Members of multicultural student organizations walk out of SGA meeting after controversial resolution passed

In the Wildcat Chamber room at the K-State Student Union, Juan Pineda Gomez speaks in front of the Kansas State student senate in favor of an amendment that would change the wording on legislation. "If we look around, we already have history being recorded here," Pineda Gomez said in his speech. "We have more engagement with SGA than we've had in a very long time, and it's unfortunate that it has to be under these terms." (Hannah Kipp | Collegian Media Group)

Members of various multicultural student organizations walked out of last week’s Student Governing Association meeting after the resolution approving standing committee chairs and the parliamentarian passed by a vote of 32-8-5. 

“We really don’t agree with some of the committee chairs that they have proposed, and now they are in position,” Natalia Rodriguez, former president of the Hispanic American Leadership Organization, said after walking out of the meeting. 

Prior to the approval of appointments, former Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Committee Chair Joseph Pondillo proposed an amendment changing some of the language in the resolution, with the purpose of opening the senate floor for debate. Pondillo said he introduced the amendment to voice concerns about DEIB Committee Chair Payton Lynn. 

“With the recent selections of the DEIB chair, some concerns arise,” Pondillo said in his speech in support of the amendment. “DEIB chair elect, Lynn, has tried to stop funding to a diverse group in my committee last year.”

Following Pondillo’s speech, Lynn debated in the negative. 

“I’ve dedicated my entire career in this organization to tackling issues of accessibility, equity and inclusion, both within our organization and across campus,” Lynn said in her speech. “I debated fervently against individuals who sought to take speaking rights away in student senate from the presidents of student organizations because I wholeheartedly believed that there should be no barriers for those that want to interact with this body and talk about the issues that they believe in.” 

Members of the Hispanic American Leadership Organization; Black Student Union; Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences; Asian American Student Union; and the Sexuality and Gender Alliance attended the meeting. Among those that debated in the positive were BSU President Christopher Burrell, SAGA President Julia Coverdale and MANRRS Undergraduate Vice President Zenzele Asante.

“When thinking about students who need this position, we need individuals who actually listen to our voices,” Burrell, senior in mechanical engineering, said in his speech. “We need individuals who talk the talk and walk the walk. We need support for our diverse students, and lastly, and most importantly, we need individuals in this role who have our best intentions at heart.”

In a debate in the positive, former Speaker Pro Tempore Juan Pineda Gomez said he encouraged a motion to debate specifically on the DEIB Committee Chair portion of the resolution. 

“I think it’s important that we realize that we all, as student senators, represent the students here at Kansas State University, and maybe we haven’t been doing a great job of that,” Pineda Gomez, junior in biomedical engineering, said in his speech. “Because if you look around, I see a lot of displeased students here today.” 

One of Pondillo’s concerns — mentioned in an email he sent prior to the meeting encouraging members of multicultural student organizations to attend — surrounded an idea for an amendment that would require Diversity Program Funding allocations to be approved by the student senate discussed by DEIB Committee Chair Lynn and Speaker of the Student Senate Kate Thomas.

“It was never something that was done; it was never something that was written down,” Thomas said of the amendment. “What the amendment would do is make DPF allocations considered the same way every other allocation is done. Part of this is because DPF money comes from all student tuition dollars, so it makes sense that it would just go through the regular channel that every other allocation does.”

Lynn said she decided not to support the amendment after a conversation with a student in the Muslim Student Association. 

“He explained to me that the amendment was going to be really harmful, that it would put unnecessary burdens and extra steps on these multicultural student organizations and that it wasn’t the best idea,” Lynn said. “It meant a lot to me to get to hear it from someone who the amendment would actually affect. I’m not part of any multicultural student organizations, so I just didn’t have that perspective, and so having that conversation is what really solidified my opinion in that I wasn’t ever going to support that, especially not in front of student senate.”

In a letter sent to Pondillo in February, Thomas wrote, “I agree that this amendment would not be a productive change at this time, nor is this Thursday the time for the legislation.”

“She never outwardly said that she would no longer invest in that,” Pondillo said of the letter. “They didn’t stop it on the basis of diverse students, I think they stopped it because I did make a big issue with that.”

Rodriguez said the DEIB Committee Chair should attend meetings of multicultural student organizations. 

“It’s really disappointing and sad to see somebody that’s supposed to be championing for and fighting for us, when they’re not even in the room with us.” Rodriguez said. 

Following the passage of the resolution approving standing committee chairs and the parliamentarian, the positions were sworn into office. Members of multicultural student organizations gathered outside Wildcat Chamber and discussed the events of the meeting.

“I personally chose to walk out because I was frustrated that there was not going to be an avenue for conversation on the SGA floor after that,” Maria Fernanda Izquierdo Garcia, president of HALO, said. “It’s crazy because we do all of this work, and we’re so passionate about having students and having student representation on campus, and then things like this happen.”

Lynn said she considered resigning or not accepting the position, but ultimately decided against it. 

“I ended up not making the decision to step down because I know that this is something I have the ability to do, and it’s my job now to use the place of privilege that I come from to really listen to those students and listen to their concerns and try to do the best work I can with them,” Lynn said. 

More information about multicultural student organizations can be found under the Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs section of Kansas State’s website. Information about SGA can be found on their website or at their meetings, Thursdays at 7 p.m. in Wildcat Chamber.