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Student Government Association Divided Over Social Justice Committee

by Lorenzo Burgio

An intense debate centered around the Social Justice Committee of the Student Government Association at Central Connecticut State University last week, resulted in the campus police being called and Student Affairs Vice President Dr. Laura Tordenti stepping in.

“Please remember yourselves, okay. You are better than this, all of you. You are supposed to be modeling leadership and civility. That’s not what I’m seeing here. You can agree to disagree and do it respectfully without vulgarity, or sarcasm. Respecting another person’s point of view even though you may disagree with it,”  Tordenti said.

“The student government’s mission is not to foster social justice, its not on the constitution and not why we’re here. We foster those movements and give other organizations the chance to do so. We don’t constitute what is SJC and what is not,” SGA Senator Wyatt Bosworth said.

The SJC was formed by then president Jahmil Effend a week after the 2016 presidential elections as an ad-hoc committee of SGA focused on social justice and related issues.

Senators Sawera Hussan and Christopher Marinelli were then elected to chair the committee. SJC has held many events including Tea Against Bigotry, Accept Existence or Expect Resistance Rally, assisting with “The Laramie Project” and more recently a veterans panel.

At the first SGA meeting in February there was a debate over when the Accept Existence or Expect Resistance rally was supposed to happen and the message being sent when advertising the rally.

Senator Marinelli promoted the rally to stand in solidarity with the CCSU community’s undocumented individuals, immigrants and refugees to other senators at that SGA meeting.

“We’re sending a message to the student body that we care about these things. We passed a resolution for Differed Actions for Childhood Arrivals and Differed Action of Parents of Americans, most of us are against the travel ban. This is a way to show students that we care deeply about issues that affects people like our undocumented students on campus with this wall,” Marinelli said.

“I understand what the message is encompassing. But the optics of what the protest will look like might fray into partisanship. SGA should remain relatively neutral in the political part of it,” Bosworth said.

The rally gained statewide attention when it was live streamed by NBC Connecticut, currently it has over 96,000 views.

At last week’s meeting the debate continued and Marinelli argued that SJC should be a standing committee so it is easier for other activism clubs on campus to receive funding and plan events with the SJC.

“Every SJC meeting has had outside representation. Leaders, activists, [we are] meticulous at making sure we have student representation. We need it as a standing committee because with diversity week as a platform, as SGA we have easier access to funds, we have an established relationship with SALD. We’re well versed with our SGA finance system, and a lot of clubs aren’t aware of that,” Marinelli said.

Many senators argues that it was other organizations’ job to activate SJC, no the SGA’s.

“SJC is a great idea and we need it on campus. But at the same time I don’t think it’s something SGA should be doing. There are times when SGA thinks of itself as the most important organization on campus, and in many ways it is. When it comes to social justice, we have a lot of other clubs like LGBTQ, MSA, SASA, LASO. They need to be represented at social justice events,” Senator Eric Ott said.

Marnielli argued that separate organization is invited to SJC meetings, but are not allowed to vote on financial or procedural matters in meetings.

The debate on whether or not to make SJC a standing committee will be revisited next week after President of the Student Veterans Organization at CCSU, Paul Small, expressed to the Senate that the organization weas upset they had not been invited to the SGA veteran’s panel.

“No relationship with the SGA is better than the one we have right now. We’re hoping that the new e-board will be willing to police the committees like SJC that failed to notify and advocate for the veterans on campus. I don’t want to take anything away from the SJC, you guys have held wonderful events for worthy causes on campus. The rally you hosted was a great success. I just hope in the future our veteran organization can be considered worthy enough to participate in these types of events,” Small said.

Marinelli did not want the other senators to lash out on the SJC, and admitted the mistake of not inviting the SVO was his.

“We’re a new committee, we’re learning how to do our things, I know we have some controversy with who wants a SJC and who doesn’t. Put that on me, don’t put that on the committee or let it build apathy against the committee,” Marinelli said.

After the mistake, Senators felt that the SJC was not properly organized and should not be allowed to be a standing committee, because it was damaging the credibility of the SGA.

“I don’t think SJC in current form should be allowed to carry on. I know that’s a controversial issue, I’ve been to some meetings and I respect the committee’s work. My concern is that we are disrupting the effective governing of our SGA as a whole. I wouldn’t want someone to question the student government on a core essential activity like scholarships, base budgets, our core functions,” Senator Stephen Dew said.

Hussan defended the SJC, stating that inviting the veterans to the panel was a mistake, SJC works closely with club present at their meetings and takes every clubs’ opinions into consideration when voting. Hussan also read the human-rights statement attached to the SGA constitution and related it to how essential SJC is.

“The constitution literally states we need a SJC,” Hussan said.

Ott countered the argument, stating that Hussan was misinterpreting the statement.

“To the human rights statement, there is not a single spot in this statement that says we need a SJC, that is an inference, an assumption based off the human rights statement; we do not need it. It protects human rights but it does not mean we need a SJC, it means we support the rights on CCSU,” Ott said.

Bosworth then said the conversation was focused on the SJC and now what the SGA plans to do to apologize to the SVO.

“Simply saying ‘we messed up’ and ‘we’ll get it better next time’ does not work for me and it shouldn’t work for anyone else. 450 veterans we slapped in the face because the committee was poorly run and poorly organized,” Bosworth said.

President Effend said he didn’t believe that SJC was run poorly, that the debate was tense and that the mistake needed to be rectified.

Dew said the SJC did not represent the entire campus; just those whose political views tend to be more liberal. He also questioned whether the SJC would have been formed if President Donald Trump had not won the 2016 election.

“We are in this climate now because of what we see outside that somehow we feel we have to take a stance as a student government. When we take a stance on issues like this, yes you might empower those that want to let their voices be heard, but at the same time you also offend a lot of people,” Dew said.

The debate then quickly escalated and multiple senators became angry. Bosworth, who had three points of order for saying “pissed off” twice and speaking out of turn, was asked to leave the room by Effend.

Bosworth refused to leave, causing Effend to call the campus police to escort him out. At that moment, Tordenti stepped in and urged all the senators to be respectful and take a breather.

“Come on, I’m stunned. Can everyone just take a deep breath? Does the conversation need to continue right now? Perhaps we can agree to table this while everyone collects themselves. Meet again perhaps informally to sort these things out? These are difficult issues, perhaps you’re reflecting what you do see occurring at the national level which is an embarrassment to many Americans at the national level. You’re better than this,” Tordenti said.

The meeting was then adjourned and another informal one was held two days later with Tordenti SGA members. The SJC will remain a committee until the end of the semester year unless allowed to act as a standing committee.