In an interview with the Daily on Friday with SGA Communications, SGA President Yolian Ogbu and Strategic Planning Director Brightyn Patterson, Hutchinson said they were “shocked” after former Vice President Hillary Shah announced her resignation Thursday night.
“We’ve had conversations with her this week about how we’re moving forward as far as her resignation,” Hutchinson said. “They’re rather professional, rather civil. We were all in the loop and so we expected more from her as part of this administration. It was our expectation that we would more forward with a much smoother transition and so ultimately I think it was disappointing and shocking to see the response that she decided to make public.”
Shah resigned and alleged “consistent isolation, dismissal, and belittlement” in her resignation letter, sent to SGA staff and senators Thursday night.
“I’ve been unable to perform to the best of my ability, or truly even half of my ability, because of consistent isolation, dismissal, and belittlement behind my back where it got to the point where I still feel like I’m not allowed to be in the spaces I deserve to be in as I was also elected by the student body,” Shah said in her letter. “I have been marginalized to the perimeter and not been cared about beyond what I could provide.”
Ogbu said she was made aware of Shah’s resignation on Tuesday in a meeting Shah called between Ogbu and their advisor Christa Coffey.
“It was very unexpected, I really didn’t know,” Ogbu said. “And she sat us down and decided that she wanted to not come back next semester and I told her that I supported her in the decision that she was making, whichever she believes is best for her well-being and that was that.”
Ogbu said it was in that meeting where it was decided that Hillary wanted to “control the narrative as to how she wants to resign and that was that.”
“It seems as though I ratted her out or something when that really wasn’t the case,” Ogbu said. “I went about my day and honestly, in terms of my leadership, everyone on staff knows everything. So in terms of decisions and things that we need to make that affect people on our staff, everyone knows. And so, it literally doesn’t even have to take me to say anything for anyone to know.”
Ogbu said there were assumptions made according to Shah’s “switch-up in behavior” when asked if news of her resignation circulated around the office before she officially announced it, but nothing was confirmed until Shah said it.
“We left the door open and she just had to walk through it as far as building a relationship with the staff, as far as building a relationship with the advisors, as far as building a relationship with the deans and administrators,” Hutchinson said. “All of these opportunities were presented and we will be the first ones to say that we aren’t 100 percent perfect. The work environment is not always going to be 100 percent on where it should be, but that doesn’t mean that the opportunities that were given weren’t there.”
Patterson said Ogbu was very adamant about not having an office hierarchy.
“And I think that when they came back they expected a certain level of respect that they didn’t put any work into and that Yolian had been establishing this whole summer,” Patterson said, referring to Shah and Hanlyn Tyler, the former SGA chief of staff.
In her letter of resignation, Shah said “I reached out multiple times to the person who I viewed as my partner in this administration regarding the beginning of this degradation. It was directly told to me that she did not care about me, and my mental state not only didn’t matter to her, but I was not able to be seen as a human outside of a professional worker…”
Ogbu called this account “completely inaccurate” while Hutchinson called it “unsettling.”
“It’s difficult because it’s disappointing to hear that that’s what came across when we’ve worked so hard to establish that that’s not at all what we stand for,” Hutchinson said.
Also in her resignation letter, Shah said Tyler, the former SGA chief of staff, “left after finding an informal list that the majority of staff excluding me had written filled with both personal and professional grievances – many of them not true or exaggerated – to use as a justification for why they needed to go.”
When asked, Hutchinson confirmed the list exists.
“The list exists in its capacity that it contained professional grievances,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said the list contained no personal grievances and remained strictly professional and that there were multiple meetings with Tyler and the staff, Tyler and Yolian and Tyler, Yolian and the SGA advisor.
“This [was] just an accumulation of lacking performance with their role and lacking to fulfill the expectations that we set forth for them,” Hutchinson said. “So the list, yes, it contained professional grievances because we wanted to ensure that we were transparent about their performance throughout the semester and that we were able to give them a full depth of what the staff feels and why they weren’t the right fit for this position at this time.”
Hutchinson called the narrative of “‘we pushed them out, we tried to do this,” false in its entirety.”
“They lacked in their performance and they were not a fit for the job and that’s the end of what happened,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said they think the culture they’ve set in SGA is one of “high expectations.”
“I mean, generally, we don’t expect less than greatness from our staff because that’s what we want to deserve to students,” Hutchinson said. “And so when staff members fail to meet these expectations that we’ve set for them, that they’ve set for themselves, that the staff has set for them, they’re not a right fit for the position.”
Hutchinson said the environment they’ve set is one of high expectations and it is “unfortunate that those who can’t meet them see it as intimidation or see it as bullying or see it as any of the other adjectives that they used.”
All members interviewed Friday agreed with the account of an SGA committee member who told the Daily that “Hillary did not advise senators well … I’ve also seen her absent from posted office hours on multiple occasions.”
“Most definitely,” Ogbu said.
Hutchinson said that when you ask administrators who is the SGA president and vice president is, they will know who Ogbu is but only a few will know who Shah is.
“Three months in, we had a meeting with Dean of Students Moe McGuinness and she had trouble acknowledging who Hillary was in our administration,” Hutchinson said. “But I have a personal relationship with [Moe], Brightyn has a personal relationship with her, our outreach has a personal relationship with her, so the fact is that [Shah] was not present enough for her to build these relationships with not only us but with administration.”
Following Shah’s resignation, Deana Ayers has been appointed as the new SGA vice president, following SGA Senate approval.
“All of the experience that she brings first and foremost,” Ogbu said on why Ayers was appointed. “Her just being in the Senate and having all the knowledge about procedures…She was always the person that is able to bring insight and knowledge on what administration can do better. She’s that person that I think — and I can’t speak for staff — but we all could depend on her at one point.”
Hutchinson said they are not concerned with SGA having “high expectations.”
“I think it’s very disappointing that people have turned this into something being like a clique or something being like we’re isolating people when in fact, it’s just us trying to have higher expectations than any other administration,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said “if we’re going to talk about cliques, [Shah and Tyler] are also a clique.”
“You can’t call us a clique but then also not call yourself a clique,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson did not go so far as to call SGA a clique but said “if they’re going to be in the mindset of calling all of SGA a clique, but themselves, they also have to realize that they’ve isolated themselves but still remain together.”
“If we don’t call that a clique, I don’t know what we’re calling it,” Hutchinson. “So I’m not going to call us a clique at all but if someone is to look at that perspective, I don’t see why they shouldn’t look at their own perspective as well. I mean, you have to reflect on your own situation.”
Hutchinson said they also do not expect more resignations from their staff and said they are “more united than ever.”
“I think we’re beyond energized with what we can do because now we don’t have to deal with personnel issues,” Hutchinson said.
Near the end of the interview, Hutchinson reiterated that SGA’s “staff is changing…but our promises aren’t.”
“That’s something that we are running with, that’s something that we know is true,” Hutchinson said. “Because our values, our morals have not shifted, have not altered throughout the year so there’s no reason why they would now.”
Hutchinson said the initiatives students voted for are going to get done and they are looking forward to carrying those through next semester.
“This doesn’t change who we are,” Ogbu said. “We’re still doing great work that we have been doing…we’re not here for petty drama, we’re here to do our jobs.”
Featured Image: SGA members meet at the Union Senate Chambers on Nov. 20, 2019. Image by Carter Mize