Student government senators advocate for students facing clothing insecurity


Kamrin Baker

Photos of the two women in the story
Brianna Full (left) and Kaia Phelps (right) are working together in their pursuit to raise awareness about clothing insecurity. Photos courtesy of Brianna Full and Kaia Phelps.

Kaia Phelps’s voice speaks louder than her appearance.

The College of Public Affairs and Community Service senator is spearheading a project to confront clothing insecurity among University of Nebraska at Omaha students through her role in Student Government.

Phelps became vocal about clothing insecurity after realizing that Student Government’s Senate meetings required students to dress in business professional clothing—which she said is not always an accessible task.

“I just thought it was pretty elitist and classist to ask people that,” Phelps said. “It’s not like anyone has delved into our personal lives and had time to pick us apart to know if having those clothes was accessible to us.”

College of Education senator Brianna Full immediately supported Phelps’s plan, explaining that body and clothing insecurities face many students.

Full wrote about her casual wear to raise awareness about clothing insecurity in a Facebook post, saying: “I dress this way to shed light about how we expect senators to dress business professional but have no resources available for them to buy or attain expensive professional clothing. As a low-income student, I know how hard it is to make ends meet … I do not ever want a fellow student to have to decide between if they’re going to eat dinner tonight, or if they need to buy slacks for meeting tomorrow.”

While Full and Phelps said the majority of their Student Government peers were supportive of this message, others were worried casual appearances could come off “embarrassing” to constituents.

“I don’t like the way Student Government puts us on this pedestal,” Phelps said. “I want to be able to talk to and reflect my constituents. My constituents aren’t wearing three-piece suits and heels every day.”
Phelps and Full are now working together to implement a clothing closet on campus where students can borrow professional clothing. Phelps hopes to dive further into the issue, surveying the issue and learning how to best serve students through trends, upkeep and access.

“My big thing is that we have a Maverick Ride program that mitigates transportation insecurities, we have a food pantry that mitigates food insecurities. We don’t have a clothing closet,” Phelps said. “It should at least be there. I don’t care how many people use it. It’s the fact that it’s there.”

Phelps said UNO has partnered with a local JCPenney for a students’ night where Mavs can find professional clothing at sale prices, but that those prices are still inaccessible to some students.

“It’s like, can I even speak my mind in the clothes I am wearing right now? Do I even look competent to you right now? Because I’m not matching you. It’s not so much what I’m wearing. Nobody cares about that,” Phelps said. “That’s not recorded in the minutes [at a Senate meeting]. What I say gets recorded in the minutes.”

As the clothing closet expands as a work in progress, Phelps (much like Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers) plans to dress in casual wear for her Senate meetings—consistently expressing her strongest message: Anyone can affect change.

“I just want to show young African American women who come after me that you can indeed affect change on this campus,” Phelps said. “There are other black women who will support you on this campus. You are not an island. And you do not have to submit to the powers that be.”