Thursdays’ Student Government Association (SGA) meetings are usually a long, routinely process, reminiscent of class time, couple of yawns here and there, couple bills passed, an applause, nothing too risqué. But last week was everything but routine.
You probably heard about the footage of the scene retweeted hundreds of times, and this might have been one of the most intense student reactions we’ve ever received. The university was tweeting about it, SGA was tweeting about it, we were tweeting about it, and chances are, you were tweeting about it too.
Student activist Asma Elhuni stood up after Georgia State University President Mark Becker’s speech at the meeting and requested to ask him a question. He said no, and after she continued talking despite him declining to take questions from the audience, she was removed from the room by university police.
Elhuni and other students have long been knocking on Becker’s door asking him to sign a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the recent Turner Field sale, which they argue would give the neighboring communities oversight of the project and thus help prevent gentrification and the displacement of the communities that currently reside around the area. So, both Becker and anyone in the audience that hasn’t been living under a rock knew exactly what Elhuni was going to target, and this wouldn’t be the first time.
But the biggest issue isn’t what happened Thursday – the police reaction was merely a metaphor of the sparks flying back and forth between the protesters and the university. This finger-pointing from the protesters at Becker, and Becker’s silence has caused a chaotic back-and-forth in which we only hear about from the side that’s doing the protesting. While protesting authority is sometimes necessary when vouching for justice, this may not be the way to do so.
What Becker has told The Signal in the past is that he absolutely can not sign the CBA. But that hasn’t worked, and protesters have fought back with their suggestions of what he can do. So maybe it’s time Becker addresses the student body himself, and clear up all our questions, and have a sit-down with the group to resolve the conflict.
Detaining the activists is definitely not the way to go. Sure, she was disrupting, but that’s how protests work. Our job as reporters isn’t to name the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ side, but we do have a responsibility to distinguish between fact and fiction.
Was Elhuni forcibly removed from the meeting? Fact. Did police issue a trespass warning which essentially temporarily ‘banned’ her from campus? Fact – mostly. The ban is not meant to hold for its entirety of two years, and as our article explains, it’s only a security measure taken by the institution. But was Becker stuck in a situation he hadn’t signed up for? Fact…mostly? SGA president Fortune Onwuzuruike told The Signal he had assured the university president that questions would only come from senators – and it’s likely that that interaction took place to assure Becker he wasn’t walking into another round of CBA protests. Besides, that’s the closest we get to hearing questions answered by the president himself, when he makes these appearances at the student government meetings.
So what’s it going to be? More angry Twitter wars? Talk to us, Dr. Becker, we’re all waiting to hear from you.
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