Editorial: What is StuGov’s responsibility?


The ISD Editorial Board discusses Student Government’s response to two situations involving divisive tweets. 

Editorial Board

Editor’s note: This editorial has been updated with more accurate information. 

Before you get mad, take a breath and pause. What are you upset about? What can you do to change it?

Two weeks ago, Student Government released a statement regarding the tweets of a panelist whom they had invited to speak during Women’s Week. Iowa State University also released a statement regarding those same tweets as they related to the panelist’s position as a professor.

The statements are remarkably similar, with both including phrases that champion free speech while condemning actions that they see as counter to Iowa State values. The Iowa State Daily Editorial Board also agrees racism is wrong and free speech must be protected.

Notably though, the language used in each statement varies. For example, the university’s statement directly “condemns racism,” whereas the statement released by President Morgan Fritz uses the phrasing “disparaging comments about people on the basis of race” and “prejudice based on race or the color of someone’s skin is wrong.”

Does Student Government’s statement go far enough? Does the university’s statement go too far? That depends on your understanding of racism.

Regardless, it’s clear that something was said that some members of the Iowa State community felt needed to be addressed, and Student Government addressed it. But where was Student Government when ISU College Republicans tweeted out their post-apocalyptic warning to “arm up” — a tweet authored by Sen. Ryan Hurley — in response to a new U.S. president being elected? 

The answer: doing absolutely nothing. Though, not in the way you might be thinking and certainly not in the way people have responded to the recent statement by Student Government.

There’s a key difference between the two incidents and it all comes back to civics. Sen. Hurley is just that, a senator, and as such, is a member of the legislative branch of Student Government. Fritz and Schrader are the president and vice president respectively and lead the executive branch.

Women’s Week was put on by members of Fritz and Schrader’s Cabinet, making these tweets and the resulting situation their responsibility. How you feel about the action taken aside, it was their direct responsibility to do something.

If that’s the case, then why didn’t Student Government release a statement condemning Hurley and ISU College Republicans? Well, the legislative branch doesn’t release statements. They pass resolutions. Could they have passed a resolution to formally condemn his tweet? Absolutely. They could have even removed him from the Senate, but they did neither of those things. 

The Senate is not investigating if the content of Hurley’s delirious tweets warrant his removal. The Senate Rules Committee’s constitution and bylaws do not permit the removal of a senator based on speech or statements, only for failures to meet responsibilities and requirements. Be mad, and be very mad that a senator would encourage violence as a solution to what is clearly a nonissue. Be mad that the Senate, and the senators you elected, have continued to do nothing about it. The Iowa Federation of College Republicans even condemned Hurley and ISU College Republicans as not representing its values.

Be mad that Hurley would abuse the right to free speech as justification for saying something so counter to Iowa State’s values. Let’s be clear on this. Free speech is important and Hurley’s tweets are protected. But using free speech as an excuse to say whatever you want  — to say things that cause fear and upset among marginalized groups, in this case — isn’t what the Founding Fathers intended. Say something because it provides meaning and insight, not just because you can.

In the meantime: If you have a problem with the statement Fritz and Schrader released, please go talk to them. They are students, just like the rest of us. They will gladly share with you how and why they did things as they did. At the same time, schedule a meeting with one of the university’s lawyers regarding their statement. They will probably tell you nothing.

Don’t show up to a Student Government meeting and simply rant about why you are upset with a particular individual. Certainly express your satisfaction or dissatisfaction with actions taken or not taken — every student can, and should, speak directly to Student Government — but be productive about it. Grandstanding and complaining are only self-serving if you aren’t doing anything to change the situation.

Read something you strongly disagree with? Let us know. Did President Fritz do the right thing? If not, which part of her statement do you disagree with? Should the Senate do something about Ryan Hurley? Send a letter to the editor and we’ll publish your response to this editorial.