of the LGBTQIA+ community. 

“I sadly have not had the chance to talk to the Queer Student [Association] directly,” Dobbs said. 

John Richardson similarly said he has committed to increased student organization outreach and intends for every SOURCE organization president to have his phone number if elected.  

He said his “Nightcap” campaign, in which he would have the University partner with a company by that name to provide stop-tops and drink covers to students to prevent sexual assault, would help solve an issue that “disproportionately affects members of the LGBTQIA+ community.”  

The University’s current mental health system, which charges students for counseling appointments “disproportionately hurts students from lower economic backgrounds,” according to Richardson, and he as president would work to eliminate the fee.  

Richardson also committed to act differently regarding future guest speakers such as Matt Walsh, who was invited last fall by the Young Americans for Freedom. 

“Because I am not bound by the confines of an underground institutional organization that makes decision beforehand and justifies them post-hoc, I can ensure that students will be heard and their input will be considered regarding any future guest speakers,” he said. 

Regarding his outreach to DEI-focused student groups, he commented, “Over the course of this past week, we have reached out to over 400 individual SOURCE organizations from a wide background…ranging from [the Bama Indigenous Student Organization Network] to the Adapted Athletics team. I want to run a campaign that focuses on individual students and amplifies individual voices.” 

Executive secretary – Olivia Frazier

Frazier is running for executive secretary after having previously served as a senator for the College of Arts and Sciences, a time during which she “had the honor of working side-by-side with the current Vice President for DEI, Izzy Boyd.” She did not immediately respond to a follow up request for comment regarding which organizations, if any, she contacted that had a DEI focus. 

Executive vice president – Elizabeth Prophet and Josie Schmitt

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion is at the forefront of every decision I make,” Elizabeth Prophet said. “As a white woman of privilege, I believe it is my responsibility to not only acknowledge that privilege, but actively engage in work that strives for equal access to resources, condemns hatred and bigotry…fosters a sense of respect and understanding for every student, and connects students of diverse backgrounds, perspectives and experiences in a meaningful way.”  

She has communicated with the BSU, BFSA Ambassadors, QSA and Sigma Delta Tau over the election week, although she said that she also reached out to other organizations “with no response.” 

Josie Schmitt also expressed a commitment to diversity.  

“I believe that it is essential the create an inclusive environment that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of all individuals. … I am a firm believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential to strengthening this institution,” Schmitt said.  

Among her goals is a plan to work with the deaf and hard of hearing services at the University to provide free American Sign Language interpreters at large-scale University events. 

The Crimson White did not immediately receive a response to a follow-up request for comment regarding student organizations Schmitt may have contacted during campaign week. 

Vice president for academic affairs – Johnny Foster

Johnny Foster said he was “eager and committed” to meet students across diverse backgrounds and work for their academic success. He was in contact with the QSA and “happily answered their questionnaire about my personal experiences and advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community.” 

Vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion – Xzarria Peterson and Bella Loia

Among the organizations with which Xzarria Peterson engaged were the QSA, the NSBE, Kappa Alpha Theta, the first national Greek-letter fraternity for women and Alpha Epsilon Pi, the University’s Jewish fraternity.  

Andorfer said that Peterson “has been a continued presence at QSA events” since last spring, and, to the QSA’s knowledge, been the only candidate to reach out to the organization directly beyond responding to an endorsement offer, as Collins did. The QSA has endorsed Peterson. 

Peterson explained that she reached out to several more organizations, such as the BSU and the BFSA Ambassadors, but did not receive a response from them. 

Bella Loia said she has made a “concerted effort” during this academic year to reach out to student organizations to “hear their concerns and show [her] support.”  

She declined to comment about which organizations with whom she has engaged during campaign week, citing the organizations’ desire to adopt “apolitical stance[s] during the campaign season.” 

On February 12, 2023, a student noticed Loia had been a part of and left a GroupMe chat entitled “SAS Attendees 2020.” A screenshot captured by the student revealed that the group chat had promoted an event hosted by the UA chapter of Turning Point USA in November 2021 in which Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, came to “fight racist theories on America’s college campuses,” according to the screenshot. The event was part of Kirk’s “Exposing Critical Racism Tour.” 

The event was hosted by UA’s chapter of Turning Point USA, and discussed critical race theory, a theory that, according to Britannica, argues that “race is a culturally invented category used to oppress people of color” and that “the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, political, and economic inequalities between white and nonwhite people.”  

Some conservatives, such as Kirk, believe the theory to be racist and having a negative influence in all levels of education. Students on Yik Yak and other social media platforms questioned Loia’s apparent involvement in the SAS attendees GroupMe for this very reason, believing an opposition to CRT to be in opposition to her potential duties as the VP of DEI, the position for which she is running. 

In response, Loia said to The CW that she is not a member of Turning Point USA at UA. 

“I have attended events hosted by both Republicans and Democrats. As someone who values…DEI, I believe that it is crucial to consider multiple viewpoints and perspectives rather than promoting one particular viewpoint. My approach has helped me develop empathy and understanding for those who hold opposing views, which is an important component of DEI,” she said. 

Loia denied attending the event but did not immediately respond to a follow-up request for comment asking why she was a member of the GroupMe. 

Vice president for external affairs – Samad Gillani

Samad Gillani, the candidate for vice president for external affairs, said that “as [an] Indian-Muslim student, who has grown up in the South, I have gotten to experience many avenues of hate. … our [The University’s] diversity is our strength.” He talked with students from organizations such as the Ismaili Student Network, which is currently an unofficial organization, and First Generation Scholars. 

Vice president for financial affairs – Eric Doh

Eric Doh, who is expected to be the next vice president for financial affairs, stated he did not reach out to any DEI-oriented student groups. He said that as a member of a minority group, he “has always centered [himself] around the ideologies of DEI.”  

“Improving DEI on our campus is one of the main reasons why [I am] so passionate about this position,” Doh said. 

Vice president for student affairs – Karina Collins and Andrew Fairburn

Karina Collins wrote to The CW that she has conversed with the National Society of Black Engineers, the Future Black Law Student Association and the Queer Student Association. The QSA in particular has endorsed Collins. 

“If elected, I pledge to support the LGBTQIA+ community through an intersectional lens,” Collins said. 

Andrew Fairburn commented that “as a white male that has grown up in Alabama, it is important that [he] not only recognize [his] potential biases but take the necessary steps to help participate in and inform the student body of all the work that needs to be done” to support campus DEI. Fairburn did not immediately respond to a follow-up request for comment regarding which DEI-focused organizations, if any, he contacted directly.