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Transparency issues discussed at Monday’s SGA meeting

November 9, 2021

Monday’s SGA meeting started with the appointment and swearing in of two new senators by Chief Justice Christopher Prince. 

Ashton Davey, a computer science major with a minor in biology was sworn in, as well as Ian Simpson, an education major. 

The issue brought up

Nearly 10 minutes into the meeting, Senator Alejandro McCray proposed a motion to open the floor for a 45-minute discussion — going into Robert’s Rules of Order — where only senators could speak while getting called on by members of the executive board. The motion was then seconded.

McCray started the conversation off by saying that there is a lack of communication within student government.

The discussion

“So I do not have an agenda for today. I do want to speak because I along with a few senators have been noticing some issues within student government. The first one I’d like to talk about is transparency,” McCray continued. “I feel there’s a lack of communication between the administration, the body and the executive board.”

McCray said he felt distanced from other members and as if nothing has been getting accomplished throughout the duration of the semester.

“For example, I’ve never spoken to any of the justices. I’m sure there’s a lot of senators who feel the same way … I just feel really out of the loop, and it’s November, when we started school and this in August. So really, it’s been a big waste of time,” McCray said.

One of SGA’s advisors, Sarah Aikman, noted afterward that SGA has not met their quorum — the minimum number of seats held in the senate in order to do business — therefore business cannot be done and resolutions cannot be passed. SGA needs one more senator to meet their quorum.

“You need 25 senators, and I’m going to put it on the members of the senate here. What have you all done to recruit people to come and be a part of SGA?” Aikman asked.

Aikman referenced the executive board and said it is not solely their responsibility to recruit members of SGA.

Senator Trevor Abraham replied to Aikman and said that it cannot be just the senate’s responsibility to recruit new members and that there are other responsibilities members have outside of SGA.

“At the same time, why is it our sole responsibility? I mean, we have things outside of this that we have to do too, this [SGA] is not my main focus … We have a PR person that pushes out posts. People share it, people see it. So what more am I going to add on to that [recruiting new members] if people are seeing that already?” Abraham asked.

Vice President for Student Affairs Eddie Howard spoke after Abraham and said he wanted to set ground rules for the discussion that would take place next.

Academic Excellence Chairman Mohamed Omar interrupted Howard to call him out for violating Robert’s Rules of Order for not being called on by a member of the executive board. Chief Justice Prince later on verified that Howard was allowed to interrupt as an advisor due to responding to conversation from a “rowdy” member, or a person whose behavior is quarrelsome.

Howard continued to speak.

“As an advisor for this organization and the person of which the Student Government Association falls under, it’s my responsibility to make sure you guys are operating the way you should,” Howard said. “But what we’re trying to do here is give you guys a level of understanding of what the issues are. You cannot address business unless you have quorum based on your constitution, so if you’re talking about doing something, that’s something you can’t do until you follow your constitution.”

Howard continued on about the way student government should be operating.

“It is not our [SGA advisors] responsibility to develop or get people on the board. That’s up to you to do. Once you do that, we’ll let you operate the way you need to operate to represent the rest of the students,” Howard said.

Back-and-forth conversation went on amongst many senators throughout the meeting. Chairperson of University Improvements Jimmy Renton added that he felt this conversation was supposed to shine light on how senators were feeling about their involvement within the organization.

“I’d like to address that this conversation, from what I’ve seen so far, is not meant to attack; we’re not trying to discuss anything violent or malicious. From what I’m seeing so far, you all are just trying to have an open discussion on how you are feeling as senators and that is your complete right to be able to do that,” Renton said. 

President Aliya Cannon spoke and said that understanding the power that you hold within student government is important.

“When I joined SGA last spring, I didn’t understand or know my power … If you don’t know or understand your power, people will use your power for their own personal agendas. So make sure that when you do things and you make decisions and you look forward to make change, you’re doing it because you’re passionate about it and because you want to make change, not because other people are using you as a puppet to get their dirty work done,” Cannon said.

Abraham brought up the Boothe Village rock that was vandalized with homophobic graffiti at the end of October and said he felt as if SGA should have taken a more proper approach in response to the vandalism.

