Meet The People’s Caucus: a group of VSG senators tackling racial, social and environmental issues on campus

As a group formed by 17 students of color involved with VSG, The People’s Caucus is a new initiative to create meaningful change while also promoting diversity on campus.


Emery Little

Paths diverge near Alumni Lawn. (Hustler Multimedia/Emery Little)

Thomas Hum and Tucker Apgar

The Vanderbilt People’s Caucus is a newly formed group consisting of 17 students of color aiming to come together to enact racial, social and environmental change on campus through their roles on the Vanderbilt Student Government (VSG) Senate.

According to Senior Senator and leader of The Vanderbilt People’s Caucus Syed Rahman, the group was created in early September by 17 students who campaigned for VSG Senate seats. The Vanderbilt People’s Caucus was inspired by The People’s Caucus at Stanford University, a coalition of students of color who ran for their student government’s undergraduate senate, the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), last spring.

“Our goals are to work with MLC organizations, 40 total orgs, to meet in a massive town hall to basically see what they need from us,” Rahman said. “They’ll give us ideas, and we’ll work on writing bills with them. We’d like to have a rally for students to give us what their concerns are. If there are certain issues that are reasonable, we’ll definitely be working on those.”

Arts and Science Senator Bryce Collings, also a member of The People’s Caucus, gave additional insight into the background of the group. He said the collaborative nature of the group allows for easier creation of ideas and 

 ”We fall under BIPOC, so the common shared experience helps create legislation and ideas,” Collings said. “It’s a way to bounce ideas off of each other as well; it helps us create a better experience for students and improve what we are able to do in VSG.”

Collings said he believed there had to be a better way to reach out to the student body, emphasizing the need for student outreach, which he hopes to accomplish through The People’s Caucus.

“It’s hard to write bills and decide on things if students don’t say, ‘this is what’s bothering me,’” Collings said. “That’s why it’s very important to get opinions of others on potential legislation.”

Collings also shed light on the importance of VSG’s relationship with Vanderbilt administration in enacting change on campus. As The People’s Caucus is not a standalone student organization, members of the group use their roles on VSG to bring issues to the attention of administrators.

“It’s important to note our roles in the Senate; we may not have the power to make certain changes alone, but we can tell the administration, ‘this is what we want to happen,’ and work things out,” Collings said.

According to Rahman and Collings, solving issues of financial equity on campus is a major focus for The People’s Caucus. One of the main objectives for the group is to allow students to print for free. Rahman and Collings said that if the Vanderbilt administration is unwilling to use the university’s budget for this, The People’s Caucus may push for more of VSG’s own budget to be used in support of campus organizations and students in need. Fall 2020 is also the first semester where students can do their laundry for free on campus.

“There’s a tale of two campuses: those who can afford [the campus experience] and those who can’t,” Rahman said. “What we’re trying to do is close that gap, even though we know it’s a very difficult challenge.”

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rahman said The People’s Caucus is also looking to expand the emergency fund for students who have demonstrated need, which had a budget of approximately $120,000 last year. Looking towards the future, he said they are considering organizing a campaign for increased financial aid for summer semesters, semesters abroad and Maymesters.

“Ultimately, our goal is to create a fairer, better and more equitable Vanderbilt,” Rahman said.