Letter to the Editor: The institutional censorship of SGA

Graphic by Corrina Riess.

A NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: This letter to the editor was published by The Butler Collegian after fact-checking. The opinions contained in this letter are those of the author. The Butler Collegian is committed to sharing diverse viewpoints from across the university and is committed to upholding values of free speech, but does not endorse or promote opinions contained within any letter to the editor. 

There was nothing but excitement and optimism when I started my SGA position. I’ve always wanted to be an advocate for the student body and naively thought that getting involved in SGA was the way to do it. However, this past year has shown me the façade of SGA’s power and role on campus. I’ve felt a moral obligation to share the egregious amount of control and censorship that the Butler administration has over student government, and the past week has been without a doubt a glaring sign to do so.

First and foremost, I’d like to apologize to my fellow students. A student government is supposed to listen to students’ voices, and in turn, represent those voices at a higher level where all students cannot be present. What a student government is not supposed to do is stand idly by as students’ voices are silenced. SGA has failed to support the student body on countless occurrences, most recently involving the event, “The Joint Struggle and Collective Liberation: A Conversation with Angela Davis,” where the prominent civil rights activist was supposed to speak.

The administration’s control over SGA is evident through our lackluster public statements. The purpose of an SGA statement is to communicate the student viewpoint to the whole university — to declare, “This is where we stand.” Time and time again, SGA has released statements that have not accurately reflected the student body, but rather reflected the administration’s oppressive agenda. In the past academic year, conversations regarding race and mental health are prime examples.

The statements are first constructed by the SGA executive branch members and their advisors. Based on the severity of the controversy, the higher-up administration intervenes to make sure the message fits their mold. This manipulative last step of revisions is absolutely unacceptable because it takes away the true student voice during the final decisions.

Rewind. Read that again: they have the power to edit out the student voice.

So, what actual power does SGA have on campus?

The administration acts as if we are able to change things on campus. They flaunt the fact that Butler was founded by an abolitionist, but has failed to pursue such a bold and progressive mission. Supporting abolition in 1855 was controversial. Allowing anyone but white men to receive an education in 1855 was controversial.

Fast forward to the 21st century: whenever anything remotely controversial occurs, the administration hides behind vague statements and pressures SGA to follow suit. As an SGA member, this is incredibly frustrating because these statements are an extension of the administration instead of being a vessel for the students. Even if SGA wanted to release a statement that goes against the administration, there would be a chain of punishment delivered, working itself down to whoever “started it.”

We saw this unfold most recently with the Angela Davis event. When the administration canceled the event, they immediately started looking for ways to point fingers and shift the blame onto someone else. The statement that SGA pushed out was heavily censored, and as always, followed the administration to solidify their stance as the end-all-be-all truth.

Butler encourages students to go outside their comfort zones and ways of thinking. How hypocritical. 

They take our student government, which is supposed to represent a diverse student body, and filter it through with their close-minded beliefs.

I understand students’ anger and frustration towards SGA, and  I challenge you as the reader to see the deeper, much scarier truth:  SGA is the result of a control-hungry administration that is terrified of any opposition, and they are desperately trying to hide the strings they pull. To realize SGA has no real power on campus is a hopeless truth to wrap your head around. As an SGA member it is certainly discouraging, and I can no longer choose to ignore it.

The question comes again: what do students actually need?

Students need a representative body that’s empowered by the genuine promise of an institution concerned with the student experience. 

SGA has the potential to fulfill this vision. Our first steps are to acknowledge the stark contrast between the students’ priorities and the administration’s agenda. Demanding a real seat at the table may seem daunting when the true people in power are faceless to the student body. These demands should not be seen as extremes or over-asks, as these are already the mere standards at other universities.

Uncovering the truth behind the postponement of the Angela Davis event speaks to our power. I encourage you to keep challenging the administration’s actions and exercise your right to express your opinions.

I hope one day the university can acknowledge students’ concerns with intentional validation, leading to a progressive environment that fulfills the mission statement of stimulating an intellectual community built upon interactive dialogue.

This letter to the editor was written by an anonymous source who is involved in SGA.

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