SGA and the Culture of Censorship

As former Senator Joseph Kerins put it, “SGA censorship is something that needs to be talked about within the wider campus community. SGA is our only form of direct student representation at DePaul, and incidents of this nature reflect the ongoing obstruction of student voices. This has to stop. And this conversation has to happen.” [Note: Kerins recently resigned from SGA in protest]

How does the current SGA leadership censor students both within the association and outside? In short, by pressuring senators to conform to their specific agendas, attempting to control language, blocking non-SGA student initiatives, and by simply removing senators they disagree with.

Last year, SGA leadership would often censor by simply removing those they did not agree with or like. Although SGA claims they were removed due to 3 unexcused absences, were they really? Other favorable SGA members were left alone, despite missing an entire quarter of meetings for a night class, or various other reasons. According to current Senator Tyler Solorio, “Impeachment and removal is completely at the discretion of the executive. Something as simple as “not respecting”, however the executive defines it, is grounds for impeachment. The only way you can avoid this, in the constitution, is either by having the executive like you, by staying under the radar, or by willingness to resign before then.” This year’s SGA leadership took this one step further by trying to ban the appeal process that allows senators to challenge these unilateral decisions by bringing them to the SGA at large.

The cabinet also has the habit of privately pressuring senators, both verbally and by creating unnecessary impediments to their initiatives. For instance, a current senator who wishes to remain anonymous noted that:

“On the committee I sit, I would often bring up initiatives that I would like to try to accomplish but I was often told that I would have to do it myself because other SGA initiatives (mostly Cabinet created ones) would have “priority” over my own. Then when I would set out to try to accomplish these goals, they would often tell me that I would need to get every step approved by my committee leader or it would not be considered an SGA initiative to be included in the SGA newsletter (which was often edited and cut without my approval or feedback).”

Later this year, the SGA President failed to inform a pro-divest SGA senator that he was allowed to participate in the Fair Business Practice Committee meeting. He simply did not tell him he could be there, despite it being clear in official documents that were found later that he should have been there. Was SGA leadership again attempting to silence the pro-Divest students?

Even worse though is when they added a new amendment to their constitution that stated: “Members will conduct themselves in a manner that is considered ethical according to Robert’s Rules of Orders during general body meetings and debates.”

Besides the massive amounts of privilege implied in this amendment, at its core, it is censorship. Censorship can be defined in a couple different ways, one of which is that “Censors talk about “’Virtue’ but it really means ‘conform to the opinions, beliefs and values that they and theirs hold and which they would like to see enforced throughout the land.’” Leaders in SGA now use this new amendment to tone-police and silence other SGA members who make them feel uncomfortable.  A current senator who wished to stay anonymous also pointed out that, “Although SGA claims to follow Robert’s Rules of Order (RRO), they use their own set of rules to deliberately silence members of SGA who may wish to speak up and instead favor the discussion to members who will “argue” for them.”

The worst censorship by far has been the way in which SGA leadership simply shuts down initiatives it doesn’t like or feels uncomfortable with, even with strong student backing. For instance, a resolution was brought to SGA regarding sexual assault that asked for increased funding and a stronger stance by the administration, but – after a strange back and forth where SGA shamed the resolution writers – they voted it down; without any indication that they would at least try to re-write it or pursue a similar resolution.

This also occurred via secret ballot, which has become the norm in our student government. So basically, SGA is supposed to represent our voice, but we can’t even hold them accountable for that because we have no idea how they’re voting. Ok. (Note: There is no indication that they keep any kind of voting records this year).

So then the writers of the Sexual Assault resolution brought a referendum pertaining to condoms to SGA. Again, SGA attempted to change the exact wording of the referendum to better suit them.

Furthermore, in reaction to last year’s Divest referendum passing, SGA’s constitutional revisions board revised the constitution to make it more difficult to pass a referendum. One of the proposals (that did not pass) included demanding 3,000 students voting in favor of a referendum – despite that being a larger figure than any of the total vote tallies in SGA election history.

The condom referendum collected over 1,500 signatures but 200 were invalidated and this brought them below the newly required amount. Yet SGA still refused to compromise or bring the issue to the table in another way, despite clear student voice behind it.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of the ways in which SGA leadership censors students; however, these may be the worst transgressions. Please don’t get me wrong though: there are many SGA members who have hearts of gold and do amazing work. Even those who have censored others before have still contributed to our university in greatly beneficial and lasting ways.

Yet in a country where freedom is prized, using censorship to dominate the agenda, scare and silence opponents, and secure your own power and influence is simply deplorable and should be condemned at all levels of this university. But alas, as with most things, it needs to start with us; with the students.

SGA voting starts today, so please make your voices heard! Watch the debates, ask the tough questions, and make clear how you expect the new SGA cohort to conduct themselves.

Note: SGA leadership was approached about this article but failed to comment.

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