ASUN under Scrutiny due to History of Officials with Racist, Homophobic Tweets and Low Budget Priorities for Diversity

The Associated Students of the University of Nevada, Reno, has put out numerous statements condemning hateful actions or rhetoric towards marginalized and minority groups. However, as Henry Stone reports, in recent years, several candidates and election winners have had to answer for their own hateful and controversial words. Its Diversity and Inclusion Department also does not seem to be on the current priority list of an increased budget.

For ASUN’s 2020 election for the 2020–2021 term, former Senator for the College of Liberal Arts Andrew McKinney announced his presidential campaign with Senator Claudia Feil on February 5th, but faced criticism when tweets from his younger years began to circulate. View more recirculated Tweets on this thread: https://twitter.com/philimon_c/status/1225917917331513345

The McKinney Tweets, His Apology and a Former ASUN President With Derogatory Tweets of His Own

“I understand this whole situation with the tweets coming out from five or more years ago and it’s not a good representation of who I am as a person, so I want to prove everyone wrong at this point,” McKinney said. “I want to do as much as I can for minority students on campus because I don’t want people to see me as a homophobic or a racist. I want to put a fire under me and do as much as I can now — more than I wanted to do before. I’m not saying I wanted to do any less before but now I want to ensure that I do as much as I physically can for minority students on this campus.”

McKinney also had a public apology which was published in an initial Nevada Sagebrush article about his past tweets. He has since gone on to finish second in a first round of voting, with the final verdict happening in a few days.

The ASUN president in 2017–2018, Noah Teixeira, had his own scandal related to previous tweets, showing he had used the n-word as well as homophobic slurs in social media comments.

“Growing up in a small town I never had the opportunity to learn and understand diversity the way others did,” Teixeira said in a statement to the Nevada Sagebrush at the time. “As I have learned from my experience at an institution of higher education, a person is a product of their surroundings. I said and tweeted things without thinking, and felt social pressures to talk and act a certain way.”

In a poll taken of about 200 people, 51% still think that McKinney should keep running in the ASUN presidential race, despite his past tweets. Screenshot by Henry Stone.

An ASUN Speaker Also Under Scrutiny

In light of McKinney’s tweets, other students have sent screenshots of troublesome tweets by other ASUN officials, including Savannah Hughes, a sophomore at the University of Nevada, Reno, and currently ASUN Speaker Pro Tempore and Senator for the College of Engineering, including tweets invoking the defense of white people and liking controversial tweets concerning the LGBT community.

As of this article’s publishing date, this Twitter account above no longer exists.

The ASUN Speaker Explains Herself

“In response to the tweet that was liked (the one mentioning “it’s a trend to be gay”… ), I would like to clarify that this tweet does not represent my beliefs or ideology,” Hughes said in an interview with the Reynolds Sandbox. “I can only deduce that this tweet was unintentionally liked while I was scrolling through Twitter. I would also like to note that liking a tweet does not entail an endorsement of that tweet or the beliefs associated with it or the author.”

NOTE: As Speaker Hughes wanted her 10 paragraph response to these tweets included in the article if she were to be quoted from it, it is included at the end of this article.

“I will say that I now have a better understanding of how different words could have been used to more accurately illustrate my values,” Hughes said in our interview. “Nevertheless, I believe that my values reflected in those tweets, as well as my values today, are in the interest of equality and progress. Today, do I think it is necessary to defend white people from stereotypes? No, because I have a better understanding of privilege now. Do I still think it is regressive and unfair to stereotype/generalize people? Most definitely.”

Hughes also points to her work with ASUN striving for more gender inclusivity.

“During the 86th Session of Senate, I supplied Senator McKinney with sources of information that I found through research on the importance of gender inclusive language,” Hughes said in our interview. “These sources were later used in the legislation that was written in advocacy for eliminating gender pronouns in the ASUN Constitution.”

Exact Roles in Pushing for More Inclusion

The speaker’s role could not be independently confirmed. McKinney doesn’t cite Hughes in the initial legislation.

“I tried to do that last year, but you need it to be put on the ballot,” he said of his own role to amend the constitution to replace the gender pronouns. “Last year, it was put on the ballot but 66% of students did not vote to eliminate it. …I think [Speaker Hughes and Senator Harvey] were trying to do what I tried to do…I sent it to senators named Lauren Harvey and Kavin [Sivakumar]. I sent them my legislation from last year for the Constitution change about four or five months ago. I told them that they should probably get this done this term because I really wanted it passed.”

So Speaker Hughes says that she supplied McKinney with “sources of information” for the initial legislation and McKinney says that he had to ask to have the pronoun change put on the ballot again, which was finally passed earlier this year.

