Photos by Sara Meredith
A few days before the beginning of the Spring 2017 semester, students received a singular update regarding the Student Government Association (SGA) suspension and investigation. The memo confirmed, for the first time, the allegations against Student Government. Acting Student Body President Brandon Lee Heard listed: “unprofessional use of office space, misappropriate use of funds,” and “on/off campus events that were not registered by the institution.”
“The investigation did not find sufficient evidence to initiate a formal conduct proceeding,” Heard went on to announce in the memo. “As a result, Student Government is now back at full operation.”
While this begins to clarify the current state of SGA , it raises a number of additional questions for the student body: How did their Student Government get to this point – of suspension, investigation, and now reinstatement without further proceedings?
An unnamed member of SGA originally reported these activities last semester, bringing them to the attention of the administration and provoking the suspension. Dan Hoover, Director of Student Conduct, and Deb DiCaprio, Vice President of Student Affairs, conducted most of the investigation over winter break. After interviewing 15 members of SGA, their testimonies consistently opposed the defamatory allegations. “The stories held up,” said Robin Torres, the faculty advisor for SGA.
“All of those [accusations], you have to prove,” Hoover explained. “If you don’t have enough people coming forward to give us the data and information that supports that, you can’t move forward.”
In his email, Heard used the term “sufficient evidence” to mean a standard of proof that the case failed to meet. In more definite terms, any conduct investigation at Marist requires a 51 percent burden of proof or evidence that a violation “more likely than not” occurred. Student Government’s reinstatement without sanction indicates that the compilation of evidence against SGA did not amount to this 51 percent likelihood.
The investigators ultimately fell short of the burden of proof and proceeded to reinstate the club, closing the case. However, both Hoover and DiCaprio explained that the truth may not be quite as clear-cut outside of the constraints of the investigative process.
“It’s more likely than not some of that stuff probably occurred,” said Hoover, regarding the list of allegations. “But it’s not enough information to move forward to make a formal complaint.”
DiCaprio expressed a similar mindset. “Do I believe that these kinds of things have happened and that they happened in the past?” she said. “Yeah, I do believe it but I don’t have hard proof and I can’t do something just because I believe it.”
However, DiCaprio can do something to prevent future allegations. Until now, Marist College has never suspended the operations of Student Government and this administration aims to implement changes to ensure that it never happens again.
To start, SGA instituted a new rule this semester that prohibits the use of their office after 8 p.m. According to DiCaprio, the group plans to improve professionalism by revamping their education process and training session this summer. Hoover suggested that SGA would also look to enhance their internal processes and communication.
Thorough communication is a challenge that surrounds the controversy. Throughout the investigation, students in and out of SGA experienced a lack of communication regarding the status of the club.
“They weren’t telling us why or anything that happened,” said Sophomore Class President Isabella Duenas-Lozada, who wishes she had been better equipped to answer her peers’ questions on the subject.
For the duration of the investigation, conduct officials prohibited members of SGA from discussing the case among themselves, in order to ensure authenticity in their stories. Additionally, to maintain student privacy, the office of student conduct never releases the details of a conduct violation – that information belongs only to the students directly involved. Now that the investigation is over, those individuals have every right to discuss the case at their own discretion though many choose to remain silent.
“I am not at liberty to discuss the suspension,” said Tyler Robinson, Vice President of Safety and Security for SGA.
Another officer, Freshman Class President Eric Johnson, went on to explain this policy of silence as “a general issue from Brandon so we can move on to more pressing issues.”
As they make the effort to move forward, SGA also moves towards a new administration. The student body recently elected a board of officers for the 2017-2018 school year and began the transition process.
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