“I’ve gone out and talked to a lot of students and a lot of them have told me they don’t even know what happened with the rock, which I know may not necessarily be our sole responsibility to tell them, but I feel like if we’re gonna take on the responsibility of like posting something about it on our social media or we’re gonna start those conversations with the administration, then the student body deserves to know what we’re doing,” Abraham said. “The student body looks to us to be that voice or to carry their voice along to administration, and if we’re not even doing that within our own organization, what makes you think that they’ll come to us in the future?”

Cannon stated there was a meeting last Sunday that some SGA members attended to talk about the vandalism of the rock. In the meeting, members collectively came up with a solution to support allyship throughout the LGBTQ+ community and to have something in the works to be planned by Renton and other organizations.

“I’m trying to do everything that you all ask of me. But if you do not ask or you do not come to me, there’s no transparency coming from you, and it was brought to my attention that you thought I was putting on a performative act (during last week’s SGA retreat), and I in no way, shape or form would ever,” Cannon said to Abraham.

Cannon continued about transparency throughout the organization.

“I will be transparent with you all because I am around, I am doing the work and I am doing what needs to be done to make sure change is occurring while nobody else is,” Cannon said.

Cannon informed the members that among allyship support from SGA after the vandalism of the rock, University Housing is adding 80 more cameras — costing nearly $125,000 — as well as lighting being worked on throughout campus to ensure safety is being met as a top priority.

Omar spoke next about his personal issues within SGA, stating that on Sunday night, Cannon had called him and confronted him about a rumor, in which Omar felt he was disrespected.

“I will say, since transparency is kind of the topic at the moment, I am going to keep it 100 percent transparent. There have been many times where I have been lied upon and disrespected for absolutely no reason … I try to be polite and respectful, but for some reason, I just continue to get disrespected and lied upon by our very own president,” Omar said.

Omar stated Cannon called him in regard to a rumor going around that Omar had been telling senators to vote in favor of what was going to happen at yesterday’s meeting.

Cannon asked members of the senate to raise their hand if comfortable to acknowledge whether or not Omar had asked them to vote in favor of what was going to happen. No one raised their hand.

Secretary of Student Involvement Za’Charia Day-Carter “D.C” admitted that she had told Cannon the rumor and that many people had expressed to her that Omar had been telling senators to vote in favor.

Abraham then recalled aloud a time where D.C had told Abraham and Omar that she did not apply to be in the position she holds now herself.

“Let’s go back a week and talk about how in the office you told me and Chairman Omar that you were signed up not by yourself but by someone else to be in the position that you’re in,” Abraham said.

The conversation quickly spiraled downward and resulted in back-and-forth arguing and chatter of many members at once where the room filled with the sound of echoing yells and screams.

D.C was escorted out of the student governance meeting room after yelling aggressively at Abraham although numerous people tried to stop her. Some members began to cry and left the meeting soon after, showing clear emotional distress to the events that had just occurred.

More civil conversation was had afterward, where members expressed their thoughts and concerns about the way the meeting had gone thus far. 

Secretary of Public Relations Peyton Duncan spoke about the lack of progress made during the meeting.

“I would like to say that I also don’t believe in complaining with no solution; to me, that’s whining and I’ve heard a lot of whining today,” Duncan said.

More back-and-forth conversation occurred until a motion to adjourn the meeting by Omar was seconded at 4:56 p.m.

Resignation

Shortly after the meeting ended, Renton sent out an email that announced his resignation from SGA. Renton copied The Northerner in the email.

It is with a heavy heart that I am informing the Student Senate as well as the general Student Body that effective at 9:00 AM on December 21, 2021, I will be resigning from my positions as Chairperson of the University Improvements Committee and Senator. This decision was made prior to today’s meeting and was not influenced by today,” the email states.

Renton added that his decision to resign stemmed from his mental health and feeling “gaslit” at times.

“My decision to take this step was made in the interest of my mental health as I too have felt gaslit at times. I will not name certain individuals. In addition, I feel SGA has become the center of my life. That is not who I am. I am an activist, musician, and leader. My name nor my personality belong to SGA, and this centering has caused my progress in my music to slip. This to me, cannot be allowed to happen,” Renton said in the email.

Renton added that he would like Senator Austin Terrell to take his current position in Jan. 2022.

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