SGA Elections: how much is too much truth?

This piece currently occupies pride of place amongst all the work I’ve done at WMUA this year.

It’s not the most complex, nor is it necessarily the most interesting piece. But I worked hard, and people helped me when I needed them to, and we got a solid piece of reporting (informative and well-produced) out to our listeners on air, and then online, in a timely and relatively stress-free fashion.

Sure, it’s a political retrospective, but one that I believe is necessary.

The UMass Amherst Student Government Association elections, this year, have been singularly complicated, badly executed, and frustrating.

First, the voting period had to be extended because of a confusion regarding the SGA by-laws, which say that voting must last three academic days. This year’s had been slated to take place over Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, only to be extended when they realized their error.

Then, once voting had ended, and votes had been counted, and the DMC ticket (Devenney, Miske, and Cook) had been declared the winners… They were summarily disqualified, and the election was given to the runners-up.

This raises a lot of questions about the role of the Elections Commission in the electoral process, as well as questions regarding the silencing of student voices: what is the point of voting in an election, if your vote can be discounted at, literally, the last minute (or, arguably, even after)?

The disqualifications have also raised concerns amongst students, many of whom felt that the reasoning was flimsy. Ultimately, the ticket decided to appeal the decision, and has been waiting for the last two weeks for the Student Judiciary Committee to get their act together and actually have the trial.

DMC were slated to go before the Student Judiciary with their case last week, on April 16 & 17, but the appeal was postponed due to an inability on the part of either the Judiciary or the Elections Commission (the defendant) to convene.

I also learned that the April 17th hearing was, allegedly, cancelled two hours before it was slated to take place.

Now, we face a situation where the ticket that was given the election is to be sworn in the day before the DMC appeal is to take place.

I am left with questions as to how the appeal will be viewed, namely by the Judiciary. Meanwhile, there is no real plan in place as to what will happen should the appeal succeed, which feels like either very bad planning (especially considering the list of scheduling issues we’ve already seen so far) or like the appeal isn’t being taken very seriously.

The Journalism Ethics class I’ve been in this semester, has given me a lot to consider, along with the stories we’ve been covering this semester. Questions of objectivity have come to loom large over my life as a reporter and editor.

First, any time you tell a story, especially one like that of a rally or act of protest, situations where there are two sides, and where it is very possible for words and story telling choices to shape the meaning of the entire event, you are given a huge responsibility. Journalists are entrusted with the first rough draft of history; what we say matters because when all the people who were there are dead, our words will remain. Our words will carry the legacy of what happened. We are telling the story not only of what happened, but why it happened, and we are, in that moment, shaping the picture of ourselves.

Second, I ask myself, particularly in this case, whether I have a job to tell people the truths I see lurking in the shadows. I can let people speak for themselves (in interviews on the radio), I can put the facts down to the best of my ability and to the fullest extent that I have them (when I put a piece together), but there are always conclusions to be drawn.

It feels more honest to come out and say that I believe the SGA is not taking the DMC appeal seriously, than to do what we have been taught by the mainstream media; which would be to find a pundit or an “expert” or an “everyman” to speak the words I believe to be the truth.

And I wonder if there is a third path; maybe, we just need a moment, once a week, to let the editors and reporters speak for themselves. Maybe what we need is what exists right here: a space, where we can express the things we see that don’t fit into the narrow definition of “objective reporting”.

Because there isn’t always a chance to get everyone to tell you their side of the story. The public faces, the elected officials, the organizers, the movers and shakers… They’re more than happy to use my microphone to get to the ears we regularly speak to. But those in nominated positions, the ones with the kind of power that often goes un-scrutinized…? Well, they’re much harder to pin down and put behind a microphone to explain themselves. And I don’t always have the means to leverage them there.

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