A recent history of SGA and DEI

Conflict arises over DEI vetoes and DESB resignation. Collegian file photo.

ELLIE ALLEN | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF | emallen2@butler.edu

Last week, Maya Sanchez — then-director of Diversity, Equity and Student Belonging for the Butler University Student Government Association — resigned from her position. Sanchez stated the reasoning behind her resignation was the repeated disrespect from SGA President Will Gigerich.

“This whole semester I’ve sort of been like, ‘I hate being on SGA,’” Sanchez said. “I would say that probably at least once a week, and after [Executive Cabinet] meetings, I would go down to my friends at the Diversity Center, and I [would] just be like, ‘I’m so frustrated,’ ‘I don’t feel heard,’ ‘This is getting tiring.’”

Sanchez is the first person to hold the position of director of DESB, and she was chosen by Gigerich. 

One of the three key pillars that Gigerich ran on as a presidential candidate was equity. His goals for increasing equity were to create a director of DESB, make SGA open to all students, increase funding for DESB grants and to end tokenism of students. 

Executive Cabinet meetings 

Sanchez said she often felt dismissed in Executive Cabinet meetings. When bringing up potential DEI initiatives, she said she felt dismissed and received backlash from Gigerich. 

According to Sanchez, she brought up initiatives including adding a Senate seat designated for someone within the Diversity Center and the Gender Affirmation Closet grant proposal. 

Brooke Hazel, the director of public relations for SGA, is a member of the Executive Cabinet. Hazel said she has witnessed the intensity of both Sanchez and Gigerich in Cabinet meetings. 

“I think both of them are passionate about wanting to better Butler University, and I think both of them care about the well-being of everything,” Hazel said. “[Gigerich] was a senator himself, so I think he has more knowledge about the processes of SGA and how things have to go through Senate.”

Gigerich said his concern about a Senate seat representing the Diversity Center was that it could open up a need for other groups to be similarly represented. Gigerich said he believed that running for vacant positions in the Senate is the best way to address representation for the Diversity Center. 

Hazel did not recall the specific interactions between Gigerich and Sanchez concerning the Gender Affirmation Closet.

“I think both have always been respectful but also stood their ground in what they want,” Hazel said. 

Sanchez also said she often was the first person to leave the room when Senate meetings were completed and others would stay after. Hazel said no additional business was discussed after the meetings, and they were purely social and academic. 

Sanchez was also frustrated by her SGA budget allocation which she said began at $5,000 at the beginning of the year and was raised to $10,000 to accommodate diversity trainings. Even with the raise, Sanchez’s budget is lower than other Cabinet members.

Miki Kawahara, vice president of SGA, and Elizabeth Jira, the director of mental health and well-being for SGA, both declined to comment for this story. Lucas Rhodes, the chief of staff for SGA, could not be reached for comment.

Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability grant 

Sanchez also raised concerns with Gigerich surrounding his veto of a sustainability grant proposed by the Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability. She believes that organizations outside the Diversity Center should be eligible for grants concerning DEI.

The grant CUES applied for would cover the cost of purchasing a membership to the Campus Pride Index

Lainee Rokos, a sophomore biology and environmental studies double major and sustainability intern for CUES, said the grant would have allowed CUES to continue addressing sustainability on campus by gaining points towards the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment & Rating System — a self-reporting tool for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.

“When people think of CUES they’re like, ‘Oh you’re only doing sustainability,’” Rokos said. “But what people don’t know is sustainability also includes DEI. Because when everyone is like, ‘Let’s save the environment,’ how are we going to do that when people aren’t treated fairly?”

The grant was vetoed by Gigerich on Feb. 25, who cited the misalignment between the grant and CUES’ mission, the lack of an itemized list of revenues and expenses and CUES’ status as a university department as reasoning for the veto.

“The purpose of the Campus Pride Index … is to ‘show prospective students LGBTQ+ resources, policies, and programs’ and ‘showcase Butler’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and reveal areas for improvement,’” Gigerich stated in the veto. “It seems bizarre to me that the CUES views this as being in line with their mission.”

Gigerich said he spoke with Randall Ojeda, the director of the Efroymson Diversity Center, about having the Diversity Center pay for the Campus Pride Index before vetoing the grant. According to Gigerich, Ojeda agreed that the Diversity Center could fund the initiative.

“When the student presented this for CUES, I felt like initially it was kind of peculiar,” Gigerich said. “CUES is generally something you think about as being [a] sustainability entity, and this is a Campus Pride Index, which is more like LGBTQ issues, and trying to gauge where Butler is on that.”

While Gigerich said he understood that sustainability incorporates diversity, he did not feel CUES was the best place to handle the index. 

“This is something that I felt needed to be better administered than I thought was going to happen with CUES,” Gigerich said. 

