Recent incidents in Student Government highlight growing frustrations with communication and a division between the executive and legislative branches.
Director of Residency Dozmen Lee is currently facing an effort from senators to remove him from his position after posting an 11-minute Snapchat story Tuesday, in which he criticized Student Government culture.
While some senators have agreed with Lee’s criticisms, others viewed the video as the final straw in a pattern of unprofessional behavior. Others see it as the tipping point in a larger conflict between the two branches.
Director of Sustainability Toni Sleugh and Senior Director of Student Services Zahra Barkley said they have seen pushback from Senate all semester and were discouraged by a feedback report from senators as well as members of the executive branch at the end of the fall semester.
“This is a negative environment,” Sleugh said. “The feedback report only goes to show that things have been festering all year, and no one has addressed it.”
In forming their Cabinet, President Julian Neely and Vice President Juan Bibiloni intentionally brought in students from across campus, with Bibiloni estimating 80 to 90 percent of their cabinet members having not worked previously for Student Government.
Rather, the two focused on finding students who had prior experience in the fields they would be working in.
However, some senators felt all the new voices left some of them out of the conversation.
Sen. Wyatt Scheu, a senior serving his second year in Student Government, said he was happy to see new people becoming involved in Student Government under Neely and Bibiloni’s administration, but he thinks not enough has been done to help cabinet members connect with senators.
“I think that Julian [Neely] and Juan [Bibiloni] felt comfortable with their cabinet, which is great,” Scheu said. “But I don’t think they thought about ‘do other people feel comfortable and ready to work with these people?’ because we don’t really know them ... There should have been more efforts to make sure that we all got to know each other and that they would be around more.”
Neely and Bibiloni’s Cabinet is also more diverse than in years past, which Sleugh said adds value and unique perspectives to all the work Cabinet does.
When Bibiloni began making placards and name tags for Student Government members at the start of the fall semester, he sent out a Google form asking for their name, position and pronouns.
Student Government had never included pronouns on name tags or placards before, but Bibiloni said he thought it was an important step in the direction of inclusivity, particularly in the aftermath of a student leader being misgendered in front of the Senate.
However, on the initial Google form, all questions were marked as required.
Speaker Cody Woodruff, who said he supports the transgender community, reached out to Bibiloni on behalf of senators who told him they were uncomfortable with having their pronouns displayed.
After discussion between Bibiloni, Woodruff and some senators who thought no one should have their pronouns displayed, Bibiloni made the question optional on the Google form.
“I spoke at great length with a couple of senators who had concerns, and they walked away from that conversation knowing we were on opposite sides of the issue, knowing I fully supported pronouns on placards and name tags and they did not,” Woodruff said. “But we agreed that should be an option and not forced, otherwise we were looking at a number of senators who were planning on resigning because of it. They were very uncomfortable with just being told what to do.”
Woodruff said he personally decided against displaying his pronouns as “a design choice” and to show support to senators who he is on “ideologically different ends” from.
Every year, Student Government partners with the Iowa State Police Department and Facilities Planning and Management for the Campus Safety Walk. The walk is typically organized by the University Affairs Committee, but when Iowa State Police Chief Michael Newton reached out to Student Government last spring to begin planning the walk, the committee did not have a chair.
Bibiloni said Newton had asked to begin planning the walk earlier than in years’ past, so the planning was delegated to Barkley over the summer.
When senators returned in the fall, Scheu was elected to chair the University Affairs Committee and tried to become involved in planning the walk. Scheu said he tried to get involved with planning the walk once he was elected, but Barkley was unresponsive to his efforts.
Scheu said the lack of communication was frustrating, but he “wasn’t going to let [his] committee come to a screeching halt” because of one project.
For others in the legislative branch, the issue was representative of a larger issue of lacking collaboration and communication between the branches.
“This was just done by the executive branch,” Woodruff said. “They didn’t tell us … We wanted them to rely on us for that past experience and let us help them with that. That’s something where they kind of just dipped their hands in our cookie jar, didn’t ask and just took the cookie.”
Conversely, members of the executive branch viewed it as senators becoming territorial over initiatives.
“We received backlash from senators for taking that away from University Affairs, even to the extent of saying that we should not be leading this effort and should take a backseat and offer auxiliary support,” Bibiloni said. “Obviously we went ahead with the initiative because at the end of the day, we’re here to serve students, not egos in Student Government.”
Scheu and Sen. Sandeep Stanley said the issue could be helped if Cabinet members spent more time in the Student Government offices and were able to develop connections with other members of Student Government.
Bibiloni said in the past, personal relationships had developed this way and helped to inform working relationships, but he believes cabinet members accomplish more by spending time on campus.
“We, as a Student Government, should be out with students and should be encouraged to get out of this space to communicate and be visible and get our things done,” Bibiloni said.
Woodruff said senators want to collaborate with Cabinet members on their projects, but aren’t sure how to do so.
“We have senators that aren’t really working on things right now, but want to and just need some guidance,” Woodruff said. “There are obviously senators and cabinet members that have shared interests and could work together and could work collaboratively, and that not only helps the student body and our organization but it helps to mend this Cabinet versus Senate thing.
“But when Cabinet works alone and doesn’t include Senate, that’s an issue.”
In an effort to connect the two branches, Chief of Staff Liera Bender sent senators the PowerPoint slides from Cabinet meetings so senators could learn about their projects, but stopped after three weeks.
Scheu and Stanley said they were disappointed when they stopped receiving the PowerPoints, which they had seen as valuable ways to find opportunities for collaboration. However, Bibiloni said he and Neely are “making an honest and orchestrated effort” to alleviate the disconnect between the legislative and executive branches through efforts such as more detailed executive updates.
Woodruff said he was initially excited about more open communication between the branches, but updates have been “somewhat sporadic,” and he’s disappointed in the “lack of communication from Cabinet and specifically President Neely.”
Despite the issues with communication, collaboration has been possible between the two branches.
On Feb. 19, Scheu introduced a bill to fund 300 STD testing kits, on behalf of Director of Health & Wellness Laura Pesquera Colom. Scheu, who represents the College of Human Sciences, said Colom reached out to him to write the funding bill and kept him informed of the research she did throughout the project.
“That was a great example of being able to see the work that they are genuinely doing,” Scheu said.
Scheu also said he believes conflict has gotten in the way of Student Government’s ability to be fully representative and has acted as a distraction, and members in both branches have agreed.
“We should do better,” Sleugh said. “We’re supposed to be student leaders and examples of good leadership on campus, but we’re having this temper tantrum. We can do better.”