On March 10, the weekly Student Government meeting was interrupted after Rowan Torr, a former senator, attempted to address concerns regarding alleged discrimination against individuals with disabilities within the student senate. According to Student Body President Humza Khan, various controversies the student senate has been at the center of over the course of the school year incited the incident.
He stated that during each meeting an average of five people show up to “take up space” and monitor the actions of senate members. While he was unable to identify all people involved in last week’s call to action against the student senate, he noted that Iris SanGiovanni and Marena Blanchard are three individuals who often show up each week.
“[They] started disturbing the peace, and were accusing me and other senators of being biased, anti-black, anti-trans rights and in support of white supremacy, despite the fact that the senate is more diverse now more than ever,” said Khan.
Dean of Students David McKenzie responded to an interview request with an email statement, which briefly explained the details of the meeting. When Torr was not given permission to break protocol and interrupt regular business, wrote McKenzie, Torr resigned from the senate. He reiterated that Torr was told several times to stop interrupting the meeting, but refused and continued to make a speech for another 20-30 minutes, at which point McKenzie had campus public safety officers escort Torr out of the room.
According to McKenzie, Portland activist Marena Blanchard recorded the meeting. The recording, he said, “included the profanity laced tirade by [Torr].” He noted that while he did not see it for himself, he is aware that the video is now on social media. In the video, Blanchard can be heard telling Torr, as they are asked multiple times to leave the meeting, “You don’t have to stop. You don’t have to listen.”
Liam Ginn, the chair of the student senate, said that he was “very disappointed with Rowan and Marena for their actions.”
Torr initially sat down in the room with the senators and brought up concerns that were not on the agenda for the meeting.
“I can see there are a lot of questions you want to ask and a lot of anger, I can sense it. I can see some of the comments,” said Student Senator Fadumo Awale. “We will not tolerate this kind of behavior, you are a senator, there are rules and regulations to follow… we are all adults here.”
Awale continued by offering Torr resources to file a report on the incident, while Shaman Kirkland, senator and chief of staff, asked Torr, “If this is so important to you, why can’t we wait until the appropriate time to talk about it?”
Jason Saucier, the SGA adviser, proposed a five minute recess during the meeting, and upon the student senators return, Torr interrupted again, this time with a megaphone.
Khan explained that incidents of conflict were not uncommon within the student senate, but until the meeting on March 10, no one had ever interrupted a senate meeting in a way that broke protocol.
“I can understand that conflict and political disagreement may exist, which is fair grounds to be angry about,” Khan said. “But Rowan and their friends started targeting students on Facebook, both in public and private messages… calling them trash, losers… it was clearly harassment.”
Torr was reminded that they were violating student senate protocol, but they continued.
“You are all so transphobic and I have anxiety attacks every time I come to the senate,” they said.
In the two-part video series posted by Torr on Facebook, they claim the student senate was responsible for “attacking two femmes and calling them stupid and keyboard warriors.” Torr also accused Ginn of being “discriminatory against people with disabilities,” but provided no evidence when asked by members of the student senate.
On Facebook, Torr posted their confidential disciplinary hearing order, sent from Andrew McLean. Torr deleted the post a few days later, although the Free Press has physical records of its existence. The document states that Torr was scheduled for a hearing on the charges of “Causing a disturbance and a failure to comply with university officials.”
According to Pdg Mowins Muhamiriza, student body vice president, Torr’s actions were inappropriate, because to him, escalations of conflict like these turn to chaotic situations. Whatever their motives were, noted Muhamiriza, they could have made a more reasonable point by being ready to debate.
“Whenever you are tempted to make a sudden move or comment, regardless of how you feel, it is always best to try to understand the other side’s approach, and this time, it is safe to say that they pushed hard the senate’s buttons,” he said.
According to Khan, the most pressing issue at hand is some individuals’ unwillingness to listen to perspectives that differ from their own. He believes that, by interrupting and yelling, they demonstrate to others that “they lack a degree of knowledge and understanding about SGA, and [that] they are unwilling to cooperate if [things don’t] completely go their way.”
“I think to a certain degree there is a small group of students and they don’t know how to handle themselves. They have their own way of communicating and protesting their concerns, but there are some basic rules we follow in the US. and the world,” he said. “These kinds of behaviors are based in immaturity, and not having the willingness to listen to the other side, labeling someone and not understanding what the issues are.”
Muna Adan, vice chair of the student senate, observed that, as soon as a person joins or engages with the SGA, others cast aspersions on their commitment to respecting members of the student body.
“As soon as one joins the Student Government Association or engages with its representatives, they become an ableist, anti-black, a white supremacist, homophobic, Islāmophobic, misogynistic, oppressive, sexist, transphobic, et cetera,” Adan said. “If one belongs to and/or identifies with any of those groups, they are referred to as a self-hater. I know this because I, and those whom I work with, have been called those derogatory terms.”
“There are individuals from the past who have represented our organization negatively, but they are gone, and we do not stand for what they did,” she continued. “We need to stop with the us versus them mentality and learn to work with one another, regardless of our differences. How will we make progress as an organization, a student body, and a university if we are hostile and do not want to engage and work with others?”
SanGiovanni, Donato and Blanchard did not provide commentary. Torr, who was contacted by the Free Press, had one statement to make: “Watch the video.”
An earlier version of this story stated the meeting was “last week,” but should have been labeled by the proper date of March 10. In addition, the article stated that Elizabeth Donato was in attendance of the meeting on March 10, when Marena Blanchard and Iris SanGiovanni were the only confirmed individual who showed up at the meeting on March 10. All three individuals did not respond to interview requests.