The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News



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Student government race marred by controversial campaign conduct

The Student Government Association Elections Committee issued the campaign of Suchira Sharma and Paulina Ruiz, left, a demerit Thursday and dropped charges from two grievance hearings against the campaign of Alex Bender and Jake Grondin./Photos courtesy the Suchira + Paulina: “Believe in More” and ReNUal campaigns

By Olivia Arnold, James Duffy, Ryan Grewal and Rowan Walrath, news staff

With voting for the leaders of Student Government Association (SGA) scheduled to end Thursday, the Suchira + Paulina ticket faces charges of libelous campaigning, while the ReNUal slate confronts criticism over its social media usage and the absence of sexual assault policy in its platform.

Following an SGA debate between the two slates last Wednesday, March 15, Northeastern students in the Sexual Assault Response Coalition (SARC) voiced concerns on Facebook and Twitter about the lack of Title IX information in the platform of ReNUal, led by Alex Bender and Jake Grondin. Some of those posts were made by Jace Ritchey, the SARC representative for SGA and a member of Suchira Sharma and Paulina Ruiz’s campaign team. The next day, ReNUal filed a grievance with the SGA Elections Committee over Ritchey’s posts.

The Suchira + Paulina campaign received a demerit point Sunday from the Elections Committee after the posts were ruled to be “negative and libelous campaigning,” according to an SGA memo. Ritchey resigned soon after, accusing the committee of silencing student advocacy for sexual assault survivors.

“They’ve filed five grievances against us, and it feels like I’ve been on trial since I declared my candidacy,” said Sharma, the current SGA executive vice president. “I can’t help but question whether it is this hard because we’re trying to make this point as being the first all-female slate.”

ReNUal faced additional criticism for controversial social media usage by the campaign and Bender himself. On Wednesday, March 15, the campaign deleted a “Bender-Grondin” Tinder account made to promote its platform after receiving backlash from a number of Northeastern’s LGBTQA+ students, who perceived the account as an invasion of a queer safe space. Bender also came under fire for a sexually suggestive Snapchat account name—“benderover”—that he made in high school and used during his freshman year of college, which has since been deleted.

“Our campaign, at its core, is about leading this school down a better direction,” said Nathan Hostert, one of ReNUal’s campaign managers. “Our campaign is about making SGA accountable to the needs of students […] Our campaign is about listening to the voices of people who felt they haven’t been listened to and then taking actions to listen to those concerns. Our campaign is not about Alex Bender’s high school Snapchat handle.”

Suchira + Paulina staffer resigns over social media posts

Suchira Sharma, the current SGA executive vice president, says she is “disappointed” that ReNUal filed a grievance against her campaign. / Photo by Alex Melagrano

The ReNUal campaign formally submitted a grievance on Thursday, March 16 to SGA’s Elections Committee, Hostert said. The News obtained a copy of the grievance report, which includes eight exhibits that were presented at Sunday morning’s hearing in an East Village classroom.

“It is incredibly disheartening to see the lengths to which the Suchira + Paulina: ‘Believe in More’ campaign and its campaign workers have gone to in order to slander, libel and attack the Bender/Grondin: ReNUal campaign,” the document reads.

Bender, SGA’s current vice president of student affairs, said his team filed the grievance because they believed the Suchira + Paulina campaign produced negative campaign material in violation of the SGA Direct Elections Manual (DEM).

“We felt as though there was a violation of the DEM in the part that states that no campaign worker can produce negative material against any candidate or campaign,” said Bender, a sophomore industrial engineering major. “You must respect their right to advertise and campaign. We felt that that rule was broken.”

Sharma, a junior business administration major, expressed disappointment with the routes the ReNUal campaign used to adjudicate the dispute. She said her campaign has operated on a principle of handling issues directly by speaking with opponents or to the SGA Elections Committee, rather than filing grievances.

“I’m disappointed that that same generosity wasn’t extended toward us,” Sharma said. “Had we known that this individual’s tweet had hurt their campaign this much and they had told us, then I would have gladly talked to the campaign worker and had it taken down at that time.”

Ritchey, a third-year justice, rhetoric and society studies major, resigned from his post on Suchira + Paulina’s outreach team Sunday after the SGA Elections Committee ruled that two of Ritchey’s social media posts violated DEM statutes “related to the definitions of campaign material and the stipulations on the content of campaign material,” according to the memo.

The memo did not specify which statutes had been violated in the two exhibits. Alexander Carlin, the SGA Elections Committee chair, wrote that they constituted a “sufficient burden of proof,” and the committee gave the campaign one demerit point for the violations. Three demerits would “immediately disqualify” the campaign, according to the DEM.

