Standing Room Only: A Report on Trans Rights, EVP Katie Hayden, and the Suspension of PIKE’s Charter

A regularly Scheduled Student Government Association (SGA) Senate meeting was held on Tuesday February 21st at 7:30 pm. What wasn’t so regular was the number of people in attendance, likely prompted from an open letter to the administration that was co-authored and shared on Instagram by Senate Speaker Noah Young (Senior, A&S). The letter urged the UofL administration and student body to attend the meeting for an open discussion following the recent harassment of transgender students on and around campus, as well as the university’s erasure of messages chalked on sidewalks and pathways by student activists. 

Members of the student body filled the College of Business’s Horn Auditorium nearly to capacity. Members of the administration also attended the meeting, including Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Mardis, UofL’s Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dr. Lee Gill, and ULPD Chief of Police / Director of Public Safety Colonel Steven Green.  

Trans Rights Public Comment

Business commenced after roll call and introductions by Dean Mardis and the other administrators. The Senate Speaker called on representatives from the UofL Trans Rights Alliance (ULTRA) to share their messages. One ULTRA student leader recalled being followed by a staff member of the University of Louisville’s Physical Plant and then an armed ULPD officer after writing on the ground in chalk in accordance with the university policy. Other representatives from ULTRA recount being filmed, harassed and spit on while chalking in accordance with their First Amendment right to free speech. The trans student whose harassment by members of the UofL chapter of the Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) Fraternity at an off-campus party led to the outcry against the fraternity for transphobia and the University administration for their inaction was also present at the senate meeting. The student stood and apologized to the LGBTQ+ community for accidentally “Starting a war” explaining that she initially wanted to keep the proceedings private so that she could focus on her classwork but she thanked everyone for their support. 

What followed was an hour and a half of public comment where members of the community, student organizations, resident assistants, and student senators expressed their deep disapproval of the University and demanded a response. Many people shared anecdotes of their own experiences of transphobia around the University and fear for their well being. Frustration with the lack of disciplinary action taken against PIKE, transphobic campus housing policies, and calls for “Queer friendly action not Queer friendly talk” permeated the discussion. One substantial action was proposed by Senator Nino Owens (Junior, A&S) in a bill co-authored by Senator Kai Speed (Sophomore, A&S), advocating for the suspension of the student organization charter of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity (PIKE). Overall, every speaker insisted that the University of Louisville Administration had the responsibility to step up and do more to protect LGBTQ+ students. 

EVP Hayden Debate 

 SGA Executive Vice President Katie Hayden was absent from the senate meeting, and in her place was proxy Sawyer Depp, current SGA Executive Chief of Staff. Depp was questioned by several senators on EVP Hayden’s alleged failure to hold a diversity training for the Senate. Academic Vice President (AVP) Bryson Sebastian began fielding questions on the lack of a diversity training. Sebastian  informed the body of the multiple attempts to schedule Dr. Lee Gill for a diversity training and the continued cancellations and scheduling conflicts by Gill. He then claimed that the senate had made no proposals for an alternative training or objected in past meetings to the rescheduling of Dr. Gill’s diversity training. Sebastian added that EVP Hayden was in communication with diversity and inclusion training staff at the University. Senator Speed fired back that the Student Body President Dorian Brown and the Executive Board has the ability under the SGA Constitution section 2.5.2 to call a special meeting that would have worked with the admins schedule. 

When AVP Sebastian insinuated that the senate should have passed a resolution requesting the EVP to hold an alternative diversity training, Kent School of Social Work  President, Abigail Fortney, asked “isn’t it a little bit unethical” to ask the senators to pass a resolution asking the EVP to do the EVP’s Constitutional duty? AVP Sebastian clarified that it didn’t necessarily have to be a resolution, just a text or email letting the EVP know the senators were wanting to conduct a diversity training sooner than the one with Dr. Gill, who had repeatedly rescheduled. 

