SGA meeting divides campus, discusses letter in support for neutral university

Alexa Gagosz

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After the election results splashed breaking news headlines and social media feeds across the country early Wednesday morning on Nov. 9, some Boston students shouted with rage with chants of, “not my president” ringing through downtown in a three-day string of protests.

As for Suffolk University, this such clear divide was no different than the rest of the country with mobs of students swarming Boston Common and the main steps to the Massachusetts State House to demonstrate their right to protest the votes for president-elect Donald J. Trump.

Although, not all students at Suffolk took the results of the election negatively. Sydney Strachman of Mansfield, MA considered herself a Trump supporter throughout the campaign trail and stayed true to her candidate despite some of her classmate’s disapproval.

Strachman, who said she thought her classrooms were one sided when they discussed the election– whether it be from professors or students– said she did not feel validated with her opinion.

On Nov. 12, Strachman wrote a letter to administration which highlighted the one-sided classrooms and how she would be “attacked” by her peers for her opinions.

The email was sent to Acting President Marisa Kelly, Acting Provost Sebastián Royo, Dean of Students Ann Coyne, College of Arts & Sciences Dean Maria Toyoda, Assistant Dean of Students  Elizabeth Ching-Bush, Associate Dean of Students Shawn Newton and Assistant Dean of Students John Silveria.

Strachman said Royo had been the only person to reply to the letter as of Monday morning.

The letter was posted to the Suffolk Republicans Facebook page, a group which Strachman is involved in as a general member, and received backlash from several different students at the school. After a number of comments were written on the original post, the group deleted it from their page. The group said the post was on the page for “less than 24 hours.”

“It is important that all students are given an opportunity to contribute to the dialogue that takes place in our campus and community,” said a statement from Suffolk republicans sent to The Journal on Friday afternoon. “The letter that was posted on our Facebook page was written by a student who was concerned that her opinions and contributions in class were not being heard or respected. We shared her letter, originally written to Suffolk’s administration, as it reflected the concerns of the members of our organization.”

On Nov. 17, the Student Government Association (SGA), led by SGA President Sean Walsh in the front of the room with his executive board, held their weekly meeting where few seats were left empty as Strachman read her letter to the SGA senators and student attendees.

Strachman gave an introduction that explained that in many areas of campus, such as classrooms and dormitories, she said she felt as though her opinions on the election were of “no importance here” because she said her views did not align with the majority of the student body.

“This week, I am proud to have cast my vote for Mr. Donald J. Trump as the next President of the United States,” said Strachman as she read aloud. “With his victory, I anticipated my personal excitement and joy. Instead, I have been forced daily by administration, faculty, and peers to feel ashamed and explain my vote.”

Strachman went on to explain that many faculty members were allowed to hold peace circles and moments of solidarity.

“Assignments have been pushed back due to ‘stress’ that some may feel since the election. Further, the student body is encouraged by administration to ‘take time’ to process and heal their emotions; mourn; visit safe spaces,” read Strachman. “Not once were students told to keep their chins up and stand in support of one another, regardless of political ideology, during this time of extreme disunity.”

“For your vision to ensure ‘that Suffolk graduates are versatile and prepared for modern society,’ you have failed,” read Strachman as she looked to the SGA senators below.

Next to Strachman, sat President of Suffolk Republicans Courtney Schopke and member Ani Hollisian. On the other side of the same table  in the lecture hall sat Black Student Union President Stacey Daniels, self-proclaimed student activists Tim Clancey and Tiffany Martínez, senior Stephanie Breen and senior Emma Feathers.

“Our presence at SGA’s open forum on Thursday was to notify both the student body and our university of this inadequacy, and to begin a movement and opportunity to correct it,” said a statement from Suffolk Republicans. “We were glad to receive support from the students present that felt similarly.”

After Strachman read the letter, she explained that she had come to Suffolk from a working-class Jewish American family.

“They created, owned, and operated one of the most successful small businesses in the Boston area for more than 20 years,” said Strachman. “It was a meat stocking company in the docks of Southie. Unfortunately, because insider stealing, excessive regulation and the impending economic crash of 2008, my parents had to sell their business.”

Strachman said that her father was a burn victim as a child and as he “works like a dog to make ends meet,” he has to go under surgery once again.

“The atmosphere within our Suffolk community needs to change,” said Strachman. “I should not have to explain to people that I am not a racist and have over 500 volunteer hours at a black heritage museum. I should not have to explain that my family visits with my father’s coworkers regularly, all of whom are Middle Eastern immigrants of the Islamic faith.”

After Strachman ended her presentation, Walsh thanked her for presenting her letter and there was a round of applause.

Senator for the Class of 2018 Levi Smith spoke first, and said that even though he is “as liberal as it gets,” he understands how hard it is to be retaliated against.

“What I do want to say is, and I want to make it public, is that I do support you that Suffolk should be neutral,” said Smith.

Senior Emma Feathers stood and spoke on behalf of a student who has remained unnamed.

“The entire letter tried ted to dismiss the legitimate concerns of minorities, LGBTQ+, disabled, and that women all have,” said Feathers. “[Suffolk Republicans] has further used their platform to degrade the oppressed and further racist, xenophobic, discriminatory beliefs on and off our campus.”

Feathers read a statement from the student that highlighted that Suffolk is fully committed to uphold an inclusive environment and that it is important for all students at the university to respect those fears that some now have after the nation elected Trump as the next president.

“Suffolk University Republicans has only caused a more divided environment through the use of their first amendment right to free speech,” said Feathers. “[The letter] shares sentiment for racist and aggressive ideas that have been backed by groups such as the Klu Klux Klan. It’s appalling that Suffolk University would allow the group to continue under the university’s name.”

Feathers finished the statement from the unnamed student and said, “White people in the room, wake up.”

President of Suffolk Republicans Schopke was the first to stand next and speak.

“I wanted to thank Emma. That was really powerful what you read and I am sure that a lot of people can relate to it,” said Schopke. “I welcome the critique.”

Schopke promised that the satirical posts would be taken off the Suffolk Republicans Facebook page and that they were no longer shared after a comment was said on a post that had said, “Election predictions: Democrats take an early lead but will drastically change later when republicans get off of work.”

A number of general members as well as Vice President of Suffolk Republicans John Medlinskas spoke to discuss how they did not feel validated in certain Suffolk environments or that they could speak their opinion in front of fellow students for the fear of “being shamed.”

“We are a Suffolk family and we shouldn’t be any more divided than what the media has done,” said general member of the Republicans group Alexander Marcus.

Phyllis St. Hubert, Senator-at-large for Diversity spoke passionately against the letter.

“For me, it’s more than just the election and who won. At the end of this, it’s not about politics. It’s about human rights,” said St. Hubert. “I know that not everyone is a racist, but when people start acting on them, that’s what scares me.”


Editor’s Note: Sydney Strachman is the Lead Copy Editor for The Suffolk Journal. She does not report the news or edit for content on news articles.

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