Decisions on two other exhibits were postponed, pending further SGA investigation, according to the memo.

In the grievance report, ReNUal pointed to Section 7.3 of the DEM, which states, “Candidates shall respect other candidates’ right to campaign and advertise.” They also included the DEM’s definition of respect, which reads, “Not defacing another slate’s campaign material or producing any negative material about another candidate or slate. Not slandering another campaign or candidate.”

The first exhibit that was found to violate the DEM shows Ritchey quoting a tweet from the ReNUal campaign account, which was live-tweeting Wednesday’s SGA debate. The ReNUal tweet read, “Alex was in the Title IX education video, which required a lot of learning.” Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination “on the basis of sex” in federally funded education programs. Northeastern University is one of hundreds of colleges across the country currently under federal Title IX investigation, and a student filed a Title IX suit in November 2016 against Northeastern for allegedly mishandling her sexual assault case.

Ritchey said the tweet on his personal account was his reaction as a SARC member, and that it was intended to be sarcastic in order to express his frustration.

“I wanted to share this with all the SARC members who follow me, my friends who follow me, and I gave no consideration to my role as an official campaign member because that’s not how I was reacting,” Ritchey said. “And effectively, the Elections Committee decision was ‘24/7, as a campaign worker, you have no rights.’”

The Suchira + Paulina campaign account responded to the tweet with a description of their sexual assault survivor advocacy, but that tweet has since been deleted.

In the other exhibit that SGA found was in violation, Ritchey shared a Facebook post from SARC in which the organization endorsed Suchira + Paulina. He also quoted a Facebook post from SARC President Roxanne Anderson alleging that Bender and Grondin have not shown support for sexual assault survivors on campus.

The committee found no violation in an exhibit in which the Suchira + Paulina campaign Twitter account retweeted SARC outreach coordinator Martha Durkee-Neuman, according to the SGA memo. Durkee-Neuman, who is unaffiliated with either campaign team but who has publicly supported Suchira + Paulina, wrote in her tweet that students cared about “diversity, justice and action” over the myNEU portal and NUCareers—two websites ReNUal has campaigned to improve.

Though the Elections Committee did not accept this particular grievance, the exhibit was consistent with its policy for shared social media posts, which was established by the committee in the same memo.

“Once shared on official pages, items in which candidates or their campaign officials did not write nonetheless becomes campaign material,” the memo read.

The committee ruled against the assertion by the ReNUal campaign that “lesser forms of acknowledgement” by Suchira + Paulina campaign members, such as favorites on Twitter or reactions on Facebook, constituted campaign material.

Some students expressed concerns about the DEM’s definition of respect, which they feared could render any disagreement as negative material.

“It provides no platform for actual debate in any capacity,” Ritchey said. “It provides no opportunity for dissent, which is fundamental to any group concern, and frankly it just confirms the fears of some that SGA is not actually making efforts to engage in the discourse necessary to make this university a better place for its students.”

ReNUal addresses Title IX platform, social media concerns

Despite student criticisms over ReNUal’s absent platform on Title IX, Bender said the issue of sexual assault on campus is “deeply important” to him.

“It pains me that it was not included in our platform,” he said. “We didn’t want to include our platform point on Title IX violations without first consulting stakeholders and survivors. We have the full intention to still work and advocate [on this issue].”

Bender said ReNUal would advocate for implementing “more survivor centric treatment” and removing students from conduct boards that review cases of student sexual assaults and Title IX violations.

“That is something we have plans to advocate for, and still have plans to advocate for, but it didn’t end up in the final language because we want to make sure it comes from the community,” Bender said. “Due to the elections timeline, we decided not to include it, even though that is something we are completely and totally committed to.”

While facing scrutiny for its lack of Title IX platform, ReNUal created a Tinder account to spread the word of its campaign, promoting the profile with the tagline “Swipe right for progress,” according to the ReNUal Facebook page.

Alex Bender and Jake Grondin promote their student government campaign on the Tinder dating app. / Photo courtesy Mike Avender

While swiping on Tinder last week, Mike Avender, a senior human services major, saw the “Bender-Grondin” profile. Avender said seeing the political campaign’s profile on his dating app, which is set to view profiles of men seeking men, made him angry.

“I was literally just swiping and I saw their picture, and I remember I was like, ‘Okay, that’s weird,’” said Avender, who is not involved in either campaign. “So I clicked on it […] And then I saw they clearly made it stated that it was to promote their political stuff, but that’s not the space to peddle your political agenda. Also, to appropriate a man-seeking-man space is really violating for people that say that they’re trying to represent the whole student body.”