At this point Senator Nino Owens (Junior A&S) yielded the floor to Dr. Marian R. Vasser, the Director of Diversity Education and Inclusive Excellence and Executive Director of Diversity and Equity at UofL who said that despite Hayden’s claims of meeting with Diversity Training staff, she only “met with Katie for the first time today at 11 am.” And to “Please let Katie know I was here tonight, that’s a little disturbing.” AVP Sebastian then apologized to Vasser, and said he assumed that she had been included in communications with Gill.

Services Vice President (SVP) Report on Chalking Policy

SVP Alex Reynolds gave his report in which he relayed to the senate that he had been in contact with both ULTRA and the UofL Physical Plant – the Department in charge of maintaining the physical facilities of the University – on the issue of chalk being erased by Physical Plant employees. The current UofL policy on chalking as found in the student handbook states that chalk is permissible “on sidewalks using light colored chalk in open, horizontal areas to allow for eventual removal by rainfall…Do not chalk under an overhang on the buildings, the side of a building or under ramps.” SVP Reynolds said that Physical Plant admitted that they were removing chalk based on a proposed but unapproved chalking policy that prohibited “verbiage that does not promote a positive image [of the University of Louisville.]” Therefore removing not only chalk on walls that were outside of the policy but also chalk that they arbitrarily deemed “offensive.” It was pointed out by other students that often only the word “Trans” was erased from phrases, insinuating the University thought that trans students calling for rights was offensive and that trans students were a bad look for UofL. SVP Reynolds claimed that the policies and actions of Physical Plant silence students and that he would work to advocate for meaningful changes in policy. 

Suspension of PIKE’s Charter

The final bill on the agenda at the meeting was Senate Bill 12.42, sponsored by Senator Kai Speed (Sophomore, A&S) that was a resolution to formally request that the Student Organization Advisory Board (SOAB) send an official request to the senate to suspend the charter of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity (PIKE) for one year in response to instance of transphobic actions from their organization. Due to the checks and balances outlined in section 4.9.2 of the SGA constitution, the Senate is the only entity that can suspend an organization’s charter; however, they can only do so if it is requested by SOAB. 

There was some debate on the bill by Senator Nino Owens (Junior, A&S) who was in favor of the original phrasing of the bill as a “Trigger Bill” or writing it so that the Bill would automatically revoke PIKE’s Charter if SOAB ever requested the Senate do so, making it a fast way to suspend the Charter because the Senate would no longer have to vote at the next meeting on whether or not to suspend the the Charter when SOAB sent the request, it would automatically be suspended. Liam Gallagher (Junior, A&S) successfully argued that an amendment was necessary to reword the bill in a way that simply asks SOAB to recommend that the Senate suspend the Charter. He reasoned it would be a much more solid way of getting the same result. He wanted to make sure that PIKE couldn’t sue SGA and get their charter back on the grounds of not having had due process. This will result in further action being necessary at the next Senate meeting but that was a price Gallagher said he was willing to pay to ensure a sound result. 

After a short recess that President Gallagher called so the senators could discuss the bill in a more relaxed manner, the amendment to change the wording so the bill simply asks SOAB to request that the Senate revoke the Charter was passed nearly unanimously with the lone nay vote being that of Senator Owens. President Gallagher then moved for final passage of the bill after Senator Speed successfully suspended Senate bylaw 202.18, which requires the bill to have a second reading at the next meeting and be assigned to a committee before it could be passed, meaning Senate Bill 12.42 was passed unanimously and sent to SOAB for their consideration. 

The meeting concluded at about 10:30 pm after a full 2 hours and 40 minutes of intense community involvement in the democratic process. For those interested in any of the topics mentioned in this article, the next Senate meeting will be held on March 7th at 7:30 in the Horn Auditorium at the College of Business. Like all Senate meetings, it is open to the public and students are encouraged to come and participate.

Don’t forget to vote in the upcoming SGA elections, check your UofL emails for a ballot Feb 27th – March 2nd!

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