ASG denounces racist comment

The Allegheny Student Government addressed a racist comment posted online against a cabinet member, discussed filling seats on the college’s shared governance committees and talked about their new financial system in their weekly General Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 27.
Before beginning the standard agenda, ASG President Veronica Green, ’23, and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Jaelyn Valentin, ’25, each gave a statement in regards to a comment posted on the anonymous social media platform Yik Yak after the previous GA on Sept. 20. According to their statements, the message called Valentin a “thug” for wearing a hoodie during the assembly.
“This statement was made out of a pure lack of intelligence, social awareness and respect,” Valentin said in her statement. “The term ‘thug’ is defined as someone who is a violent person and a criminal. Over the course of global history — and specifically, American history — Black and Hispanic people have had this narrative unjustly attached to the color of their skin.”
Valentin also said that the mental health of Black, Indigenous and people of color has historically been deprioritized, and that comments like the one at hand could drive BIPOC students to self-harm or suicide.
“I don’t want to have to speak on this again, and I wish there were more people in this room to hear this statement,” Valentin told the body. “At the end of the day, the reason why I made this statement and the reason why it is important to speak on this topic — as controversial and sensitive as it is — I should be able to defend myself, but I want people of color on this campus to feel as though they can trust me to defend them as well.”
In her statement, Green made clear ASG’s response if the body was made aware of words or actions that violate Allegheny’s Statement of Community.
“If we are made aware of any individuals or groups making hateful comments about any member of ASG or any member of the Allegheny college community, we will be following the appropriate reporting process to the Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Heather Moore Roberson,” Green said. “These individuals will no longer be welcome at General Assemblies. Lastly, if these individuals are club leaders, they will be removed from their position for violating the ASG Constitution.”
ASG is no stranger to Yik Yak. Last spring, a ticket for the ASG Presidential Election dropped out of the race, citing rumors and misinformation spreading on the platform about their candidacy. According to the New York Times, the app has been associated with cyberbulling, mass-shooting and bomb threats, and racist speech nationwide.
First launched in 2013, Yik Yak shut down in 2017 due to precipitous drops in its user base. In August of 2021, the platform relaunched with a new focus on its effects on mental health and keeping users safe.
In an interview after the GA, Valentin said that she was not personally bothered by the comment when she heard of it from a friend.
“When I started getting more and more concerned was when more students of color came to me and acknowledged the fact that (the comment) made them feel extremely uncomfortable, being that I am a lighter skin woman as a person of color and that term makes them feel even worse or more so as a ‘thug”’does being that they’re a darker complexion,” Valentin said. “I really did it more so for them, and also to establish a certain level of boundaries in ASG as well.”
Green said that, at least in this case, the strongly-worded statements in GA are the furthest response possible.
“When it comes to Yik Yak, there’s nothing that we can do, because we don’t know who made this statement,” Green said, reiterating that anyone who violates the Statement of Community would not be welcome in ASG.
Interim Dean of Students Trae Yeckely added that incidents of racial bias may be handled by ASG’s own judicial processes, the Dean of Students’ Office or the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, depending on the situation.
“Most bias incident reports go through (Roberson) right now and she has her process,” Yeckley said. “But if we do feel that it is raising to the level of threatening or harassing, then we will move it to a conduct process and convene our threat assessment team.”
Valentin said she could not just ignore the comment, because she felt that staying silent was equivalent to being complicit with the original statement itself.
“Obviously these people are — and I’m just gonna say it — cowardly enough to say this on an anonymous app and not in person because they do know the consequences of their actions,” Valentin said. “I don’t think it’s fair to turn the other cheek because at the end of the day, if I had seen that in person, I would definitely do the opposite. So I’m going to keep it the same as I would in-person as I would on the internet.”
In their report to the GA as ASG adviser, Yeckley encouraged students to join the college’s shared governance committees, which help make decisions on issues from the college’s curriculum to its finances and community standards.
“If you want to, if you have friends, if you have anyone — someone that you don’t like — give (ASG Chief of Staff Ray Colabawalla, ’25) their name and he’ll put them on a committee,” Yeckley said. “We just need people on these college committees, because otherwise it’s just a bunch of faculty and staff and we don’t have student voice.”
In her report as president, Green also said that the new “Engage” financial system is still being worked on but will be arriving “hopefully soon.”
The platform was initially expected to be up and running in time for a training for student organizations on Sept. 18. However, delays in putting the platform in place led to the training being postponed until a currently-unannounced date.
After the GA, Yeckley said that more information would be known by Friday, Sept. 30, when they would be meeting with Green, ASG Vice President Rudra Schultz-Ray, ’23, and Student Life Coordinator for Fraternity and Sorority Life Eric Stolar.
“I’ve seen the layout, it looks good,” Yeckley said. “All the clubs and all of our data have been uploaded into it. Now, we just need to upload the budget stuff and push it out, so a lot will depend on how long that will take.”
The next General Assembly is scheduled for next Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 7:30 p.m. in room 301/302 of the Henderson Campus Center.