The past month has been hectic for Student Government as allegations of sexual assault, lack of transparency, and other grievances have consumed the executive board. On November 16, the three remaining Student Government Executive Board Members, Financial Director Grant Marconi, Communications Director Madison Brown, and President Kiara Kabbara, were voted no confidence by the Student Assembly. Despite the Student Assembly voting no confidence on the remaining executive board members, they have refused to resign. This comes after the four other executive board members resigned following sexual assault allegations that have shaken student government, with some even calling for its abolishment.
But, where did this all start? Well, it started on October 23 when Anthony Rodriguez took to his Instagram account to post screenshots of the Student Government’s budget, which included the stipends of the executive officers and their tuition allotment. These screenshots reveal the tuition allotment (the number of scholarships the executive board hands out) is $10,400 for the 2020-2021 school year. This is contrasted with the amount of stipends that each executive board member receives in stipends: the President and Vice President both receive $6,840, with the remaining executive board members receiving $3,420 each. This totals $36,751 in stipends to the executive board, which is three times the amount given out by the executive board via tuition allotment. This fact was then publicized throughout Instagram and Twitter as more students realized the reality of the Student Government budget. Due to this, many students began to question Student Government’s transparency and wondered why the executive board received such large stipends. Discussions amongst students, Rodriguez, and the various executive board members continued publicly throughout social media like Twitter.
This all burst out into the open on October 26 during the weekly meeting of the Student Assembly. The meeting opened up as it usually does at 7 PM on Tuesday, but this time there was a much bigger audience than usual as interested students came to voice their concerns. Here is what happened during that first assembly meeting:
The assembly opened up with the land acknowledgment, naming the various native tribes that once lived on UT-owned land. Next, Oscar Lopez, the Speaker of the Assembly, gave a breakdown of the rules and procedures for open forum and Q&A since there were so many new faces in the audience. Following this, the Open Forum began with a speech by the Student Body President Kiara Kabbara. She began her speech about how the Student Assembly works to better the student body and UT Austin. She then apologized and took accountability for the lack of communication from the executive board to the student body and that recent communication errors have led to Student Government’s mission being disrupted. She then emphasized that SG’s mission can only be accomplished through teamwork, and without teamwork, they would fail to accomplish their mission. Kiara then talked about growing up in south Dallas and getting a basketball scholarship to attend UT. She outlined her accomplishments and advocacy on campus and spoke about the achievements thus far that had taken place while she was president. She emphasized that the executive board has put in over 5,000 hours over the 95 days that they had been in their positions, resulting in MHART, the Student Entrepreneurship Project, the Menstrual Equity Project, and various other transformational changes for students at UT. She then emphasized the pursuit to partner with a historically black university and expand resources for students at both universities, the Riverside Hub’s creation, and the doubling of Student Government appropriations to student organizations at UT. She then finished her speech by stating that there is no place in the organization for tearing each other down for selfish gain, but only growing closer together for selfless action to lift people up will result in Student Government fulfilling its mission. There were no questions for Kiara during the Q&A.
The following student to speak during the Open Forum advertised a grant being given out by the Entrepreneurship Center on campus. The grant is an opportunity for students to submit their business ideas to win $1,000. Those students could then win $10,000 in a national competition if selected. Only a few questions were asked of the speaker about the application process until the next speaker came up.
The next student for the Open Forum was Anthony Rodriguez, the same student who posted about the executive board stipends a few days earlier. He began his remarks by telling the Student Assembly that they should feel free to disagree with him and that he is simply trying to hold people accountable. He stated that he had submitted records requests weeks ago for budget documentation and zoom recordings, but the executive board was slow to provide those to him. He also stated that he posted the documents on social media to create urgency and let students know about what was going on in Student Government. Rodriguez went on to say that once he received the documents he requested, there was inaccurate information. He also stated that the executive board failed to provide ample updates on what they did over the summer and created a toxic environment in Student Government. Rodriguez also criticized the board for not updating the website until mid-October and flip-flopping on their opposition to The Eyes of Texas. Rodriguez also criticized them for promoting a student whose parents are millionaires through the Student Business Empowerment program. Finally, his grievances ended by stating that a representative in Student Government told him that they had to go to therapy because of the toxic environment present in the Student Assembly.
