What is the role of the SGA? In my popular piece, “The SGA: Why You Should Care,” I stated, “the SGA, most notably its president, is supposed to look out for the best interests of the student body.” Let’s look at a case study: the naming of the Gateway Complex, or the Gianforte issue.
On Oct. 15, 2017, Senators James Sweeney and Dakota Van Deursen proposed, with support from Senators Matthew Cunningham and Julia Meyn, the initial version of Proclamation S-17F-002: The Naming of the Gianforte Family Academic Center Proclamation. After discussion at that night’s meeting, the proclamation was tabled, edited, and later passed at the next meeting on Oct. 22.
Through the passed proclamation, the SGA put forth that “an endeavor should be made … ‘[to] uphold [Steven’s] values including those of academic freedom and nondiscrimination.'” They suggest “creating safe spaces on Stevens’ campus” to support “underrepresented or marginalized” groups. But this proclamation — a proclamation so pivotal for marginalized groups, ensuring Stevens maintains its inclusive status — provided no insight on how the SGA plans to support the Stevens students they claim to represent. Additionally, by using the word “endeavor” implies that only an effort will be made; there is no accountability that anything will actually be accomplished.
They issued an ambiguous proclamation that does not state in any way how the SGA will reaffirm their commitment to academic freedom and nondiscrimination. It’s weak — yet it’s probably the strongest response they will deliver.
But how did the SGA develop this response? Let’s start when the naming issue first came to light last semester.
During the March 19, 2017 meeting of the SGA, former SGA Senator and current Stevens alumnus Andy Waldron delivered a presentation on Greg Gianforte including his anti-LGBTQ+ comments to the SGA. At this meeting, the discussion centered around the precedent of requirements to name a building. Waldron brought up the initial idea of creating a proclamation against the naming of the building. However, most members of the SGA did not agree with his ideas, such as Senator Ryan Tom.
“If we change the name and the donation is rescinded,” said Tom, “then it could strap the school and the students financially. We need to keep this in mind.”
It is not the SGA’s job to look out for the well-being of the university; it is the SGA’s job to look out for the well-being of the student body. Other senators continued to make similar, non-supportive statements like Senator Tom. Later in the discussion, previous Speaker of the Senate Reeba James motioned to move the discussion offline, or not record the discussion in the minutes. Moving the discussion offline was an abysmal decision. It demonstrated that the SGA, taking the discussion behind closed doors, preferred hiding their viewpoints and avoiding accountability. Ironically, this is the same issue that SGA senators brought up about the administration earlier that meeting.
A few days after the SGA meeting, Daly, in an email, shared his formal stance on the issue.
He said, the Student Government “stands firm that to reject or discriminate individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation is an abuse of their freedom and in direct violation with their basic human rights …. [I]t is our duty to represent the views and orientations of all students. This means accepting and promoting both the values of our conservative and liberal populations so long as those values are in line with our ideas of inclusion and tolerance.”
The SGA acknowledged that discrimination is not allowed. However, he directly contrasts this viewpoint later in the paragraph by stating they must remain neutral. The SGA did not understand that remaining neutral means that they are allowing themselves to be complicit when dealing with homophobic and radically conservative views — viewpoints that remove others’ basic human rights should not be recognized. Nevertheless, the discussion was essentially tabled after this meeting.
And then on May 24, 2017, Greg Gianforte body slammed a reporter.
Stevens then established a committee to reconsider the naming of the Gianforte Academic Center. The committee consisted of members of the Board of Trustees, established alumni, and influential current Stevens students, including the SGA President Daly. In the end, the committee decided to change the name from the “Gianforte Academic Center” to the “Gianforte Family Academic Center,” which can only be labeled as an inappropriate comprise. Surely, the SGA wouldn’t stand for this, right?
Aside from a statement from Daly, who supported the decision reached by the naming committee, the SGA simply brushed the committee decision aside, not addressing it until Oct. 15, 2017. The decision made by the committee was not discussed in any SGA meeting until the proclamation was proposed. Initially, the debate over the proclamation was over one word in the second bullet point: the word “will” being changed to the word “should.” Senators of the SGA wanted to significantly lighten the tone of the statement instead of firmly protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ individuals, removing any responsibility the SGA has to actually take an action, thus resolving their commitment to the student body.
Daly gave the reason that the SGA “[isn’t] campus facilities, we don’t have the power to declare that an endeavor will be made and utilized.”
Correct, the SGA is not campus facilities. However, if the SGA couldn’t promise that the administration will acknowledge the SGA as the voice of the student body, then their great relationship with the administration isn’t so great, only a monetary one through club funding. The SGA promoted their relationships with the administration on campus, yet the official SGA statement made by President Daly contradicts this.
The next discussion revolved around the proclamation’s first bullet point. It declared that the“renaming of the ‘Gianforte Family Academic Center’ neither presents a marked improvement from the originally-proposed ‘Gianforte Academic Center’ nor adequately represents the opinions of the student body at large.”
Initially, this statement made me proud of the SGA. This statement led me to believe that Greg Gianforte’s views are not tolerated by the SGA. Yet Daly, aghast, quickly said, “I don’t know what purpose [the first bullet point] serves and I don’t think that we are speaking for the entire student body [by including it].”
Through his statement, he, the SGA President who ran on the platform of “We believe the primary role of the SGA is to advocate for all students,” does not understand that this statement exists to make members of the Stevens community feel more comfortable and accepted on campus. They want to know other students are firmly looking out for them. However, it wasn’t just Daly who made statements against this; other senators, such as Senator Jesse Priest opposed this point as well.
“I would not vote for this with that first bullet point remaining,” said Priest. With objections from other senators, this statement was eventually removed. The removal of the statement leads to me believe that some members of the SGA are sympathetic with Gianforte’s viewpoints.
The SGA should protect the rights of the student body. Students have organized and protested more than any other time in Stevens’s history, and yet the SGA is still unsure of how the student body feels about this issue. No one has come out strongly in support of the naming; there have only been efforts to change it.
As these senators stood firmly against the naming, the “compromise” that Senators Van Deursen and Sweeney, along with other members of the SGA, were forced to accept was changing the first bullet point to a whereas clause, diminishing the meaning of the proclamation and removed the promise to act.
Senator Van Deursen was dismayed that the senators choose to “remov[e] the part that a marked improvement was not made with this change to the document.”
Afterwards, an attempt was made to “fix” the proclamation again, but it was stuck in bureaucratic hell as it is impossible to revert a change made. The proclamation had to be postponed to the next week’s meeting, where it was passed, with no discussion, in a much weaker form. It makes you wonder: Who is the SGA serving to protect—Greg Gianforte and his antiquated views, or the Stevens student body?
So what am I asking? I am not asking the administration to remove “Gianforte” from the naming of the building; based on the situation, I know that would be close to impossible. I am asking the Student Government Association to protect the rights of and actively stand up for the members of the LGBTQ+ community. The SGA has failed to do so thus far and dropped the ball when it comes to representing and ensuring the welfare of its students. At best, the SGA has only delivered a weak response that continues to leave members of the Stevens community feeling vulnerable and unaccepted, and that serves better to protect people like Greg Gianforte.
All minutes and documents referenced are available on DuckLink or were sent directly to all students and administration via stevens.edu emails.