Gender Affirmation Closet DESB grant 

Butler LGBTQIA+ Alliance applied for a DESB grant to fund a Gender Affirmation Closet which would provide gender-affirming products to Butler students. The closet was proposed to be housed in the Alliance office inside the Diversity Center. 

Aided by speaker of the Senate Cade Chezem and Appropriations Committee Chair Alex Colbert, Alliance President Andre Hardy prepared the grant proposal. The grant was passed through the Senate.

On Feb. 25, Gigerich vetoed the grant citing the general public’s accessibility to the Diversity Center, funding the closet in the future, the need of a standardized distribution method and confidentiality of the Diversity Center as concerns for the grant. Gigerich stated in his veto that he had been in contact with Katie Wood, the assistant director for Health Promotion & Wellness, about creating the initiative through the department of Health Promotion & Wellness. 

“Particularly in terms of confidentiality and just efficiency, I don’t think any student would argue that the Diversity Center [is] necessarily a confidential environment,” Gigerich said. “The original plan was to have it given out by Alliance executive members, different gender affirmational items. And so walking through the Diversity Center where students do frequent isn’t a confidential environment to get that. But then also it’s my perspective that there’s other options on campus that make more sense.”

Gigerich also raised concerns about theft and misuse of the products if housed in the Diversity Center.

“Any student can scan in there, and all of the office’s doors don’t have locks on them, so based off the initial proposal there wasn’t a good place to store these gender affirmation items, and I was concerned about misuse and theft, not by the people who need them, but by the people who don’t and think that this was some sort of joke,” Gigerich said. 

Hardy said he addressed issues of security and sustainability in his proposal. He said only one of each product would be kept in the Alliance office to prevent theft, and he had been in contact with Caroline Huck-Watson, executive director of student involvement and leadership, and Jesse Neader, director of student activities, about future funding for the closet being provided by the DEI Innovation Fund or through a scholarship donation. 

Gigerich said this plan was not in the proposal. 

I was devastated, of course, because I had spent about a semester and a half putting this all together, working really hard to get statistics, things that would be good for the closet,” Hardy said. “It was a major blow and shock to me.”

Hardy said Gigerich did not reach out to him for clarification prior to vetoing the grant. Gigerich said he informed Ojeda of the veto decision and assumed Ojeda would break the news to Hardy.  

Hardy presented about the closet and his experiences at the SGA meeting where senators could vote to overturn the president’s veto. Hardy said during the meeting he felt ignored by Gigerich throughout his presentation. 

“[Gigerich] did not show any interest in listening to the perspective of someone who would be directly benefiting from the Gender Affirmation Closet and would directly be harmed by the veto,” Hardy said. “The student body president is supposed to fight for all students. And at that point, I felt that he made it extremely clear that I was not a part of his constituency of students that he was fighting [for]. And so I didn’t want to really show it, but I was just torn apart.” 

In a clarifying message sent to The Butler Collegian, Gigerich said he was paying attention throughout the student concerns portion of the meeting as well as the senators’ discussion.

“What might have appeared to be not paying attention was when myself and a few others were discussing who to meet with about the initiative and how to move forward while taking the voices of all relevant stakeholders into consideration,” Gigerich said in the message. 

Gigerich also presented in the meeting and questioned the management of Alliance and its ability to host the closet. Gigerich said his concern was based on Hardy’s lack of dialogue with him about the veto. 

Hardy said he had not responded to Gigerich because he was trying to find times that worked with the schedules of the Alliance executive members and Ojeda. He then learned the veto could be overridden and decided that was the best route forward. 

Hardy said the questioning of his leadership by Gigerich was humiliating. 

“This in front of the entire student Senate who represents the student body,” Hardy said. “You’re the student body president. The speaker of the Senate is there. There were IT people on deck waiting to present, and I mean, [it was] humiliating, and it was uncalled for. I didn’t say anything derogatory about him during my speaking. I have never said anything derogatory about him during any of this.” 

The meeting on March 2 ended with the veto being overturned by two-thirds of the present Senate members. 

Later that day, the Judicial Branch of SGA issued a temporary injunction to interpret the validity of the overturned veto based on the language describing the need for a two-thirds Senate vote. On March 3, Gigerich created a universal petition to the Judicial Branch to interpret the vote as invalid. Part of Gigerich’s petition stated “as the primary author of the current SGA Constitution, I am more than happy to testify to the original intent of the document and its effects on the operations of the organization.” 

Gigerich did not testify before the Court. 

On March 28, the Court ruled that two-thirds of the entire Senate are needed to overturn a veto rather than two-thirds of the present senators. According to SGA’s General Bylaws, the vote to override a veto must take place at the Senate meeting following the veto. 

For example, Gigerich said if a veto was executed in the morning of the day of an SGA meeting, then voting to overturn the veto would take place in that meeting. The speaker of the Senate is alerted of the veto, who then alerts the rest of the Senate.

