SA President Kendall Vining talks about diversity and pandemic change

Photo courtesy of Kendall Vining

By Nithya Shenoy 08/24/21 22:54

Prior to coming to Rice, Kendall Vining, senior at Martel College, was part of the student government in his freshman year of high school. Vining said she didn’t like her role there because the students couldn’t do anything. At Rice, however, she found that was not the case.

“I loved it when I came to Rice and talked to the student government people, [they] said, ‘We are making real change,’ ”Vining said.

She applied and eventually became a representative of new Martel students within the student association. Vining said she had a lot of experience as an NSR and then decided to run as a senator for Martel SA, a position she ultimately did not get. Although she was initially upset that she lost the race for senators, she realized that the loss gave her time to understand what students really need from the student government, he said. she declared.

“I took this year to see what was going on,” Vining said. “I had this other perspective that did not come through the prism of student government. I got to see how disconnected you can be from the student government and what’s going on on campus.

Vining decided to run for the position of internal vice president of the SA and ended up winning the position in 2020. However, Vining’s tenure did not go as planned. Shortly after winning the job, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and derailed plans for the remainder of the semester. Vining said she spent most of her time as a PVI managing the transition from in-person to virtual activities. Last year, she said, was a blur.

Vining said her concern about diversity and inclusion on campus ultimately led her to consider running for president of the SA. According to Vining, her experience as a black student at Rice led her to participate in projects related to diversity, such as a black student application list.

“Rice struggles to make black students feel comfortable and welcome,” Vining said. “When I thought about running for president in the spring, I thought, ‘Honestly, Rice needs someone like me right now.’ They need someone to hold them accountable for the problems they are having [when it comes to] meet the bar.

After winning the election for SA president last spring, Vining set to work on pandemic-related and non-pandemic-related initiatives. Vining said that as the president of the SA, she will ensure that the Rice community discusses diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We kind of started this conversation last summer [2020]. In this case, it was really specific to Blackness. But that’s more than what happens with the Black experience at Rice, ”said Vining. “It’s about what happens to anyone who is part of a marginalized community in Rice.”

The William Marsh Rice statue in Founder’s Quad is an urgent issue, according to Vining. The students organized sit-in to advocate for the statue’s permanent removal given Rice’s history of owning slaves.

“It’s this impending campus presence, this huge elephant in the room,” Vining said. “People need to have a good summary of what the Task Force [on Slavery, Segregation and Social Injustice] reported about the statue because I don’t think it got a lot of attention. I liked what they said and it gives me hope that the statue will no longer be in the center of the quad.

Taking on such an important leadership role during a pandemic has not come without challenges, Vining said. The recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Houston and on campus (as initially reported) coincided with Orientation Week and resulted in rapid changes in campus policies, such as reducing a number of ‘events and moving the first two weeks of online courses.

“I must have started staying up late thinking, ‘What’s the change in our Senate agenda? »I canceled the first Senate [on Monday]”Vining said.” Then I was like, ‘I have to prepare for a virtual Senate. It was part of the chaos, having to reschedule everything for a few days.’

Vining said she believed the administration could have given clearer advice on the changes to her and other student leaders.

“We [college presidents] were notified the day before the provost’s email [announcing virtual classes] went out. We had to deal with stress and pressure – we knew something was going to happen, but we didn’t know what exactly, ”said Vining. “Regarding COVID, there has to be a discussion. How do we feel about what happened during O-Week? How can we ensure that this does not happen again? I want to have a fair amount of time to create a space for students from all colleges to come together and ask questions.

Given the severity of the surrounding pandemic, uncertainties remain as to the rest of the semester. After a year of virtual classes, students are undoubtedly eager to take classes in person, according to Vining.

“We don’t want to go virtual again for the rest of the year,” Vining said. “We are trying to contribute more to the culture of the campus in person this year. We are working to engage the campus and reintroduce the culture to people. Honestly, that’s what’s at stake. It’s going to be a general conversation we have.

Beyond those pleas, Vining said she was keen to stress how much Rice values ​​the community.

“I know I spend so much time criticizing what could have been done better, but it comes from the love I have for our campus,” Vining said. “You have a network of resources and people you can talk to. I saw the value of community and leaning on each other this week as we navigated the fake chaos of O-Week.

Vining said she wanted to focus on pride in campus diversity. In her opinion, open discussion is vital in making every decision.

“You need people to go back and forth in a Zoom [call] and discuss what’s best and what’s worst, ”Vining said. “We need to know all the possible ideas and options. This is what helps us make our final decision. It’s about making sure we check for internal biases we have and cherish everything we learn about others. “

Vining considered what she wants her legacy in Rice to be. She said it was less about the details and more about its overall impact on the community.

“I just want Rice to be better when I leave him,” Vining said. “I want to be able to think about the last 4 years and say, ‘I think I helped. “

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