For the past two years, Undergraduate Student Government has been without a Native American constituency senator.
The constituency senator program is part of USG efforts to diversify membership and create a more equitable environment for historically marginalized groups.
On Monday, USG sent out a campus-wide email for survey feedback on its constituency seats. The email cites “a list of challenges” that USG has faced in filling the senator spots.
“These challenges include, but are not limited to, poor definition of Constituency Senator roles, tokenization, and prioritizing diversity without actually supporting marginalized students in USG,” the email said.
Nick Nachtman, USG Justice and Equity Chair and LGBTQ+ Constituency Senator, said this issue is one student government has been thinking about for a while.
“We want students of all walks of life to be represented without tokenization,” Nachtman said.
Nachtman said the Native American constituency seat, if filled, could help create a more equitable USG.
The Native American Student Association has not selected a student for the seat since the last USG session, and throughout the current session, he said.
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Benton Renaud, University of Iowa sophomore and USG at-large senator, said the gap exists because of USG bylaws set that require the Native American Student Association at the UI to select a nominee for the seat.
“Per the USG bylaws, this seat is selected through an internal appointment or election process of the student organization of the Native American Student Association,” Renaud said.
Representatives from the Native American Student Association didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Nachtman said he hopes the constituency senator position can be filled soon.
“I have reached out to NASA about filling the seat and I am hopeful that by reopening that conversation that’s kind of fallen by the wayside in the past couple of years we can fill it in the upcoming session,” Nachtman said.
In total, USG has 10 constituency senator seats:
Asian Pacific Islander
Black constituency senator
Desi American constituency senator
Disability constituency senator
First-generation constituency senator
International constituency senator
Jewish constituency senator
Latinx constituency senator
Native American constituency senator
Veteran constituency senator
Nachtman said student feedback has suggested that Native American students may be hesitant to fill the seat because the Native American community at UI is smaller than other constituency seats that represent marginalized groups on campus.
“Having the responsibility to represent or be a face of an entire marginalized community can be very taxing and sometimes it can be hard to find a student who wants to fill that role,” Nachtman said.
According to UI Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion data, 0.2 percent of students at the UI identified as Native American or Alaskan Native in 2021.
“This has been a big goal of USG and just our committee to get these seats filled, we want to make sure we have all 10 of these seats filled for our next election,” Nachtman said.
Editors Note: In a previous version of this story, The Daily Iowan reported the USG survey went out a week prior to the story’s publishing. The DI regrets this error.