Is SGA Discriminating Against The Student Veterans Organization

by Analisa Novak

The mood at the Student Veterans Organization’s weekly meeting was business as usual, but a looming question thickened the air for its members; do they go for a third time to the Student Government Association and ask for the apparel originally granted to them, but then quickly vetoed the next week?

For current SVO Vice President Paul Small, that is no longer an option.

“I am not going back, I went there, plead my case to them, asked them for money that we pay for students funds and for SGA to cut our budget to $812 dollars last semester. This is okay but you should know if you cut a club’s budget so much, especially an active club and important club that does a lot of campus, SGA should expect us to come and ask for money,” said Small.

The SVO was approved for funds totaling $1,720.01 for sweatshirts and T-shirts on April 4. The majority unanimously approved it originally with 18 senators in favor and four against it.

Small then found out that SGA President Jahmil Effend vetoed the motion hours after the meeting. Small felt hopeless after finding out it was vetoed, as it was the only other option to receive the funds after a dismal budget that was given to them.

The veto prompted the SVO to reach out for the third time to the SGA, only to be called “immature,” and was attacked by SGA senator Danielle Plaskonka.

“They’re using emotional heart string pulling tactics, they’re saying they feeling alienated, which I understand where you’re coming from. I understand you feel Social Justice has not been fair to you, but it was not intentional and I wish you guys could see that. You also mentioned you tried coming for sweatshirts all semester, so why do you keep calling back SJC?” said Plaskonka.

“Is that your one move to get these shirts? I’m very sick of personal attacks, it’s immature and below everyone in this room. If you can’t handle this professionally, then shame on you,” Plaskonka added.

She continued on in a recently deleted Facebook post saying; “Please help me in understanding how both T-Shirts and sweatshirts will assist them in significant issues such as PTSD, suicidal ideation and societal understanding.”

“One of our agendas is raising PTSD stereotypes, but that was never the intent of the reasons to get shirts,” SVO  President Tyler Listro said. “Being able to raise awareness about PTSD is a benefit of having great representation of student veterans on campus, not the reason why we submitted a request for shirt funding,” Listro said.

Small said the request for the shirts was to let over 400 veterans know that there was a club here for them.

“Many veterans don’t participate with our club or know we exist. We have 50 members, 20 of which are active all the time. But we have approximately 500 veterans on this campus, National Guard members, and veterans from active duty that receive benefits to continue their education. Upon approval, when worn by members of our group, this will show others here that there is a club with people like them,” Small said.

Small stated that the request had nothing to do with using emotions to manipulate the system.

“I was told by that particular senator that I was there to manipulate the feelings, manipulate peoples’ decisions. That’s true in the sense that this emotional for me, but it’s not true that I am using what happened with the Social Justice Committee as a catalyst asking for money,” Small said.

This desire for sweatshirts and T-shirts has been actively discussed during the SVO meetings for the entire year. The SVO actively participated in the SGA canned food drive, so they could use the funds to attain apparel. However, due to a decreased budget, they had to use it for their annual Hoffman’s Gun Range trip instead.

“Our club minutes reflect that we have been trying to get this clothing all semester,” Small said.

The veto was held up by a 2/3 vote and the SVO was denied the funds. The same meeting in which the SVO’s contingency request was vetoed, Lunar Exploration Club’s contingency request of $905.76 for space suits was approved.

“They came with a similar request like SVO and they were approved. We were approved, but then vetoed by the SGA president. It seems clear to me that there is a clear case of discrimination,” Small said.

SGA senator Stephen Dew believes by the SGA not overturning the veto that the president ordered, and allowing the Lunar Exploration Club to receive space suits is a clear indication of discrimination happening within the SGA. Dew, who voted for the space suits, says that he has been voting for club requests each time.

“The fact that the veterans got a 18-4 vote the first time they requested, and got a majority the second time, speaks to the facts that senators in the majority want to fund the SVO. However, there is clearly an element on senate that doesn’t feel that way. It is rather disgusting that four people who voted against the SVO to begin with managed to obstruct government, and by obstructing government, a club was not able to get what they were requesting for,” Dew said.

Small has said that a number of senators have stepped in to assist the SVO and even attended their meeting last Thursday.

The SVO then filed another contingency request to the finance committee for $1,174.57 on April 17, for uniformed sweatshirts. The Chair of Finance Committee Treasurer, Brendan Kruh, decided not to hear the contingency request after he felt it was invalid due to the bylaws.

Vice President Christopher Cappiello disagreed with this, and said there seems to be a pattern with the SGA bringing up bylaws when it comes to the SVO.

“I think this is a good motion, they have everything they need to fill the bylaws, in my opinion: there is nothing wrong with this. We don’t have to pay 50 percent of it, we can pay 100 percent of it,” said Cappiello. “I don’t know why the argument is being brought up again when it comes to SVO and bylaws. Its like senate has this gravitational pull with bylaws when SVO walks into the door.”

It was appealed unanimously by the finance committee. The contingency request was approved by the majority of members of the finance committee, and will be heard by the SGA today.

Small already paid out of his own pocket to provide the club with T-Shirts. The shirt designer felt bad that Small had to pay for the SVO shirts after the SGA vetoed their request, and gave him a small military discount of 10 percent.

Active members and members who put out for the food drive will be receiving T-Shirts for free from Small. The SVO is looking into charging new members who would like to have T-Shirts, so that they can no longer go to the SGA for any other requests and are able to sustain themselves.