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Students respond to Student Senate president’s controversial tweet

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Frustrated students with hopes for progress dominated this week’s Student Senate meeting as both students and senators responded to a recent statement made on Twitter by Ohio University Student Senate President Nick Southall.

On Sept. 1, Southall posted and quickly deleted a twitter post reading, “Driving through Athens at 8:30 on Sunday morning is hilarious. I want to stop every girl I see and say ‘your dress is a little wrinkly’.” Interpreting this as criticism toward females as “slut-shaming,” Ohio University students and student organizations including AVW Newstime and OU Student Union quickly responded with backlash toward Southall’s tweet. Some called for his resignation amidst remarks that he was misrepresenting his constituency with his comments.

“I not only brought shame to myself, but to this body. Let me be clear, I do regret my mistake, I’m not here to justify what I did,… I’m here to make sincere apologies to this body,” Southall said in a prepared statement. “I am ready as a leader and as a person to do whatever it takes to make this right.”

Over 30 students lined the seat in the Walter Hall auditorium where they shared their frustrations and criticisms of Southall’s language and behavior as well as suggestions for how to make the body and the university a less hostile place. Many shared their opinions directly to the body in the weekly session of student speakout.

Most students who attended the meeting to voice their opinions stayed civil in their dialogue, offering suggestions and explanations for why the thought Southall’s words were harmful. While emotions often influenced the tone and words of the speakers, most of the students hoped to aim criticism toward Southall’s behavior rather than his character.

“I don’t want to make this about criticizing the person who said this. That’s harsh and cruel,” said Bekki Wyss, an English major. “But I expect so much better from my Student Senate and my Student Senate president, who uses social media as an extension of that role, for which he represents students here at OU.”

Others were more direct in their criticism.

“It’s not about saving face at this point, it’s not about trying to improve on your apology and eventually getting it right,” said Alex Doherty, a Sociology major. “What this is about is you getting that we’re all people here, we’re all students, and we don’t deserve ridicule for just being here.”

“Bullying is a very real problem here… That’s something that I thought I’d guess we would have got past in middle school, but I guess not,”  said Michael Mayberry, a freshman. “Rape culture is prevalent here, it’s not a fringe problem in this crazy, liberal, feminist newspaper. It’s a real problem.”

“We need to foster a dialogue that will educate student senate and the general population of this campus on what comments that feature slut-shaming or ostracizing culture or anyone are not okay,” said Katie Conlon. “This is not a women’s’ issue, this is a humanity issue.”

International Affairs Commissioner Hashim Pashtun offered his words which were met with some dissention from the visiting students. Pashtun attempted to draw connections between the ignorance he encountered as a student from Afghanistan with the ignorance that he said Southall demonstrated through his tweet.

Joel Newby, president of Graduate Student Senate and one of the first people to respond to Southall’s tweet, offered his input, stating that it was up to him and everyone on campus to work together to counter the ideology behind Southall’s statement. He called on students to identify cases where their friends or classmates use discriminatory language and to call those students on their ignorance.

Honors Tutorial College Senator Allie Dyer spoke about plans developed throughout the past few days to address the culture that she felt was exemplified through Southall’s comments. Working with Dr. Susanne Dietzel, she plans to hold a panel discussion with OU faculty and professors to help education student senate and the general population about how language used on social media can cause real harm.

She also plans to address other problems on campus, including working Vice President of Student Affairs Ryan Lombardi to change language used by the Ohio University Police Department that she deems as victim-blaming in cases of sexual assault related crime alerts. In addition, she hopes to work toward requiring student employees to go through sexual harassment training as part of their hiring process.

Dyer said she was pleased that speakers largely chose not to attack Southall as a person, but rather directed that energy toward making this conflict an opportunity for change and growth.

“I can’t thank them enough for both being compassionate, but also being fair. We’re all responsible for each other,” Dyer said. “I’m incredibly grateful to them, because as a member of senate they said things that would not be as effective or powerful if they were coming from me.

Southall, while reserved in his remarks about the situation, said that he was pleased with the students that came to speak out and that he recognizes his mistake.

“I’d like for this to be a learning moment and a growing moment for senate,” Southall said. “These are issues that are ever-present, and they’ve just boiled up through the absent-minded foolish actions of myself, but I’m really glad that we can learn from this experience.

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