“The voices of each ASUN officer carry equal weight,” ASUN/Center for Student Engagement & Nevada Wolf Shop Director Sandra Rodriquez explained to us in an interview. “Through thoughtful debate, the body has arrived at an end result that has allowed it to do the right thing on behalf of marginalized groups on this campus. The evidence is in the bills and resolutions passed by the senate body and focused on equity and inclusion.”

Note: As Rodriquez wanted her six paragraph response included in the article as well if she were to be quoted from it, it is also included at the end.

The University of Nevada, Reno’s Climate Study in screengrab above indicated unease and serious concerns among many minority students on campus.

A Climate of Distrust

The UNR climate study linked above showed many students and faculty from minority groups felt there were serious concerns needing to be addressed in terms of diversity and inclusion on campus.

“I feel I am hated for my beliefs and not able to be myself around campus”, said an undergraduate student in the recently released UNR campus survey linked above.

“I have been continuously profiled for my race and sexual orientation,” said another undergraduate student. “I feel I am not safe at points on campus or the city due to my skin color.”

“I just felt isolated/shunning because of my race,” said another undergrad.

As part of its efforts to address the current situation, in addition to replacing the gender pronouns in its constitution, ASUN also recently redefined its legislative priorities to include “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Looking at Budget Priorities

While ASUN’s student fees will soon increase from $5 per credit to $6.10 per credit and is “projected to bring in $450,000 and $500,000” of new revenue, according to the Nevada Sagebrush, it appears that the allocated funding for the ASUN Department of Diversity and Inclusion, with stated “aims to serve underrepresented student populations on campus” remains the same for now, at $33,210.

To put that into perspective, the Campus Escort service costs $284,474.21, or about 11% of the annual budget. According to ASUN’s Statutes, The President, Vice President, and Speaker of the Senate alone can have a total payout of up to $22,800 collectively. Along with the Director of Clubs and Organizations and Director of Programming, payment connected with holding these five ASUN positions can reach a higher total than the amount given to the Department of Diversity and Inclusion.

This is in light of 31 bias and hate incidents occurring during this school year alone, with more months ahead. Despite the ASUN Senate passing a resolution “in support of taking action” against white supremacy and these incidents, many minority students have complained the student body has not been able to create impactful action to help them.

A Question of Representation for the Runoff Presidential Election

How can UNR students know the presidential candidates can bring about change in diversity, and fight for students of color?

“I understand that I can’t represent them because I’m not a minority,” McKinney said in our interview. “I understand I do have privilege being a white, straight male. I guess they [should] look at the past actions I have done, like the [legislation for elimination of gender pronouns in the ASUN Constitution] that I adapted. I did do that, I did try to make a more inclusive environment for all of ASUN. …I want to do as much as I can for minority students on campus because I don’t want people to see me as a homophobic or a racist. I want to put a fire under me and do as much as I can now… I want to ensure that I do as much as I physically can for minority students on this campus.”

“As a sexual-assault survivor, as a student that’s obviously a black student, a minority student from a low-income background, and an out-of-state student, I think — I’m not trying to flex with my oppression here — I definitely think that [with] my mix of backgrounds, a lot of students can relate to something that I’ve been through,” said Senator Dominique Hall, the other presidential candidate remaining. “…I do have goals that support diversity and inclusion and sexual assault survivors without creating a conflict of interest through my activism.”

Of the 2,291 votes cast in the primary part of the ASUN presidential candidate earlier this month, according to the Nevada Sagebrush, Hall received 45 percent of the votes, while McKinney garnered 38 percent of that tally. Another candidate Patricia De La Hoya-Velez was eliminated with 17 percent of the first round voting. Results of the general elections should be known by mid-March.

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Full Statements below by the presidential candidates as well as full interviews with Speaker Hughes and ASUN Director Rodriguez.

Presidential Candidate Andrew McKinney:

“I understand that I can’t represent them because I’m not a minority. I understand I do have privilege being a white, straight male. I guess they [should] look at the past actions I have done, like the [legislation for elimination of gender pronouns in the ASUN Constitution] that I adapted. I did do that, I did try to make a more inclusive environment for all of ASUN. I guess it’s kind of like a trust thing. How do you know any political candidate is gonna do what you want them to do? You never know for sure. I understand this whole situation with the tweets coming out from 5 or 6 years ago and it’s not a good representation of who I am as a person, so I want to prove everyone wrong at this point. I want to do as much as I can for minority students on campus because I don’t want people to see me as a homophobic or a racist. I want to put a fire under me and do as much as I can now — more than I wanted to do before. I’m not saying I wanted to do any less before but now I want to ensure that I do as much as I physically can for minority students on this campus.”

