“Burn the By-Laws!” : An Interview with Co-President Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí

“We expect professors and students to come into this place, this beautiful, beautiful spot 

on earth, that also has a lot of weight, a lot of conditions, that the institution hasn’t 

confronted and prepared students and faculty to deal with.”

 

I sat down with Carlos, (or Los, as most people call him) in Driscoll, just as lunch opened at 11:30. I expected to ask him a few basic questions. What is it like to be president? Why did you decide to pursue this position? What motivates you to create change? I should have known that a conversation with this vibrant and socially active person could never be so simple.

    We started our discussion with an event that co-occured with his election to the presidency: the departures of Professors Kimberly Love and Kai Greene. We all remember the energy on campus last spring. The campus was abuzz with debates, concern, social activism, and pure gossip regarding their decisions to leave and the reasons that motivated them. But it’s likely that few of us consider the labor, time, and energy put forth by leaders on our campus to address the issue. Los remembered, “To me, it was also a very exhausting process as a student, both emotionally and just organizationally. We invested so much emotional energy and labor, for a very good reason, and at the same time, I felt like a lot of my peers were just … exhausted.”

I got the sense that he was referring not just to the exhaustion created by the situation at hand, but also to the exhausting and never-ending battle being waged by people of color and other minority groups, on this campus and beyond.

    The departure of these faculty members was, according to Los, far from the only memorable part of the semester. He recalled “four scandals: the WIFI situation, whether Black Previews would be funded, the revelation that more than 225,000 dollars was [not accounted for in the budget], and the fourth was the difficult relationship that the leadership in college council had with each other.” When I asked him to expand on these, he began to explain a division that had arisen in college council. 

The council is, “… very much split on the issue of how we should apply the by-laws to our decision making. There was a group that … is still very much invested in the importance of this document. There is another group that believes we should expand upon it … be more flexible, and I think that I am a part of that myself.” Laughing, he even admitted, “When I was a rep, I would chant, ‘Burn the bylaws!’”

This division is central to the “WIFI issue,” the controversy that arose last spring as CC faced the task of deciding whether or not to grant RSO (registered student organization) status to the Williams Initiative for Israel. Los felt that for Palestinian students on campus, or students who support Palestine, the creation of this group would feel like, “a slap in the face.” While he held this belief, he also explained his conflicted feelings in the spring, and he respectfully recognized by own opinion, which I shared with him, that the creation of more student groups, especially ones with different political views, would promote discourse and increase the richness of thought and discussion on campus.

Since the WIFI issue, the process of approving student organizations has been restructured to include more input from the administration. When I asked Los his feelings on this, he responded, “I think that this whole situation kinda reflects on how limiting it can be to operate a student representative body with a set of rules. … The student body changes entirely every 5 years… Every 5 years, different priorities and different expectations come in … I think this whole situation was an example of us running into an outdated document.” 

My conversation with Los gave me a new perspective on the many controversies of the previous academic year, as well as how our co-president sees the campus and his role in it. As I sat across from him, I got the sense that he wants to lead the student body not by a piece of paper, but through conversation and collaboration, and by a moral compass that is not subject to what the written rules say is right. This is a man who wants to “burn the bylaws.”