On March 31, Gigerich instated an executive order that allocated $6,000 to the Office of Health Promotion & Wellness for gender-affirming supplies. Hardy said he was disappointed SGA took this approach because he has had negative experiences with the HRC surrounding his identity.

“He did fail to connect myself and the Director of the Office of Health Promotion & Wellness,” Hardy said. “That was also disheartening and frustrating because he just handed it over.”

Gigerich said the new process to receive the gender-affirming products would be conducted online via Google form and shipped to the requestor. 

“It’s not going to be transphobic health care, and there’s no insurance requirement there,” Gigerich said.

He further explained the safeguards intended to be put in place to prevent misuse of this initiative. 

“So there’s no requirement of this to go see a physician, ever, or like see Counseling & Consultation Services, like there’s no checkboxes that you have to go through for that, and there’s no requirement for insurance,” Gigerich said.

In terms of consulting transgender individuals, Gigerich said he reached out to Hardy after the executive order was created for input but did not get a response. 

“These sorts of things tend to die after a while, so I felt it necessary to go ahead and move ahead,” Gigerich said. “However, I would like to have that conversation.”

Hardy said he told Gigerich he needed a couple of days to process everything, and that he had planned to appeal the judicial ruling.

Navarro Garcia said he hopes the closet succeeds but thinks the way it came about was “ugly.”

“I don’t think [the executive order] erases the impact that this had on the students who put it together,” Navarro Garcia said. “And the students that really did a lot of the legwork to get this up and running on our campus and [they] really felt ultimately left out in the dark by the way this all went about.” 

The Meeting About New DC Furniture 

On March 28, Sanchez, Gigerich, Navarro Garcia, Meet Patel, the SGA vice president-elect and current senator, Annie Ventura, Diversity Program Council president, Cade Chezem, SGA president-elect and current speaker of the Senate, and Ojeda met to discuss updating the furniture in the Diversity Center. Chezem was not on the invite list for the meeting and joined to observe. 

This meeting led to Sanchez’s resignation. 

The topic of the meeting was to discuss the inclusion of the Diversity Center in the Atherton Refresh. Chezem and Gigerich said the Diversity Center was not currently in the refresh because the first phase included only “common spaces.” Chezem and Gigerich defined common spaces as areas that were not behind doors, did not belong to a department and that everyone could use. 

Gigerich said he believed the meeting was called to discuss the Diversity Center ordering furniture along with SGA to obtain a bulk order discount.

At the beginning of the meeting, Ojeda was not present, so Chezem decided to record the meeting. No one other than Chezem was aware the meeting was recorded.

Chezem said it was common practice within SGA to record meetings when advisors were not present. This practice is not written into SGA policy. 

“At the beginning of the meeting, Randall Ojeda, director of the DC was supposed to be there, and he wasn’t there, and when we sat down, tension seemed very high from all sides, and so I just knew that it was going to be a good idea to have that on file in case it was needed,” Chezem said.

The state of Indiana observes a one-party recording policy whereby only one member of a given conversation must consent for the recording to be legal. Therefore, the other meeting participants did not have to be consulted for the recording to take place.

Gigerich said meetings are recorded by SGA if they are believed to be needed later. 

“Generally, recordings don’t ever go anywhere because there’s nothing important,” Gigerich said. “Other than notes about what to follow up on, it’s not a big deal.” 

Gigerich said the reasoning behind recording was due to SGA and SGA leadership being blamed for issues. Gigerich said the recordings have been “useful in the past.”

Gigerich said he does not think it is unethical to record the meetings, and that he does not believe consent is always required for recording to be ethical. 

“I would say from my perspective that it’s necessary in an instance when there is an expectation of privacy, and in this meeting, I would say this meeting [there] that wasn’t that,” Gigerich said. “The larger meetings are going to have more potential for blowback, and something like this where there’s a concern we’re going to get thrown under the bus by students, but also the administration, having a record of it is important.”

Navarro Garcia said he believes the decision not to inform parties that they are being recorded is unacceptable.

“I have no problem being recorded,” Navarro Garcia said. “I stand by everything I said in that room. I did not conduct myself in a way, yell or say things that I think misrepresent me, that I think I would regret, because that’s not how I roll. I know who I am. And I know what I believe in. And so, that’s not the concern there. I just think, imagine how easy it would have been, ‘Hey, I think tension [is] rising and no [advisor is] here. We need to start recording this meeting.’ Everyone, I guarantee [would say], ‘Okay, that’s fine.’”

Navarro Garcia said if this is SGA policy, it needs to be better communicated to the student body.

“If that is truly a policy, I hope that they put it on their door because students need to know that if they are going to go question where their money is being allocated, how it’s being spent, that they will be recorded,” Navarro Garcia said.

