Silencing of Dissent Continues During SGA Election

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Martha Durkee-Neuman is the Outreach Coordinator for SARC. Jace Ritchey is the SGA Representative for SARC and a former campaign worker for the Suchira+Paulina: Believe In More Campaign.

Over the past week, the ReNUal 2017 Campaign and the Student Government Association (SGA) Elections Committee have become complicit in Northeastern University administrators’ penchant for silencing survivors of sexual assault and neglecting student activists’ concerns.

The Committee, guided by a flawed Direct Elections Manual (DEM), voted on Sunday to effectively censor student leaders of the campus organization advocating for survivors’ rights at the University, enabling the ReNUal 2017 campaign (comprised of Alex Bender and Jake Grondin) to silence dissenting voices.

Following criticism from the Sexual Assault Response Coalition (SARC) and its members for failing to include any mention of support for survivors or Title IX in their campaign platform, ReNUal 2017 filed a grievance with the Committee for slander, libel, and negative campaigning against them. The grievance was filed against the Suchira+Paulina campaign, referencing materials written by SARC leaders, one of whom was officially affiliated with the Suchira+Paulina campaign and who has since resigned. The complaint cited a DEM provision prohibiting campaign workers from disseminating negative materials.

In their complaint, ReNUal cited personal Facebook posts and Tweets made from the accounts of SARC leaders, one of whom was officially affiliated with the opposing slate. Several of the comments made by these leaders pointed out that ReNUal is running on a platform void of any mention of sexual assault policy, Title IX, or survivors of assault or harassment. Others expressed the wrought emotions of survivors shocked that Bender and Grondin had the audacity to ask for students’ votes without addressing one of the foremost problems on college campuses.

The ReNUal campaign doesn’t deserve all the blame. The Elections Committee, already plagued with scandal, enabled this censorship. After all, the justification provided was an SGA Direct Elections Manual (DEM) limit on the rights of “campaign workers.” The Committee, using the DEM, ruled that student campaign workers may not discuss limitations of another slate.

This stipulation in the DEM compromised the aforementioned SARC leader’s ability to fulfill their responsibility to represent SARC to the broader University community. Though the SARC leader may have broken a DEM rule as a campaign worker, uplifting survivor voices and ensuring their needs are heard and addressed should always come before campaign interests, especially when a campaign does not address those concerns and needs.

It is unacceptable that a ruling document like the DEM limits anyone’s ability to voice factual dissent, regardless of organizational affiliation; reforming the DEM is vital to including substantive platform and policy critique in future elections processes.

Students should always be free to discuss the merits or deficits of student body campaigns; by placing value on the oppressive DEM, the ReNUal campaign displayed to SARC leaders a blatant attempt to censor and silence survivor voices rather than rectifying their irresponsible omission and apologizing to survivors at the university.

When asked by student advocates at the SGA elections debate what the candidates have done and will do for survivors, Bender and Grondin cited their experience participating in Northeastern University Office of Gender Equity and Compliance’s Title IX video and serving as Resident Assistants (all RAs are required by law to report any disclosures of sexual assault to the administration, a policy opposed by many survivors).

This is concerning, as both of these experiences relate to working for the University administration, which has historically and routinely silenced the voices of survivors. Advocates at Northeastern have had to work tirelessly against Northeastern’s administration to promote the rights of survivors. Considering the context of their record and experience as University employees, many student organizers have little confidence that the ReNUal 2017 candidates will do the same.

This is an issue of free speech and dissent on campus. This is an issue concerning the need for students to raise their voices against injustice. This is an issue of an SGA committee and an SGA campaign upholding poorly-written rules rather than students’ rights to speak up and critique platform proposals, which would open up beneficial and constructive dialogue on critical issues. This is an issue of a campaign prioritizing oppressive rules by filing grievances to silence dissent instead of listening to legitimate concerns and incorporating students’ views and survivors’ needs into their policy platform.

It is understandable that rules about campaign involvement exist to prevent smear campaigning or negative publicity for the institution of SGA. But there is a very real frustration felt by students who find the courage to speak out, hearing in return nothing but silence from the ReNUal campaign. It is unacceptable that ReNUal and the Elections Committee have successfully derailed crucial conversations about sexual assault and the need for aspiring student leaders to acknowledge campus issues into a bureaucratic procedural decision.

Regardless of the outcome of the election or the future of the DEM, let there be no doubt that SARC will continue to push the Student Government and the University Administration to do better for survivors. There is too much at stake for survivors and allies to be complicit in this suppression of dissent.

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