Editor’s note: Well, I was going to save this for the weekly column because while extremely weird, there wasn’t a ton that was outright objectionable but given student backlash and an official response from Board of Regent Chair Sheri Buretta I suppose it’s something I ought to write about sooner than later. (Also this post has been updated to give some more context for the letter’s purpose.)
“Hello All! First, I do realize that this letter is a unique one—no surprise, it comes from my very heart, and I am, undoubtedly, unique. You probably ain’t eveh gonna get another letter like this… unless I send you another one this year, which I am certainly liable to do, because the love is real, y’all. I might even be inclined to send a few more,” is how University of Alaska Student Regent Cachet Garrett opened truly bizarre screed, entitled “A love letter from your student regent, Cachet,” to all University of Alaska students on Monday.
She was just warming up.
Over the following 4,200-plus words (about 3,100 longer than the entirety of this post) that are filled with nonsensical, Marianne Williamson-esque pop-psych jumbo, the Dunleavy-appointed student regent urges students to “apply your inner alchemy,” explains why she won’t apologize if she bumps into you (“it warrants instead a smile and a hello—my acknowledgement of your presence”), extolls the “urgency of ceasing ANY negative talk around our beloved university system,” claims she’s “not afraid of the Truth-capital-T” (which she would suggest you confront “if you did something that results in your perception that I hurt you”), explains that she’s a longtime student of yoga and tantra, which she says “is NOT about sex, people” and ends with a call for students to dance around their living rooms to Citizen Cope’s “Bullet and a Target,” a song that came out in 2004.
Several times she espouses the value of communication, writing that “COMMUNICATION IS EVERYTHING, and it is an art and a skill that takes continued and fervent commitment; honest communication can bring great healing.”
The point of the letter, which was sent out to all UA students, is ostensibly to invite students to participate in a public testimony session hosted by the Board of Regents and, perhaps, serve as a start-of-the-year introduction from Garrett whose confirmation to the position is still pending with the Legislature.
It does encourage students to be a engaged, which it certainly has done.
While the whole thing is certainly healthy fodder for memes, of which there are many, it’s Garrett’s glib comments about suicide—which was the leading cause of death for college-age students in Alaska during 2018, with particularly high rates among Alaska Native youth—that have led to calls for an apology and her resignation.
“And with this I must humbly, vulnerably, and bravely request of you all, please dear ones, NO MORE SUICIDING,” she wrote. “As bad as things do get sometimes, admittedly, the cup does pass. A new day does come, and you do belong here. How can I help you feel more of a sense of place and belonging? What can I do to support you more?”
She could start by not spouting unhelpful lines like “NO MORE SUICIDING,” akin to telling a depressed person to “try being happy,” seemed to be the general response.
One student responded to the letter, asking for an apology for the line about suicide noting that many Alaskans have been personally affected by suicide.
In a responding email, Garrett refused, writing “Your trigger is yours to own and heal.”
The letter was the topic of several students’ testimony to the Board of Regent on Monday, several who called for her resignation, arguing that her letter ran contrary to the professionalism and leadership the students would expect on the Board of Regents. The discourse was similar on the Facebook group Warm UAF Memes for Chilly Teens, where several students shared their testimony and letters, offering support if others were feeling suicidal thoughts—as well as several memes:
Board of Regents Chair Sheri Buretta eventually weighed in on Garrett’s “Love letter,” issuing the following statement:
“Members of the Board of Regents must hold themselves to the highest standards in representing the entire University of Alaska system. Regents work diligently to add value to the university through all that they do and say. Regent Cachet Garrett has the right as a student and as a person to express her opinions. However, she does not speak for the Board or the University, and the tone and content of her emailed letter to the student body do not reflect the sentiments of the Board.
The Board of Regents’ voice is a very important one. I have urged Regent Garrett to use her voice to add value to the very urgent issues before the Board of Regents and not use her position to create additional distractions or disenfranchise students.”
Why it matters
From a political standpoint, Garrett’s appointment to the Board of Regents is still pending thanks to the Legislature’s decision to end session early amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They passed legislation that allows all appointees to continue serving until 30 days after the state’s disaster declaration expires unless the Legislature meets to hold a confirmation hearing. If the Legislature fails to meet, those appointees would be barred from being reappointed to the position until the start of the next legislative session.
Under the normal course, Garrett already faced an uphill challenge with the Legislature following a bizarre and combative exchange with the Senate Finance Committee. Garrett took particular umbrage with Sen. Bill Wielechowski asking about her dismissal from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ communications program. After denying and dodging, she ultimately never gave a reason for the dismissal and later texted several members of the Legislature demanding that Wielechowski be reprimanded for asking the question in a public forum. (I thought I had written about this last bit, but I’m not finding it. It’s explained in the minutes of this legislative hearing.)
It’s also not the first time an appointee by Gov. Mike Dunleavy has been behind some bizarre communications. Another regent appointee withdrew her name after social media posts boosting the extremist QAnon conspiracy theory came to light and another appointee was disqualified after emailing legislators about the “dark wet recesses of a cave called Juneau.”
The load of memes is also a reminder that the University of Alaska is not mostly the graduate students and faculty that us political types deal with regularly, but a bunch of sharp-witted teenagers. (Thought it sounds like Regent Garrett may not actually practice the same maybe-something’s-wrong-with-you-if-you’re-offended-by-me mantra she preaches as students in that group are apparently being contacted and told to be nice.)