Statement on Moral Accountability
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
At the time of writing, Student Senate President Jack Denton has received wide public response to his statements made to other students online. He was requested to resign by The Amplify Party as part of their denouncement of his actions. Today, at 5pm, a special session of the Senate is to be held, where a vote or other action is expected to be taken to enact his removal from his position.
In a brief recounting of the facts, Student Senate President Jack Denton made the following statements in a group chat, in response to someone messaging a list of organizations to donate to amidst the national fight for racial and civil justice:
The interpretation of these messages is that Denton refers to the following as "Grave Evils" that he interprets as "anti-Catholic:" Queerness, "transgenderism", abortion facilities / access to abortions, and police reform focusing on reducing the number of police / de-funding police.
The Torchlight Campus Policy Center is committed to maintaining a nonpartisan platform and respecting students' freedom of speech. However, recognizing the humanity and validity of LGBTQ+ people is not a political issue. All views, including these statements, that dehumanize and invalidate LGBTQ+ people have no place in FSU's community. Even more, is that these views are held by an individual that is charged with representing and serving every identity of FSU's incredibly diverse student body equally. With marginalized groups being considered and declared "Grave Evils" by him simply for their act of existing, the student body has found it impossible that Denton can fulfill that duty.
College campuses are the laboratories of democracy. This is the stage where student leaders, who often grow up to become political figures, are made. Student accountability assures that successful student leaders are fair, just, and righteous, and succeed here to become state and federal leaders. Student accountability ensures that student leaders who hold unjust beliefs, are removed or otherwise not elected to their positions. When student leaders who hold unjust beliefs are not held accountable by their constituents, they become adult politicians who still hold unjust beliefs. So, in the fight for civil rights and against injustice holding student leaders accountable during the early stages of their political careers is key.
The Amplify Movement's recent message attempts to distance Denton from their organization. Amplify did not disclose in this message that Denton served as the former Vice Chair of the Amplify Movement. They should be held accountable by the student body, as well.
The sort of statements that Jack Denton made are never appropriate. What makes them especially egregious is that they come at a time when the Black and Queer communities are grieving over the deaths of their members and expressing their anger through global protests. SGA leaders have an obligation to affirm and support these communities, especially during pride month, and instead Denton sends the message that he does not.
The student response to Denton's statements is a huge step forward in Student Government accountability. Elected officials, and people seeking office, should know that they must uphold FSU's constitution and code of conduct, on pain of impeachment. This is an oath every elected student takes, and accountability from students ensures it is not taken lightly.
At the very least, is it plausible that a student leader who privately holds homophobic and transphobic views can still put those aside and perform actions that do good for the LGBTQ+ community? Perhaps. Has that been the case? The record can show that it is not.
Jack Denton's leadership in the Amplify Movement involved him serving as Deputy Candidate Coordinator during the Spring election of 2019, and Vice Chair of the party through the Fall election of 2019, holding both the party Vice Chair and the Senate President positions concurrently during that time.
The Amplify Movement's 2019-2020 platform consisted of 40 initiatives. (39 are displayed on their tracker, for an unknown reason one was removed.) Of these, two specifically address LGBTQ+ students. Neither were completed. The first, Allies & Safe Zones 101, was to promote the Allies & Safe Zones course. In the year that the Steinberg-Lee-Dawkins had, the point was never listed as completed. The second, Gender Inclusive Housing, promised to make an effort to make Gender Inclusive Housing available to students. This is a monumental effort and the platform point is indicated as "in progress" yet no explanation is given. The Administration has had an open and continuing opportunity to inform Torchlight of any advancements in these initiatives. Denton, as Vice Chair of the party and Senate President, was able to advocate for those initiatives. The administration states that he has not.
It would not be accurate to say that this is purely Denton's responsibility. However, his comments may reflect to students an overall larger problem. Accountability by students is the only way to make the progress that students want to see.
The Torchlight Campus Policy Center aims to produce student-driven research that informs campus policy. Take a look at our open positions here if you are interested in joining.
Author: Patrick Martin