Sanchez said that in the meeting Gigerich raised his voice at her and questioned her ability to do her job.

“The best word to describe it would be like, just very patronizing,” Sanchez said. “I think this latest instance was a frustration just because, you know, we weren’t stepping down when we were like, ‘This would be important for the Diversity Center.’ We were holding our ground. But, it was just so uncalled for, I would say it was, he definitely did raise his voice [to the point]  where he was yelling at me.”

Gigerich denies raising his voice.

Throughout the meeting, Chezem said there was passion on both sides, but in his opinion, no one ever raised their voice. 

“I think that both sides were just passionate about what they saw as the solution to the issue,” Chezem said. “I think that there were tensions were high just because of the matter at hand.”

Navarro Garcia said the meeting felt like a debate and was combative.

“I would describe the meeting number one as disappointing,” Navarro Garcia said. “Number two, pretty unproductive. And number three pretty hostile, which I think for me is just — I think it’s odd because I’ve never had meetings like that.”

Gigerich said the meeting went downhill quickly after the Diversity Center leaders realized that SGA did not intend to pay for the furniture.

Gigerich said part of his reasoning for being unwilling to use SGA funds to support the initiative was because of the belief that the Diversity Programming Council could use their budget for the updated furniture. 

The DPC’s budget as of Feb. 28 reflected over $97,000 dollars. This money came from the original seed money gifted by SGA of over $36,000, along with student activity fee allocations. As of Feb. 28, the DPC had spent over $4,000. However, the DPC sponsored an event with Yusef Salaam, an exonerated member of the Central Park Five, on March 24, which served as an additional expense.

Additionally, Chezem cited previous furniture funded through Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Board in 2019 as a reason to use similar funding again. In addition to the furniture funded in 2019, the Diversity Center also obtained secondhand furniture from C-Club.

During the meeting, Gigerich questioned whether Sanchez was doing her job of advocating to administrators about her ideas for the Diversity Center. Sanchez said she was advocating to him, but Gigerich said that was not her job.

Gigerich said Sanchez was the person who escalated the situation. 

“As Cade mentions in the letter to the editor, I would love nothing more than for you to have the recording [of the SGA meeting] right now,” Gigerich said. “I think [that it] would be surprising to a lot of students and contrary to part of Maya’s letter to the editor, but also to like, what’s been posted on social media and YikYak and all of that is like, Maya’s the aggressor in the situation and the recording shows that. But Maya doesn’t want it released, so we’re gonna respect that, but that part of this is frustrating.”

Navarro Garcia and Sanchez stated that Gigerich was the one who raised his voice.

“People like us don’t get to yell in meetings and walk out with the same level of respect, the same level of privilege and sometimes with our jobs intact,” Navarro Garcia said.

Navarro Garcia brought up in the meeting that Gigerich should apologize to Sanchez.

Gigerich said he did not have anything to apologize for.

“Everybody who has listened to that recording since then has made the same comment I initially did: apologize for what?” Gigerich said.

Since the meeting, Chezem and Gigerich both brought the initiative to fund new furniture in the Diversity Center to administration.

Sanchez said that after the meeting she returned to the Diversity Center and cried. She then decided to resign.

Navarro Garcia said after learning of her resignation, the meeting seemed like Sanchez’s final effort to be heard.

“In retrospect, it almost felt like her last stand,” Navarro Garcia said. “You could hear the exhaustion in her voice,” Navarro Garcia said. 

Gigerich learned of her resignation via text on March 29. Sanchez’s position will not be filled this semester due to the end of semester being so near.

Since Sanchez’s resignation, several student organizations housed in the Diversity Center have responded in solidarity via social media. Latinx Student Union posted a statement of solidarity on Instagram post on April 1, the day after Sanchez’s letter to the editor was published; Sanchez also serves as the organization’s director of professional development. Black Student Union published their own on April 3, and Asian & Pacific Islander Alliance followed suit on April 4.

In terms of what has been done to complete his goals for DEI, Gigerich said the requirement for DEI training for SGA members and his executive order for the Gender Affirmation Closet represent his DEI successes during his presidency. However, due to Sanchez’s resignation, the DEI training meant to be held April 6 was canceled, so the DEI training requirement was changed to “encouraging” senators to attend a DEI event in the Diversity Center due to finals approaching. 

“In a short year, it’s hard to get everything done that you want, but I think we have upheld the values of our platform, and I am proud of the work we have done in DEI this year,” Gigerich said. 

Meet Patel declined to comment for this story. 

Randall Ojeda failed to comment before the time of publication.

Corrections since publication at 6:34 a.m. on April 6: 

  • ORIGINAL: then-executive director of Diversity, Equity and Student Belonging for the Butler University Student Government Association.
    • CHANGE: then-director of Diversity, Equity and Student Belonging for the Butler University Student Government Association
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