Hostert, one of ReNUal’s campaign managers, said the team thought the Tinder strategy would be a fun effort, and that they deleted the account as soon as they were informed of the concerns on Wednesday, March 15.

“Our goal was never to infiltrate a queer space,” Hostert said. “Our goal was to advertise for our campaign in a fun and innovative way. Once we realized people were offended, we immediately took it down.”

Still, when discussing the “Bender-Grondin” Tinder account in group chat messages with friends, Avender said at least 10 of his gay male friends had “similar or even more adverse” reactions. The “Bender-Grondin” Tinder also popped up on the accounts held by Ritchey and several of his queer friends.

Avender sent an e-mail on Thursday, March 16, expressing his concerns to Samuel Gugliemotto, the chair of the SGA Elections Committee at the time.

“As there are already despicably few safe spaces for queer individuals on campus, I find it unacceptable that these two men would find it okay to invade an ostensibly safe space in order to pedal [sic] their political agenda,” Avender wrote in the e-mail, which he provided to The News. “I was told that they deleted their account, but what other actions are being taken? Where is the accountability for such thoughtless action?”

Gugliemotto responded that night and expressed similar concerns. He told Avender that he had received a complaint about the account from another student the night before, and assured him that the account had been deleted.

Gugliemotto informed Avender that he could file a grievance report against the ReNUal campaign, according to the e-mail. Avender, however, said he did not file a report because he did not think it was his duty to do so.

“Why should it be my responsibility to do this when I’m not involved in this, and when I am someone that feels hurt about it?” he said. “That’s just putting more of a burden on people that already feel marginalized, so why should I be the one that needs to file a grievance?”

Gugliemotto resigned from his position as Elections Committee chair last week for unrelated reasons. He said he did not know whether Carlin, the current chair, decided to “investigate and/or file a grievance” on ReNUal’s Tinder usage, and he declined to comment on the matter further. 

“I don’t think it would be right of me to make a comment on about the Tinder on behalf of SGA or Elections as I am no longer the chair,” Gugliemotto wrote in an e-mail to The News. “I have an opinion as an individual and as a student here at Northeastern but seeing as that’s not the capacity I was acting in at the time, I’m not sure how relevant that is.”

Bender said that although he and Grondin are both straight, the student who ran the “Bender-Grondin” Tinder account before it was taken down is not.

“The person running our Tinder account is a gay male,” Bender said. “When [these concerns] came to our attention, we immediately deactivated our account out of respect.”

In addition to his campaign’s criticized use of Tinder, Bender has come under fire for using a Snapchat account named “benderover,” a sexually suggestive pun based on his last name, during his freshman year at Northeastern. Durkee-Neuman, a third-year human services and international affairs combined major, said the Snapchat name was inappropriate for a prospective student body president.

“The use of sexualized language for humor is inappropriate, offensive and insulting for someone running for SGA president,” she said.

Bender no longer uses that Snapchat handle, and he said he has become more mature since first creating the account.

“I had that Snapchat account in high school,” Bender said. “I have since matured a ton and deactivated it once I realized it was immature.”

Both campaigns look ahead

Carlin, the SGA elections chair, said there will be four grievance hearings held consecutively on Thursday beginning at 7 p.m. in Ryder Hall. Two of the hearings will be against Suchira + Paulina. It is unclear what the other hearings are about.

With the election coming to a close, both sides said they hope their messages can get through to students despite recent controversies. Bender aims to keep focus on his policy and platform, and believes that his encouraging campaign will define his candidacy.

“I am incredibly proud of our campaign for spreading a positive message,” Bender said. “I feel as though the student body appreciates that.”

Sharma sought advice from her grandfather, who just turned 98 years old. A runner, he told her “head down, feet up”—keep moving forward without growing demoralized by the view ahead.

“We’re going to keep fighting,” Sharma said. “We’re going to hope that we come out on the side of justice on this, and we stand by the fact that we have never intended to hurt anyone from the beginning of this campaign and that we were fair in our campaign. I hope that that will resonate with the rest of the election and the student body.”


Sam Haas contributed to this story.

Corrections: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that SGA Elections Committee chair Alexander Carlin received the grievance on March 16. Carlin was appointed the committee chair on March 19, and received the grievance after its filing. An earlier version also mistakenly stated that three of the grievance hearings on Thursday will be held against the Suchira + Paulina slate. The correct number is two. 

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