‘Wow’: Head senators respond, deflect from Israel trip

With the trip to Israel well behind them, Student Government Association officials seemed eager last Thursday to move on to “the great projects” the 89th Administration is developing in their remaining two months of business. No senators indicated an interest in discussing the trip’s questionable nature within the Senate, though many delivered remarks that were distasteful of The Signal’s coverage.

Danny Mai, head senator for the J. Mack Robinson College of Business caucus, took a lengthy pause to collect his thoughts before delivering a one-word reaction to The Signal’s article on the potential constitutional violation by five SGA officials: “Wow.”

Sen. Mai repeated, “Wow,” when asked to respond to SGA adviser Boyd Beckwith’s statement that the trip could be considered in violation of the SGA constitution.

When pressed for a more verbose response — specifically on any potential decision to bring impeachment charges toward those five officials — Sen. Mai said, “I’m running out of time,” and declined to comment further.

Kaelen Thomas, head senator of the College of Arts and Sciences caucus, said it’s up to the rest of the Senate to discuss if any action should be taken. He indicated no plans to introduce a discussion himself.

“However, if that question does arise from the Senate, I will take the time to review the details of the trip and make an informed decision as to whether or not this does violate the constitution of SGA and how we will be moving forward from there,” Thomas said.

The six senators reached for comment all delivered similar deflections: Because the trip is over and a press release has already been issued by SGA, the issue is over and done. The Atlanta Senate has not openly discussed the matter, and it’s unclear if any committees have, either.

I don’t think it’s wrong for anyone to question the intentions of the trip, but the students who went have given their statements several times about what their intentions were,” Sen. Kiersten Nicholson of the School of Public Health caucus said. “Because the trip occurred without me knowing beforehand, I can only take their word for it and use the situation as a learning lesson for the future.”

Sen. Cherilyn Munoz of the College of Education and Human Development caucus echoed Sen. Nicholson’s sentiment, adding that the senators who went on the trip display outstanding character within the Senate.

“President Franklin [Patterson] already addressed the issue when he released the press statement earlier this year,” Sen. Munoz said. “All of the members who attended the trip all have amazing personalities and have been working hard to make this campus and university as a whole a better place.”

Both senators agreed that students should instead focus their attention on other issues and initiatives that SGA is undertaking.

“I would also encourage The Signal and other students to focus on the great projects that my fellow senators are currently working on that [haven’t] been written about, instead of a trip that occurred around two months ago. We have some really great initiatives (homelessness, human trafficking prevention, smoke-free campus, and inclusion week) that more students should be aware of,” Sen. Nicholson said.

In fact, The Signal has reported on all of these issues, save for the inclusion week – which hasn’t happened yet. Last fall semester featured regular coverage of SGA’s homelessness and smoke-free campus initiatives, and The Signal’s most recent Sex Issue included updates on SGA’s Human Trafficking Week.

If a student desires change, Sen. Nicholson suggested they run for office and prioritize voting for SGA officials who will accomplish what they want.

“Personally, there are other aspects that SGA is attempting to improve and if there are anymore issues especially with who is in charge and their personal decisions, they should run to be the voice and to be the change they want to see on campus, even if the deadline has passed,” she said.

Head Senator for the College of the Arts Caucus Malcolm Mondesir said he is relatively new to his position and could not comment based on his current knowledge of the situation.

At the heart of The Signal’s line of inquiry was whether an SGA representative could ever shed their student leadership responsibilities in any capacity. This was prompted by SGA University-wide President Franklin Patterson’s press release that stated he and Atlanta Executive Vice President Ayesha Iqbal traveled on the trip as “individual students,” not student leaders.

However, Sen. Thomas was happy to share his personal opinion on that debatable topic. 

“I do believe SGA is a full-time responsibility,” he said. “Whether that is clearly defined in our constitution, that is still up for debate.”

All six senators chose not to comment on whether they would consider impeaching any of the five SGA representatives who went on the trip. The exception to this was Sen. Nicholson, who said she would not pursue any impeachments.

The SGA University-wide Senate convenes this Thursday, Feb. 28, at 7:15 p.m. in Urban Life Building room 170.