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Two ASG senators resign over group's handling of racial slur incident

Two Associated Student Government (ASG) senators resigned recently, leaving a total of five seats open after the resignation of two senators and an executive cabinet member last month.

Off-campus senators Jake Bertog and James Gale both resigned as a result of how the recent racial slur incident in ASG was handled.

In October, former senators Conor Daly and Connor Mallegg and former Secretary for On-Campus Affairs Mike Meleka resigned after a two-year-old video resurfaced of Daly and Mallegg dancing and singing to the song "Ultralight Beam" by Kanye West featuring Chance The Rapper. It was unclear whether the former senators uttered a racial slur in this video. Meleka had sent the video in a Snapchat group chat of current and former ASG senators.

All three students were sent to ASG's Oversight committee which cleared them of all wrongdoing. Later, a petition was started to hold an impeachment trial because some senators did not agree with the oversight ruling. As a result of the petition and other outside pressures, Daly, Mallegg and Meleka all resigned.

This leaves four open senate seats to be filled in a special election in Feb. 2019. The Election committee has yet to decide when the executive cabinet position will be filled, but it will likely be early next semester.

According to the ASG bylaws, there are 67 seats between the senate and executive cabinet. With five open positions, seven percent of ASG's seats are currently empty.

Whether ASG will use these openings as an opportunity to increase diversity within the senate, a body that is primarily composed of white students, remains to be seen.

"Recruiting diverse candidates has been a high priority for ASG and it will continue to be," Cole Hankins, the Speaker of Senate, said.

Bertog resigned in an email to Hankins over Thanksgiving break, but this information was not made public to the rest of senate until Bertog notified them separately in a Slack group chat on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Earlier that evening, Gale messaged the senators' Slack group chat notifying them of his resignation with a letter stating his reasoning. Gale sent his resignation in before the senators' diversity training, which was scheduled to replace their regular meeting that night.

"Over the past few weeks, I have been immensely disappointed with the actions of student government leaders, the behavior of senators, and the present trajectory of Associated Student Government as a whole (with exception to the judicial branch--as far as I know, they're doing just fine)," Gale wrote in his letter. "I feel an overwhelming sensation of frustration and futility; a sensation that is a first for me as an elected representative."

Gale went on to cite the senators' Everfi diversity training as one of his reasons for resigning. The training was recently purchased by the Office of Diversity Affairs to be used in various organizations around campus and was planned a month in advance by Secretary of Diversity Affairs Courtney Rose, who had also instigated a similar diversity training last semester.

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Gale believes ASG failed to follow a process titled "calling in" which is taught in the Everfi diversity training.

"Calling in is the practice of recognizing that people make mistakes, of identifying those mistakes, and trying to educate and move forward," Gale wrote, quoting the diversity training module.

He criticized ASG as a whole for not following this process.

"I saw zero consideration of diverse solutions or inclusion of differing opinions," Gale wrote. "Coming from a group of individuals which prides themselves on being diverse and inclusive, I found those actions utterly mind-boggling, brushing up against being outright hypocritical."

Monica Venzke, a member of ASG's Diversity and Inclusion committee and president of the Diversity Affairs Council, responded to Gale's letter in a statement to The Miami Student.

"I understand James's frustration and I am saddened to see him go, but with all due respect 'calling in' isn't always enough," Venzke wrote. "It only works when individuals admit they did something wrong, which neither senator has done in this case. I know they both have grown immensely as people since this incident occurred, but the reality of the situation is that this video was divisive and left them unable to represent their constituents and thus unable to do their jobs. Secretary Rose has organized inclusion training every semester they've been in office, which includes last semester when both senators involved were required to be in attendance."

Following Gale's resignation in the group chat, Bertog later messaged the group to notify them of his resignation as well.

"I to [sic] am stepping down," Bertog wrote. "It was nice meeting you all for this brief semester. Although I do not have a letter to share, I am a bit disappointed with the organization's actions. However, hardships bring for greater strength, and I wish the best to everyone [sic] of you in your journey. And I'll see you all around... Namaste."

While Gale's resignation is effective immediately, Bertog will remain in ASG until the end of the semester.

Rose could not be reached for comment, and Gale refused to comment. Bertog would not speak to The Student's reporter unless they revealed their source that first alerted them to his resignation.