Student Senate debates Speaker of Senate nominees


Mia Hennen

Kian Williams is sworn into the role of Speaker of the Senate on April 26. While not in SGA anymore, Williams now serves as the president of the Jewish Student Alliance.

In a slim vote, senators selected Kian Williams to be Speaker of the Senate of the new Student Government Association session.

Before the Senate’s vote, Williams and fellow Speaker of the Senate nominee Valeria Paunetto took the floor to say why they should be the next speaker. After they left so other senators could debate on them, the debate took nearly an hour, with several breaks to clarify rules and bylaws. 

Senators like Gregory Vandyke Jr., former Speaker of the Senate, and John Kirk, former student body president, spoke in favor of Paunetto. After several senators spoke in favor of Paunetto and/or Williams, Vandyke shared his opinion of Williams with senators.

“I believe it is our duty as senators to be authentic, and I wasn’t going to say this, but I guess I will,” Vandyke said. “It has been brought to my attention, even while I was in the speakership, that Senator Williams, who is running for the speakership, has made women feel uncomfortable.

“If I need to collect evidence, I can. I won’t say names.”

Jay Thompson, an at-large senator, interjected and said, “Senators should refrain from using hearsay in debate with respect to speaking about SGA officials.”

“I would ask the senator to provide proof or void accusations,” Thompson said.

In response, Vandyke said he would “refrain” and spoke in favor of Paunetto again.

During the debate period, several other senators expressed concerns about using the debate period to speak in negation of one of the nominees.

“I think smearing people’s name for the sake of voting for another person, either way, is not appropriate, it is not what we do within this body, and it’s not OK,” Victoria Owens, liberal arts and sciences senator, said. “I think you should advocate positively towards both candidates.” 

Toward the end of the debate period, Mary Elizabeth Thornton, at-large senator, said as a woman in leadership, she felt it was important to say how she feels about Williams.

“None of this is intended to be negative or slandering,” Thornton said. “But in terms of leadership, I have been made very uncomfortable by Senator Williams. I don’t want to speak more on that just because I don’t want to slander them in any way.”

In response to the senator’s expression of discomfort, Williams, whose pronouns are they/them, said they welcome people sharing their experiences.

“As a survivor of sexual assault, I understand the vulnerability that took, and I always I will always encourage people to come out about their experiences,” Williams said. “So that way we can all can continue learning and growing.”

Following the debate period, senators selected Williams as Speaker of the Senate in a 22-19 vote. 

In their speech to the Senate, Williams said, as Speaker of the Senate, they will aim to resolve issues encountered in their previous roles as government relations chair and Speaker Pro-Tempore.

“The cliques and favoritism that permeated this body last session were immense,” Williams said. “Nobody could pass a bill, hold an event, schedule a meeting or advocate for students without jumping through a million hoops.”

Williams said to create a healthy student government, leadership with “no agenda” and “no cliques” must be elected.

“My long-term goal is a culture shift in SGA,” Williams said. “(Last session) the work never felt fulfilling, and it was always boring to come to Senate … I want an atmosphere where (senators are) excited and thanked for showing up for (the) students.”

In addition to the senators’ debate and appointment of the Speaker of the Senate, Student Body President Iris Okere nominated four other individuals to a student government position. Below are the appointed individuals and their positions. Each was unanimously approved by the Senate.

  • Aiden Powell, student organizations director
  • Amy Nguyen, public relations director
  • Ashlynn Clark, undergraduate student advocate
  • Emma Glover, sustainability director

Additionally, Okere announced that she signed four people into office by executive order after her inaugural ceremony. Below are the appointed individuals and their positions.

  • Tavonja Mwenje, director of international student affairs
  • Kyan Caudillo, director of health and wellness
  • Kyla Gordon, director of community engagement and outreach
  • Diana Grajeda, director of leadership and engagement

Following the various appointments and nominations, the meeting closed. The next meeting will take place on May 3 at 7:30 p.m.