Why Linnabary quit SGA


Journalism is grounded in fact, truth, and fairness.

Public relations is all about perceptions.

As one may guess, perceptions are not always true, not always fact.

I’ve been on both sides. This spring I jumped ship from reporting and editing at The Sunflower newspaper, something I learned to love immediately, to take on the role of director of public relations for Wichita State’s Student Government Association, something I figured I’d love.

I did not love my time in SGA, nor did I like it. It was the worst two months of my college years.

I got to those worst months after coming down from my best months. I began studying journalism in the spring of 2016, and began reporting for The Sunflower in February. The moment I saw my byline on a front page, I was hooked.

Journalism and The Sunflower provide opportunities to be creative, write, and put people’s voices and emotions on the page, to shed light on the good, bad — and odd — found on a living, breathing campus.

For a fledgling writer without an audience, my job as a journalist gave me a voice — it gave me readers.

I wrote like crazy, happy to pick up stories about students, events, crime, what have you. I learned about reporting. I learned about writing. But what I liked most were the countless things I learned about this campus and its characters.

My first year with The Sunflower was the highlight of my collegiate experience. I made great friends. I wrote good stories. I became managing editor, interned with The Wichita Eagle, won some cool awards — for awhile, I felt unstoppable. I heard great things from co-workers, instructors, community members, my parents. I felt good, like I was doing good.

I had finally found something I was good at, something that, while work, never really felt like work.

Then I applied to be editor-in-chief this spring, and I lost. My ego couldn’t take it.

Up until that point, everything I’d worked and asked for in journalism had been handed to me. To be told I wasn’t good enough, someone was better, wasn’t something I could handle.

That’s when I went to Paige Hungate and Student Government Association and applied to be the director of public relations.

I had written about Paige a couple of times in 2016, and had profiled her ticket, United We Stand, for the 2017 SGA elections. As a leader, I liked her.

Based on our relationship and her knowledge of my skillset, I saw an open door. Why not become the director of public relations? I may not have gotten the leadership role I wanted at The Sunflower, so why not take this one? Documenting SGA had sparked an interest in the organization, a misguided interest in retrospect.

I talked to my best friends, highest-regarded instructors, and campus authorities. Their advice was mixed. Some said stick with what you enjoy, some said try something new.

If you know me, you know my indecisiveness will be the death of me. I applied for the job. I interviewed well and was offered the position, but I mulled it over until the last minute.

I still wasn’t sure.

Finally, I decided to talk about it with Chance Swaim, the current editor-in-chief who beat me out for the editor-in-chief gig — hours before my confirmation. He said go for it, if I really wanted to try it, and gave me something to land on — if it didn’t work out, he’d let me back on staff at the paper.

So I did it.

Yes, I had no public relations experience.

I went in with the goal of cleaning up the image and perception of SGA, knowing I’d have my work cut out for me. But a challenge like that excites me. Beating the odds is a thrill.

I did not beat the odds.

I went into the SGA senate meeting where I’d be voted upon by the senate with just a little bit of nervousness. I thought the senate would be inviting to me, given that most of them had never met me.

It took about five minutes for my excitement to extinguish, replaced with anxiety. Former SGA VP Taben Azad, who I’d written about a good number of times for The Sunflower, who heartily greeted me before the meeting, who I figured was a friend, took to the podium during public forum to denounce my nomination and encourage the senate to vote against me.

To be so casually thrown under the bus for the sake of “politics” was my first taste of SGA. That sour, sick-to-my-stomach feeling is what I remember the most from my time with the association.

I was about a week into the job when the SGA banquet incident hit. If you’re reading this, you probably know what happened, but for those who don’t: President Hungate’s parents and former Student Body President Joseph Shepard had an altercation at an end-of-year SGA banquet — meant to be a celebratory event.

Hungate’s parents were placed under criminal investigation for battery and anti-black, hate “fighting words.” The charges were eventually dropped, but not before any lingering hope or credence I had for PR and SGA was stamped out.

I got a message: “Why weren’t you at the banquet? They could have used you …” a senator said.

I was briefed on the situation. I felt sick. I was scared.

Then the aftershock: the crafted statements, the protests, the sit-ins, the live streams.

I felt fake. I had done no wrong except be guilty by association.

I thought I’d get some relief through writing press releases.

I was wrong.

Dry, boring writing about covering your own ass doesn’t really get the creative juices flowing. And things got off on the wrong foot from the start.

The first press release addressing the banquet situation was not penned by me, the person in charge of producing the releases. Instead, it was a melting pot statement formed by President Hungate, the chief of operations, VP of Student Affairs Teri Hall, and Paige’s parents.

It sucked, was disingenuous, and made things worse. I didn’t write it. People — like a handful of SGA senators, who took to Facebook to call me out for my insensitivity and lack of tact — thought I did. I was pissed.

Though the subsequent releases were largely mine, and turned out okay, I was scared each time I wrote them, fearful that one small word, one little phrase, would shake the cage of an angry lion (that happened, but after I resigned from ‘white student government’).

I was never scared when I wrote for The Sunflower. I never worried about getting something wrong, because what I wrote was always backed by facts.

In public relations, abstract, vague thoughts, and a lack of concrete evidence rule.

Though each press release had a different message or angle, it was all the same. I was re-treading the same phrasing, the same lifeless “Ra-ra, we’re all Shockers” and “Racism is bad, okay?” statements that mean nothing.

If you need a statement from Wichita State University Student Government Association to let you know racism is bad, that statement sure as hell isn’t going to change your opinion.

I began to feel like a man jumping through hoops. If I don’t do this, I’m brushing off the situation. But if I do this, it’s going to make Paige think I’ve turned on her.

The situation kicked me into a bout of depression, one fueled by the negativity surrounding my position, the stress I felt in handling it, and the sick feeling I felt each time I saw my Sunflower friends on the other side of the protest, seeking the truth, taking pictures, asking questions, streaming me.

One thing I learned — it’s not so easy to answer angry questions on a live stream. Also, protesters don’t like being offered pizza — let them take it themselves. Duly noted.

Sure, the job wasn’t for me, but there are some not-completely-bad memories.

The morning after the incident, before the sit-in occurred, protesters stormed the SGA office, live streaming as they demanded to talk to Hungate.

Vice President Breck Towner and I hid out in my office, backs against the wall, listening to the protesters go at Vice President of Student Affairs Teri Hall’s throat. We laughed at our predicament and cowardice. We watched the livestream of the disaster one room over. It was surreal.

The protesters were acting as if we were a real governmental body with real power, and as if the unfortunate event that had unfolded the night before was a reflection of us as a student government cabinet. Then and there, Breck and I were just two 20-something goofballs, scared shitless by a situation out of our control.

After the protesters left, we slipped out the back of the RSC to Towner’s fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, where we game-planned how to handle the situation. Towner, sure Paige would be forced to resign, contemplated the presidency. I contemplated quitting.

I figured I’d wait until the situation settled down to resign, hopeful that I’d still have a place at The Sunflower. So, after things had blown over and the protesters’ signs were removed from the SGA office walls, I quit. SGA found a fitting replacement in Bailey Minor, who is much more stoic and cut out for the job than I was.

Sure, the job wasn’t for me. It sucked, and I regret it, but now I know.

I’ve seen two sides of protests. One side had me observing, inquiring, taking notes, seeking truth, and documenting the experience. The other made me never want to walk on campus again because of something I didn’t do.

I prefer the reporter side. Thanks for having me back, Sunflower.