Student Government Association President Olivia Buckner told senators that Founders’ Day was not the time to gain votes from students by speaking out against the speaker, according to an email released to The Cluster.
“I realize elections are around the corner for many of you, but this is not a time to showboat or grandstand to get votes,” Buckner wrote in the email.
She continues in the email to remind senators that they took an oath, “to reflect honor and merit upon this organization and Mercer.”
Buckner was contacted about the email but was unavailable to comment before Founders’ Day activities commenced.
After it was announced that Jay Sekulow, a lawyer on Trump’s personal legal team and a prominent figure in the conservative Christian movement, would deliver the speech, students and alumni spoke out against the selection.
According to the email sent by Buckner, SGA senators are required to go to the event. A senator could be excused from the event if it was due to another university sponsored event.
She said that if senators did not wish to hear Sekulow’s speech, they could assist in other ways, such as t-shirt distribution and set up away from Willingham Auditorium where the speech is being held.
If a senator chose not to go to the event at all, it would be counted against them as an absent, Buckner said in the SGA meeting on Feb. 5.
“It is an event that promotes Mercer, and how Mercer can instill ethics in us as adults so that we may be successful in our paths, which will invariably be different,” Buckner said in the email.
Buckner said in the email that the speaker is chosen by SGA with collaboration with Dean of Students Dr. Pearson, SGA’s faculty advisor, and Mercer President William Underwood. Underwood sends out invitations to their top choices and SGA, Pearson and the Heritage Life Chair, Ashila Jiwani, are notified of who accepted the invitation, she said.
She said that SGA must respect that Sekulow took time out of his schedule and made arrangements to speak at Mercer.
“Our speaker this year was INVITED,” Buckner wrote in the email.
Buckner said it is SGA’s job to represent the student body, and it can be hard to know that their close friends and faculty advisors are disappointed in them in some way, she said in the email.
Buckner and Onuh ran for SGA on a ticket of “inclusivity” and “active communication.”
“Our administration is strictly focused on active communication and impactful initiatives. With that being said, we really want to work hard with our multicultural organizations and any organization that feels like their voice isn’t being heard,” Buckner said in a Cluster article last academic year.
Buckner and Onuh said at the time of elections that they planned to make Mercer a more welcoming environment for minorities.
“We want every student to be able to optimize their opportunities, and Oge and I want to be there to make sure that happens. We want SGA to be a place for all,” Buckner said on their 2017 Presidential Election Facebook event. The quote was featured in a previous Cluster article. “This means every student should feel that they have an equal voice.”
Freshman Senator Joseph Muldrew said in a statement to The Cluster he felt pressured to remain silent about opposition he felt towards the Founders’ Day speaker.
“By way of forceful emails, group messages, angry body language, charged texts, and soliciting fellow senators to politely persuade me to be silent, President Buckner pressured my fellow senators to self-censor and to not publicly criticize her decision-making,” Muldrew said in his statement.