Mark G. Taylor, Wikimedia Commons
The Jan. 29 Student Government Association meeting began with President Olivia Buckner’s report.
She said that executive members of SGA had heard from junior James Stair on his research regarding gender-neutral campus housing and will continue to work with him as he completes his project.
Buckner then welcomed Common Ground, the Mercer University gay-straight alliance, who came to the meeting to discuss the controversial speaker scheduled for this year’s Founders’ Day, Lawyer and Mercer Graduate Jay Sekulow.
“Founders’ Day is about Mercer and the love of Mercer,” she said. “We’re very excited to receive [Sekulow] and we’re going to try and work on student concerns throughout the next several weeks.”
Common Ground representative junior Perry Hicks addressed SGA with a written call to action.
“As members of Common Ground, Mercer’s gay-straight alliance, our duty is to represent the interests of LGBTQ+ students and alumni of Mercer University,” Hicks read.
She acknowledged Sekulow’s accomplishments and distinction as a double-Bear, having received both his Bachelor’s of Arts and Juris Doctor from Mercer, but said that she felt he isolated “members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of other religions.”
“We also reserve the right to non-violent, non-disruptive, symbolic protest as means to express our disagreement of his merit as an accurate representation of the Mercer community,” she said.
According to the call to action, one of the two forms of protest will entail skipping the event to attend the Building the Beloved Community Symposium in Penfield Hall at the same day and time as Sekulow’s speech. The symposium will discuss the role of faith in racial justice.
For the other type of protest, Hicks said that students will “respectfully attend the [Founders’ Day] event” but wear t-shirts, flags or other symbols representing marginalized identities or movements with which they align or support, such as an LGBTQ+ or religious affiliation.
Common Ground hopes to host an event 24 hours before Sekulow’s speech to hand out sexuality flags to students who wish to participate.
The organization emphasized that the protests are meant to be both silent and peaceful. Hicks asked SGA how Common Ground can protect itself from backlash if anyone affiliated with the protest acts disrespectfully towards Sekulow.
Many Senators voiced support for Common Ground, and some, including Sens. Adam Penland, Jabril Edmondson, Grant Denton and Clark Myers, had suggestions including a press release or other disclaimers clearly stating the group’s intentions.
Dean Pearson promised to meet with the organization after the Senate meeting to ensure members’ physical safety.
Several Senators commended Hicks and Common Ground, including freshman Sen. Genesis Cooper.
“Me personally, being a part of [the LGBTQ+] community, I just want to commend you for that,” Cooper said. “I think that one of the biggest things is definitely going out and going to an event that you disagree with.”
She told Perry that she agreed with Common Ground’s forms of protest because “I think it’s really important that you at least go out and hear him, and then you still stand your ground.”
Sen. Joseph Muldrew said he felt the same way.
“I think that’s very brave of y’all to stand up to oppose [Sekulow],” he said. “I’m against him giving his non-political speech because he has shown that he embezzles money from poor Christians.”
Muldrew referred to an article from The Guardian about Jay Sekulow’s charity work and asked those present to read it.
“I plan to be absent at the Founders’ Day speech, but ask him some hard questions related to his charity embezzlements,” Muldrew said.
Pres. Buckner later said that Sekulow had “informally agreed” to an open forum with students at 1 p.m. after the Founders’ Day event, but it is not yet confirmed.
Student Life and Organizational Affairs Chair Michael Smith moved to recognize three new student organizations: Students Supporting Israel, the Biomedical Engineering Student Association, and the “Mprov” Comedy Club. All were unanimously approved.
Three Conference & Lodging Requests were also approved for Mercer Bearitones to attend a regional competition and for MU Miracle to purchase materials for Bearathon 2018, and the first-ever food funding request was approved for Mercer Masala to serve traditional Indian food to honor an upcoming cultural festival.
Other committee and gallery reports included Dean Pearson’s intention to increase the student activity budget for 2018, Campus Outreach Chair Shruthi Vikraman’s plan to focus on the student body’s concerns over dining services and employees and Fiscal Affairs Chair Penland’s report on the updated SGA budget.
The minutes were shared shortly after the meeting.