Presidential Candidate Dominique Hall:

“As a sexual-assault survivor, as a student that’s obviously a black student, a minority student from a low-income background, and an out-of-state student, I think — I’m not trying to flex with my oppression here — I definitely think that [with] my mix of backgrounds, a lot of students can relate to something that I’ve been through. I definitely think that relatability is important. The four tiers of the ‘Breaking Boundaries’ campaign are financial insecurity, diversity and a sense of belonging, campus safety, and well-rounded learning opportunities. I just think that these things are what would affect students most. I really think that, once again, having an elected official who has related to you in some sort, whether you’re first-gen, you’re black, [or] you’re rom a low-income background, it’s really great to know that that person can ensure that the barriers that you went through need to be broken. …I do fight for students of color. Being one myself, this is a huge deal to even be elected as Senator and representing students of color, but I have also fought for sexual assault survivors. Being a sexual assault survivor myself, having to go through sexual assault training and sitting on that hearing board, it’s a huge step to know that someone on that hearing board will be hearing these sexual assault cases and making a clear decision in support of sexual assault survivors. I do have goals that support diversity and inclusion and sexual assault survivors without creating a conflict of interest through my activism.”

Interview with Speaker Savannah Hughes, Feb. 15, 2020:

ASUN has a history of condemning hate and bias on this campus, as an official representation of ASUN, how do you accurately represent students when you like things such as being gay is a trend?

In response to the tweet that was liked stating “If Christians can’t practice their religion in schools, gays shouldn’t be allowed to practice their beliefs/sexuality either. End of story. You can’t take one thing away from students and add another just because it’s a trend to be gay,” I would like to clarify that this tweet does not represent my beliefs or ideology. I can only deduce that this tweet was unintentionally liked while I was scrolling through Twitter. I would also like to note that liking a tweet does not entail an endorsement of that tweet or the beliefs associated with it or the author. I do not believe that accidentally liking a tweet inhibits my ability to represent students, especially when my personal and political views do not align with the tweet in question.

If your views have changed over the years, what caused the change?

Of course, I have changed in the past five years. If I hadn’t, I think I would have been doing something wrong. The college experience is so much more than learning about a certain topic and preparing for the workforce. While in college I have been exposed to new cultures, identities, and experiences. I have also had the opportunity to ask questions and gain a better understanding of the world. The values represented in the tweets I wrote, provided above, are the same. I will say that I now have a better understanding of how different words could have been used to more accurately illustrate my values. Nevertheless, I believe that my values reflected in those tweets, as well as my values today, are in the interest of equality and progress. Today, do I think it is necessary to defend white people from stereotypes? No, because I have a better understanding of privilege now. Do I still think it is regressive and unfair to stereotype/generalize people? Most definitely.

It’s been brought to my attention that you were the one who created the bill for eliminating gender pronouns on governing documents, but it’s also been said you don’t fully understand what being trans means until it was explained to you. This was after that bill was written. What was your part in creating that bill, and how have you accurately represented students if you didn’t understand it?

During the 86th Session of Senate I supplied Senator McKinney with sources of information that I found through research on the importance of gender inclusive language. These sources were later used in the legislation that was written in advocacy for eliminating gender pronouns in the ASUN Constitution. I think that it is crucial to note that there is an important distinction between understanding the need to represent all people through inclusive language and understanding different identities within the gender spectrum. You are correct in saying that I do not fully understand what it means to be transgender. I am a cis-gendered woman, and as such I will never share the same lived experiences of those whose identities are not my own. While I do not share those lived experiences, I know that it was necessary to ensure everyone feels as though they are included in the verbiage of the Association’s governing documents and because of that, I am confident that amending the Constitution to be gender inclusive is a positive representation of students. On that note, I encourage everyone reading to vote in support of the constitutional amendment question on the ballot this election cycle.

Can you explain more the context of these tweets and why you sent them? Along with liking the most recent one in Aug 2019?

I would like to preface this in stating that I can only deduce the context of the older tweets, given that they were from 5–6 years ago and I am unable to recall the exact reason for tweeting them.

Tweet from 4/28/2015:

The tweet in 2015 stating, “By generalizing white people you are contributing to racism and racial inequality,” was a premature form of my current opinions today. While I would now argue that the term “prejudice” ought to have been used instead of “racism”, I stand by my opinion that generalizing and stereotyping people based on their identities is regressive and counterproductive.

Tweet from 11/24/2014

To add context to the tweet from 2014, I believe it was in regard to police brutality at that time. The tweet reflects my belief that generalizing people does not solve the issue of racial inequality or injustice. I recognize that it could be inferred that I am saying a white person is not to blame, but that was not the intent. I believe that if a person is wrong, they should be held accountable, but an individual’s actions do not reflect on everyone who shares that person’s identity. Additionally, my reply stating that a conclusion cannot be drawn without evidence stays true today. Our criminal justice system is based on the premise that people are innocent until proven guilty, and I support that standard and believe that it should be equally applied to all people. On that note, I believe that it is a tragedy whenever someone is injured or killed in lieu of the promise to protect and serve. I do believe that there are several cases in which those in law enforcement have acted improperly and those actions have had tragic consequences. They too should be held accountable.