Q&A was then extended by 15 minutes to accommodate the plethora of questions for the speaker. One of the first questions to Rodriguez was the following: What do you think we could do to eliminate the toxic environment? Rodriguez said that people in Student Government don’t feel genuine about what they are doing, creating a hostile environment. The Chief of Staff, Meera Sam, then asked clarifying questions about what constituted a toxic environment, and Rodriguez cited private conversations during Zoom breakouts. When asked about his thought process about pushing for transparency, he said he had to ask over ten times for the Zoom recordings of various meetings held by the Student Government but never received them. He also stated that executive board members should require the disclosure of their financial status to run via pell grants, for example. Rodriguez also made the case that many executive board members are from a privileged background, so they shouldn’t get as large of stipends as they receive. When asked about why he didn’t speak with executive board members privately at first, he stated that he wanted to make the matter urgent so that the conflict could be resolved quickly. The time for Q&A was then extended again by another 15 minutes. Rodriguez said that his main concern was transparency, accountability, and creating a healthier environment in Student Government. He noted that representatives feel that they are being treated poorly. He emphasized that if executive board members don’t need the stipends, they should be given out for student benefit and investment. After nearly an hour of questioning, the Q&A session finished with Rodriguez returning to the audience. Throughout the entire session, the executive board members seemed agitated and launched multiple personal questions at Rodriguez, some of them using an uncivil tone.
This was exemplified when another student came up to speak during the Open Forum and highlighted that the executive board was personally attacking Rodriguez and the tone of their voice was disrespectful and combative. Another student, Jarielle Afofabi, said that she too was disappointed with the executive board’s behavior during the Q&A session, and she said that you couldn’t really say that diversity is present at the school when it is historically racist and upholds Confederate ideals that result in microaggressions. She also stated that she wants to see more action from the Student Government since it appears that Student Government is failing to represent students by not strong-arming the administration. She cited the Eyes of Texas and insufficient Title IX investigators as two problems that Student Government should focus on. She ended her remarks by stating that students should be angry that the Student Government has failed to act and represent them. The Open Forum then concluded, and a seven-minute recess was called.
Once the recess ended, new legislation was introduced with AR 08 In Opposition of Defunding Austin City Public Resources and Services. The legislation was fast-tracked, and the authors argued that an increased police budget would take away money from social justice and other public services. They said that if Proposition A passes, Austin City Council would raise the police budget and not have the ability to decrease the police budget in the future. They then emphasized that this would impact the safety of students and take resources away from students like buses, parks, or libraries. They stressed that mental health resources should be a priority instead. During the Q&A, the authors were asked about Student Government taking a political stance and whether that was appropriate. They argued that the bill doesn’t specifically say “opposing” but instead says “opposing the potential consequences” if passed. They also argued that non-partisan groups oppose Proposition A, and multiple city council members are against it. The bill was then passed by a majority via hand vote.
For the sake of time, other new legislation, such as AB 08 Amending the Code of Rules and Procedures to Enact Part 1 of the SG Transparency Act of 2021 and AB 09 Amending the Code of Rules and Procedures to Enact Part 2 of the SG Transparency Act of 2021, was postponed. The assembly then moved on to unfinished business, which included AR 07 In Support of Allowing Students to Make Sustainable and Covid Conscious Choices Without Financial Barriers. The bill creators said that the focus of the legislation is the Eco2Go Program and the legislation “petitions UHD (University Housing and Dining) to reinstitute the regular to-go options that were present before the Eco2go program, or alternatively, to reduce the price of participation to allow more accessibility to students.” The legislation passed unanimously.
The night finished with the executive board announcements with the Advocacy Director stating that accountability is a one-way street and that a Transparency Folder has been created for students and representatives to view, including executive board documents, Zoom recordings, and various other materials. The Communications Director also defended her social media behavior for not having people they don’t know follow them, such as Rodriguez. The assembly meeting then adjourned after three hours.