Reflection on 6/5/20 Senate Special Session
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
Former Senate President Jack Denton's removal from his leadership position was a referendum on the relationship between FSU's student body and student government. In a completely unprecedented series of events, the bigoted statements made by the then- Senate President caught fire in the community, sparking a petition for his removal with over 7,000 signatures. At today's Special Session, called specifically for this issue, over 350 students viewed via Zoom and over 200 via Instagram Live to attend, which lasted over seven hours.
Seven hours. A hundred students signed up to speak during the open comments section. I sat, listening intently, to each student's statement. Every inch of FSU's intersectional student body made themselves known, and their opinions heard, by Denton and their 500 peers. Student after student laid bare their experiences, identities, and sorrows about how Denton's statements had personally hurt them.
I was happy to see FSU's student body so involved. Then, saddened when I remembered why they were there. They had to be there. Privileged people who shared Denton's view had the luxury of being unaffected by that view. The people speaking out against his comments did so out of a necessity to be recognized as people: Black, Brown, LGBTQ+, other marginalized identities spoke about their personal struggles living in a world defined by Denton's statement. Students offered both criticism and education about how Denton's statements were a disservice to the student body.
Outside of collegiate democracy, this is a fantasy. Nowhere outside of a college campus can a government official be forced to put on a suit, sit in front of a camera, and listen for seven hours while their constituents reprimand them for their bigoted statements. Some politicians make bigoted statements much like Denton's on a daily basis, with impunity. It's not possible to walk up to a U.S. Senator to explain why their statement was wrong. At FSU, it is possible. This is the stage where budding politicians need to learn that accountability matters.
A Student Government politician who learns they can act without accountability, becomes a U.S. Government politician who knows they can act without accountability.
This is why Student Government accountability is so important. Students were able to hold Denton accountable for his words, and help elect a new Senate President who hopefully does not hold those views.
Some of the smartest, most well-spoken, most thoughtful, and most brave opinions I have ever heard at FSU came from students during this meeting: students as young as incoming freshmen, and students who had never heard about SGA before, garnered a public response on the Instagram Live comments of "Put this student into office NOW!" Unfortunately, this may have been those students' first and last experience with SGA, after observing the unfortunate turn of events later into the evening: Suspected filibusters and unnecessary delays, the silencing of the Pride Student Union due to time constraints, and Denton's dismissive demeanor which disheartened and enraged students.
I observed Denton rolling his eyes at statements he deemed contrary to his worldview. After being corrected by one student, he denied ever having done so yet continued to do so. After one student pointed out that he would only respond "thank you" to favorable comments, he began saying "thank you" even to comments denouncing his behavior.
Even a representative from Burning Spear, in a rare public appearance, addressed the student body to denounce Denton's actions and claim that they are not associated with him.
Denton refused to resign, despite demands from the student body, the Executive Branch, his own Amplify Movement which he once served as Vice Chair, the Black and Pride Student Unions, and his own senators to do so. Up until the final vote of 38-3-3, he read an unapologetic rebuff of his offense after bowing his head in prayer during the vote proceedings.
Thank you to the students who made their voices heard today. Far too often, the task of educating and correcting those in power falls on the most marginalized: Black, Brown, LGBTQ+ and so on. That exact thing happened today. I am sorry. Through strengthening FSU's democracy, we can ensure that the voice of marginalized people is made clear from the beginning. When it isn't, and it must come to correct a bigoted voice, emotional labor is spilled onto our democracy. We're seeing it now, on the national scale, in protests. We saw it today, on the campus level, in a seven-hour monumental effort.
To help strengthen FSU's democracy, under the pillars of Accountability, Transparency, and Research, I invite students to join the Torchlight Campus Policy Center. View the available positions on our page here: www.torchlightcenter.org/join
Author: Patrick Martin