Tweet from 8/3/2019

My tweet from 2019 represents my opinion on standing for the Pledge of Allegiance and “Star-Spangled Banner”. My official opinion on this matter is, I may not agree with how you exercise your rights, but I will always defend your right to exercise them. I firmly believe that choosing to sit for the national anthem and pledge is disrespectful to the Americans who have fought for our freedom to do so. But, at the end of the day, I recognize that this is a form of peaceful protest. While I disagree with the method of the peaceful protest, I do support, and have defended, the right for people to make that decision.

“Like” of tweet from 8/15/2019

I believe that liking the tweet from 2019 was unintentional while scrolling through Twitter. As previously mentioned, I do not agree with the argument made in this tweet.

While these are your opinions and your views and you have every right to believe in them, have you ever considered how it may affect students of color, in which you do represent on this campus?

As a senator, Speaker of the Senate, and student I have listened and heard the requests of so many students on our campus. Two of the tweets that you provided were written when I was fourteen and fifteen. At this time, I did not represent anyone except myself. Those tweets were not made while I was in office so I will focus on the tweet I made while in office.

I recognize that choosing to sit for the national anthem and pledge is controversial, and I see beauty in that. We live in a nation where you and I can enter into a civil discourse regarding the way people exercise their rights. In my opinion, that alone is enough to bid respect to our nation, I choose to do that by standing. I recognize that my opinion is made through the lens that I view the world. For that reason, I stand by my opinion and I also support and respect the right of others to have a different opinion than my own.

ASUN Director Sandra Rodriquez, Feb. 12, 2020:

In attempting to respond to your question, I believe it’s important to start by explaining the perspective from which I will comment. I’m an educator and an administrator. Students arrive on this campus deficit an academic knowledge fund, not deficit of a lived experience. As a result, the onus is on us as administrators and educators to appropriately support and challenge students through co-curricular and classroom experiences at the University of Nevada, Reno. The outcome we seek is to progress our students through their epistemological, intellectual, psychosocial, moral, and social identity development to produce educated citizens.

I have no doubt that many students (if not all) arrive deficit in the knowledge of the lived experiences of others because each of you has been socialized in a world that taught you what to value in a closed experience. Therefore, the value of a liberal arts education is to develop each student so that they may become a graduate who understands and values more deeply the complexities of the world into which they will walk out to as a graduate. All of the hard work (the learning, teaching, and unlearning) lies in between the first day you walk onto this campus and the day you walk across the graduation stage. Many successes and failures will take place along the way. To put it succinctly, I believe in the development of human beings.

The snapshots you forwarded of twitter feeds from 2012,2014, 2015 are indicative of students who in youth did not censor their voice. I know few teenagers who do. I cannot comment to who those individuals were in their youth. Nor will I justify their commentary. The pictures you sent, while lacking context, are indicative of individuals who needed to be educated on the differences that exist between us. You sent me one picture (2019) of a student officer who “liked” a tweet that conveyed they valued equality over equity. That individual has a right to their point of view in their personal life. Where I do not agree with that point of view, liking a tweet is a personal choice.

I do agree with you that “ASUN has always been vocal about condemning hateful actions and rhetoric towards marginalized group.” That in and of itself shows the value of shared governance and the democratic process in the teaching, learning and unlearning that can take place through student led thoughtful debate at a senate table or at a program. I have no doubt disagreement exists between the 65–70 elected/appointed officers of ASUN because of their varied lived experiences. The voices of each ASUN officer carry equal weight. Through thoughtful debate, the body has arrived at an end result that has allowed it to do the right thing on behalf of marginalized groups on this campus. The evidence is in the bills and resolutions passed by the senate body and focused on equity and inclusion. Can more be done? Always.

I would challenge you as a student journalist to further your investigation into this worthwhile topic of student voice and social media and not rely solely on anonymous sources that hand you evidence — especially around student election time. Otherwise, it appears you are only interested in the actions of one group of students. That comes across as “gotcha” journalism. I wonder what isms you would unearth if you went through the social media of the rest of the officers of ASUN when they were teenagers? Of those currently running for office? I guarantee you, none of us are above reproach or the education necessary to unlearn the various isms, bias, and prejudice we have learned in life.

My goal here is not to defend past actions but rather to shape expectations of an educated future for students, faculty, and staff on our campus; to challenge you as a student journalist to rely on sources you can actually quote; and to challenge the student body to move forward into brave spaces that allow for tension ridden conversations for positive change. Otherwise, all the necessary discourse on valid issues is being diverted leaving our community entrenched with only blame as a tool. ALL of us are more educated than that because we have the privilege of living, learning, teaching, and working at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Reporting by Henry Stone shared with the Reynolds Sandbox

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