By: Julie Pike, Free Press Staff
For most of the student senate meeting on Friday, April 7, business ran as usual. There were guest speakers present, various campus committees that spoke about their projects and discussions about budgets. However, throughout the meeting a group of roughly 15 students gathered in the back corner of the lecture hall in Payson Smith. At the point where concerns were allowed to be brought forward, several students began to speak. They were directing their comments toward Student Senate Chair Liam Ginn. Ginn was accused of making an Islamophobic comment to a Muslim student. Iris SanGiovanni, a senior political science major, began the discussion.
“You told a young muslim woman that she could not be a feminist because of the hijab that she wears,” SanGiovanni said. “You consider yourself an ally to the Muslim community, yet you talk to an individual student in such a way.”
In her statement, SanGiovanni brought up other instances when Ginn allegedly discriminated against the same Muslim student.
“The very weekend that comment was made,” she began, “there was a policy created that the Student Senate Office would only be used as a place of business, and that this same student that you directed those words would not allowed in there.”
During the meeting several students were trying to talk at once, to the point where their concerns could not be heard. Rodney Mondor, the director of Transitional Programs at USM, asked students to express their concerns in the format that the student senate traditionally uses.
“There is a process for the order of concerns here,” Mondor stated. “Concerns are first brought forward, [and then] the senators will address those concerns and then report back at the next meeting.”
Student Senator Fadumo Awale responded to claims that the senate is not doing anything about Ginn’s comments and stated that three violation inquiry committees have been filed against Ginn.
“We are processing these at the moment. We are working on it and have formed a committee to work on investigating it,” Fadumo said. “We are doing something about it. We’re not just sitting and watching these things happening.”
A violation inquiry committee is made up of six members of the senate, who are remaining anonymous. Senator Jeffrey Ahlquist, the chair of the Finance Committee, explained how his committee will handle the concerns.
“A group of people will gather all of the information, ask both parties involved questions, come up with a ruling and make a recommendation for discipline,” Ahlquist stated.
SanGiovanni asked if there was a call for Ginn to resign.
“We cannot ask someone to resign without [a] proper investigation,” Awale responded.
“Why can’t he speak for himself? He should say something,” asked Mariana Angelo, another student in the audience.
Awale responded by saying there is a process for addressing concerns within the senate. She stated that Ginn does not have to answer right away. The senate is given the week to address the concern and will respond to the concern at the following meeting.
Shouting began at that point and Ginn declared that the meeting was adjourned. The audience responded to his action in an uproar. SanGiovanni chanted “Liam needs to go.”
The students that were there repeatedly asked Ginn to say something about the comments he made.
“Now you’re in a room full of people and you’ve got nothing to say,” Angelo said. “Liam isn’t saying anything because he can’t take accountability. We’re giving him concerns and he has the audacity to adjourn the meeting.”
Angelo then addressed the vice chair of student senate, Muna Adan.
“Muna is not even trying to hold him accountable,” Angelo said. “You are a Muslim woman and you are still trying to support him.”
At that point, students in the crowd became raucous, and a police officer, who was waiting in the hallway outside the meeting, started to step in. A majority of the senate began to disperse and left the meeting, and the rest of those in attendance eventually followed.
“I’m just disappointed in the behavior of students that decided to disrupt the meeting and start fights,” Ginn said.
Discussions continued in the hallway and then out in the courtyard outside of Payson Smith.
“I think everyone has a boiling point, but I don’t believe that everyone handles stress the same way,” Ahlquist said. “I think that today a small minority of the people at the meeting handled themselves in such a way where the majority of people weren’t able to get the results that they wanted.”