That light tone of voice meant not to offend someone powerful. Laughing, frozen, panicked and deal making. ‘Let it go.’ ‘Why bother with it?’ ‘What can you do?’ ‘It’s best if you don’t say anything.’ ‘Just, keep it to yourself.’ How many times have these phrases been uttered to those who needed to have their voices heard? How many times has someone in a position of power quieted those voices? We live in a time where there are those who should never be in a position of power, who have it, but abuse it.
Student Government Association (SGA) is a student group in place to bring the voices of Webster’s students to light, to make the student experience a better one. Little did I and others know that behind the doors of Sunnen, the Presentation Room and the SGA Office was something completely different than the picture painted in students’ and faculty’s heads.
I was filled to the brim with excitement at the thought of being a part of another group at Webster which shared the universal desire to do good for the campus and the students. Before I was inducted into SGA, a member of the Executive Board invited me to attend a Constitution Committee Meeting as an observer to see what SGA was like and if Constitution Committee was something in which I might be interested in. I sat in awe as I watched the leaders from Webster’s student body work together to improve the success of SGA. Even though I was not able to participate in the meeting, the learning experience alone was something I was grateful for.
As the saying goes, if something seems too good to be true, it is. Storming up the steps came an angry individual I knew to be SGA’s President. He barreled up to the table and began yelling at the members, accusing them of going behind his back to host a meeting. He targeted each person individually, one-by-one until each member had their head down. He got into it with another member of the Executive Board, verbally assaulting them by yelling, name-calling, threats of kicking people off of SGA, you name it.
‘What am I getting myself into?’ I thought to myself. ‘Why would anyone treat someone else, their colleague, a peer, a human being, with such disrespectful and degrading words?’
The argument became so loud and intense it started up the “Ok Google” feature on my phone. The SGA President eyed me, and I was quick to turn it off in fear I was next to be the target of his harsh words. With defeated heads hanging, the meeting was over, according to the President. Still trying to process what just happened, the President “pulled me” aside.
I can remember him growling at me, accusing me of recording the meeting.
I was so taken aback by the accusation I could only stand there and gape at him. I assured him I was not and that I was a guest, invited to sit and observe the meeting. He pressed more, continuously trying to get me to admit to something I did not do. I told him the conversation had been loud enough to spark my Siri-like help app on my phone, yet he persisted. Cornered, with him standing in the way of my exit, I would have said anything at that point to get him off my back. Just as I was about to come up with some elaborate excuse, his demeanor changed.
I can remember him being softer then, asking me to hand over whatever I had. I can recall him saying that he wanted to use whatever I had to get the other members in trouble.
First, he is accusing me of recording, and next, he is grooming me, trying to get help to blackmail his members? I told him I was sorry I could not help him, but I had to leave for a meeting.
‘Maybe this was just a fluke thing,’ I thought. ‘Maybe sessions are better. I should probably just let this go, right?’
Needless to say, nothing got better. Power was abused. Others were targeted. People were manipulated. Members were talked over. Ideas were shut down. Nothing was ever fixed. It was an “my-way-or-the-highway” type of democ-dictatorship association.
After that experience, I dreaded meetings, encounters with this President and even my office hours. I sat in the SGA office and prayed he never came in or that the Executive Board was not having a meeting that day. I could hear the shouting, the cursing and the exhausted sighs from the meetings held above the SGA office. This President threw disrespect not only to members but the advisors as well. I could listen to the pleading and nervous shouts coming from members of the Executive Board as the President shut them down. I sympathized with almost all individuals up there, as I had been there myself.
I had a professor once tell me that to live a happy, healthy and well-adjusted life, you had to eliminate all things toxic from your life. That is what I felt I had to do. I thought I had no other option than to remove myself from this toxic situation and use my time in other groups to make a difference at Webster. Thus, I resigned at the end of the first semester, sending my resignation only to the advisors in fear of having to hear from the President ever again.
Storytelling is a lived experience. Everything we do is about the people; it’s about the individual having the opportunity to be witnessed, to be heard, to be understood within their context and to be given opportunities for increased resilience. We have to examine these stories. It’s time we find our voices and push past those that are continually trying to force people like us under the rug. Unwanted emotional and verbal attacks are inappropriate and unwelcome. When more than 8 people resign from SGA in a year, it should raise some eyebrows. Our voices have been squelched. Something needs to be done, time is up.
The 2017-2018 SGA president responded to this piece here.