Making a case against discrimination

Anya Annear

The General Election had ended. Next year’s student body government had been voted into office.

An official email was sent out the evening of March 7 informing everyone of the number of votes, and displayed the traditional picture of the new ASSP Core on the office couch.

Nathan Samyao was ASSP President, Kaitlyn Payton was ASSP Executive Vice President, Sarah Kirschner was ASSP Vice President of Finance, Drew Cortez was ASSP Vice President International Affairs, Celeste Ajayi was the ASSP Vice President of Campus Activities and Andy Spalletta was Vice President of Ministries.

Not long after Spalletta, the Vice President of Ministry, was notified of being charged for “violating student conduct policy” involving drugs and alcohol. This email came from Residence Life.

The investigation went on for 64 days. It was not till May 10, when an all campus email was sent out informing SPU that Spalletta was no longer fit to serve and that Madyson Fulcher, as the next runner-up with take the role of Vice President of Ministry for the academic year of 2018-2019.

In response, on May 13, Spalletta posted an online petition challenging the university’s decision of disciplinary action. As of May 24, the petition had gained 1,452 signatures.

In addition, a letter of concern, signed by 90 faculty members also as of May 24, is being prepared for presentation to the SPU administration, criticizing the lack of evidence and transparency in disciplinary hearings involving not just Spalletta, but two other recently elected queer officers.

This case dominated the May 21 senate meeting, during which Emerson Hall Senator James Chung revealed that he was the person reported Spalletta to the university for possible disciplinary action on the basis of a drug violation.

“My roommate told me that Andy pressured him to use drugs at a party during Fall quarter,” Chung said. “As Emerson Hall Senator … I wanted to bring it to the institution and let them decide.”

Chung first reported the situation to the Student Involvement and Leadership Staff Office on March 7, only a couple days after learning of the incident. Both Director of the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership Whitney Brojete and ASSP Executive Vice President Danielle Meier were present to record the initial information reported by Chung.

The following is based on an interviews from Chung and Spalletta.

Chung knew he had to act on this information, especially since the testimony he received came from his roommate.

“I know that I’m not a witness, or a victim, but I let the school decide what to do, and the school decided with the information that they had gathered,” Chung said.

Chung’s actions have caused him to be singled out by his friends as a traitor.

“Friends that I had, have glared at me when I walk around campus saying, ‘James you are a traitor to your own kind. You are conniving, and you are scheming,’” Chung described.

Yet despite the glares, Chung encourages everyone, both allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community alike, to not fight against one another.

Chung acknowledges that there is discrimination towards the LGBTQ+ community, but upon further investigation believes that there was no discrimination in this particular case.

“Three other Haven members reported against Andy as well, and I believe that’s how Residence Life got to the conclusion that the incident happened,” Chung explained.

Regarding the case, in an interview, Spalletta noted that the process for the investigation requires a lot of time and effort.

“When the case was being handled by Res Life, I was not allowed to talk to anyone about the case. From the first email to the day I was notified I was not VPM, I was told to not talk to anyone regarding the case,” Spalletta said. “The first person I told was my mom, and even then I couldn’t explain to her the aloneness I felt at SPU because of this. The system is designed this way so that you lose your voice and will to fight against their judgements.”

During the first week of spring quarter, Chung was called in by Residence Life to provide more details. The following week, Chung’s roommate was called to testify and provide more information.  Chung did not testify to Residence Life, but only reported the details he knew, since he was not a witness, or victim in this situation.

ASSP Executive Vice President Danielle Meier received the decision that Residence life saw Spalletta as unfit to serve due to a “drug violation,” resulting in them being put on probation. As a result, Spalletta became ineligible to serve as Vice President of Ministry.

As Spalletta’s case was investigated, and as testimonies came forward against Spalletta, Residence Life came to a decision, which Meier summarized in an interview: “I received notice of the findings after the conduct process had finished. Through discussion with my advisor we realized there was no alternative option other than removing Andy from ASSP core.”

When the  all campus email was sent out to the SPU student body stating that “due to unforeseen circumstances,” Spalletta would not be able to serve as the ASSP Vice President of Ministry, they wrote a petition, in which they say that the accountability process can discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community.

“This means marginalized students are more likely to be found guilty on the basis of implicit bias. It seems ‘reasonable’ that these students are guilty to campus staff since they are already perceived as not fitting into SPU’s ideal student image,” Spalletta said.  

In addition, Spalletta also petitioned for their reinstatement as the ASSP Vice President of Ministry position and for Residence Life to drop the charges. But the process of reinstating a previously elected candidate after hiring another person for the position is non-existent.

“Several other student leaders who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and/or POC have been targeted and charged with similar allegations. This is a clear example of discrimination and it cannot be tolerated,” the petition said.

Not only does the student body see the discrimination that happens on campus, but also the professors of SPU.

Though the email that noted Spalletta’s removal was “due to unforeseen circumstance,” Spalletta explained that they were not in town during the instigating incident.

My mom came up to visit me, and my aunt has family photos as well as texts showing I was with them way out of the Seattle area,” Spalletta said.

According to Spalletta’s petition they state that Residence Life would find Spalletta guilty unless “tangible evidence” showed that they were out of the State of Washington.

It is also stated that all tangible evidence was presented to Residence Life, but was denied.

Andy was also told that evidence of them being in the Tacoma area could be judged as dismissible. They were guilty until proven innocent,” the petition reads.

The evidence provided showed they were out of town “every weekend when the alleged incident took place,” Spalletta said.

The investigation has been going for 64 days, but it was not until May 21 that the reporter revealed himself to the Senate body.

After the information was reported to the Student Involvement and Leadership office, the report transitioned to the Residence Life office, since the report involved a student who lives in campus housing.  

In addition, the Election Task Force (ETF) was alerted of the situation and was therefore deemed Spalletta unfit to serve due to the guidelines.

As the chair, Meier allerted the Elections Task Force of the situation.

Their solution: since Spalletta was not sworn in as a member of officer core at the time, the ETF decided to complete the process started by the Residence Life in removing Spalletta’s eligibility to take office.

As the findings of the Spalletta investigation have unfolded even the professors of SPU have come together and have written a faculty letter to challenge Provost Jeff Van Duzer to promote transparency by creating clear standards, measures and reporting for student disciplinary procedures.

This letter explicitly voices the concerns of faculty: “We are concerned that the lack of transparency in these proceedings creates an environment in which implicit bias can operate. At the very least, the lack of transparency suggests to our students that they are not being treated fairly.”

The letter will be presented by the end of the week.

Looking back, Chung noted that he made the report with the assumption that the institution would decide what is best for the students involved. The same can be said for the petition and for the faculty letter. All in an attempt to bring to light unfair treatment to students at SPU.

Even Spalletta believes that the institution will listen, especially with the voices of the students coming together. In lieu of everything, even with feelings of discriminatory practices at play, Spalletta also knows that the system will be consistent and choose what is best for students.

“I believe administration will try to do what’s best for the student body. The petition and other efforts where SPU as an institution gets to hear not only my voice, but everyone’s voices including those who have been affected by SPU’s biases and discriminations,” Spalletta said.