Ostracizing the opposition: A response to SGA’s resolution expressing support for Dr. Pestello

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While I might wish it were the case concerning social issues, the reality is that the Student Government Association is not an autonomous group. It should not speak for the entire student body without substantial pause. As a Senator for three years, I understood that I was bound by my constituents to be an extension of their voice. There were times where I voted based on my own values and understanding of the Jesuit mission, but I always kept my constituents in mind.

SGA’s resolution to express support for Dr. Pestello, however, was not a moral issue, nor was it a practical issue affecting students. It was a political issue. With backlash from some alumni and students in response to the Clock Tower Accords, other students sought to stand with Dr. Pestello’s decision. I was among those who supported him, but when I signed a petition circulating social media along with 500 other students, I did not expect it would be used to justify a resolution supporting Dr. Pestello on behalf of 30 times as many students.

Unfortunately, SGA’s passage of that resolution last month is only indicative of broader issues around campus. It shows a perception by SGA that it can act on its own because students are “uninformed or don’t care,” in the words of Senator Ronald Clark. It shows a process that, reminiscent of Father Biondi’s leadership, neglects other opinions. But it points to an even larger problem: If you are part of the opposition, then your voice isn’t valued.

With the passage of the resolution in February supporting Pestello, SGA crossed a red line. It failed again to foster legitimate dialogue and include all voices at such a critical time. It also further damaged trust between them and their constituents.

An environment of disregard for others’ opinions and use of hyperbolic accusations of racism has no place at a Jesuit university, where academic freedom should be a catalyst for dialogue and change. This environment extended, though, into the Senate chambers explicitly on Feb. 25. Senators – and even co-sponsors of the Pestello resolution – were seemingly confused about the resolution’s intent. According to meeting minutes, one co-sponsor said it was in response to the Clock Tower Accords. Later, another co-sponsor said it was not related. One co-sponsor called for the resolution to be tabled until more student feedback could be solicited. He was shut down, with Senator Emeritus Brittany Kendrick comparing any tabling of the resolution to “whites deciding not to end slavery.”

I wholeheartedly support Dr. Pestello, his transparent leadership, compromise and wisdom. In the first months of his administration, he faced the most important times our university has seen in decades. That is why I signed the petition. But it was an ultimate irony to try to honor the openness, leadership and transparency of Dr. Pestello with a resolution that was far from open, far from transparent and far from indicative of true leadership.

In the end, SGA took a major step backward. While it may have been difficult and uncomfortable, SGA should have held open fora and created a formal survey. Instead, senators and guests characterized the opposition as apathetic, ignorant and even racist. And they won. But for what? A weak resolution from which five abstained and five voted against (out of 34).

The resolution, by virtue of SGA’s responsibility to represent students, may appear to be widely supported. In reality though, we have a student body that is largely divided, whose voices remain unheard and whose concerns and ideas have not been explored. That is the exact opposite of the dialogue, transparency and leadership that SGA wanted to thank Dr. Pestello for having.