Concerns raised about conflict of interest in student government

Student Body President and Vice President share process for deciding cabinet in SGA


File photo by Daniel Caudill

Following executive orders to appoint individuals to certain positions by Student Body President Iris Okere, senators discuss their thoughts on the appointments.

A student senator shared concerns about a conflict of interest in Student Government Association after learning an appointed cabinet member is the student body vice president’s partner.

Kyan Caudillo, the director of health and wellness, is Vice President Sophie Martins’ partner. While Martins said Caudillo became interested in the position after hearing about it from her, Martins said Student Body President Iris Okere appointed him without her involvement.

“I gave (Caudillo) Iris’ number, and they worked it all out themselves,” Martins said. “And now seeing just on a friend and personal level, it’s pretty cool seeing (how Caudillo has) been able to find all these things that he’s wanted to change and now has the ability to do so.”

Okere said Caudillo seemed passionate about health and wellness during their interview. She also highlighted Caudillo’s experience with working at Wichita State’s Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory (MDL). Caudillo has administered COVID-19 tests and entered patient data.

“I wanted to know the inner workings of how (MDL) worked, and what it was like to be a tester of that,” Okere said. “And so (Caudillo) seemed really passionate about it, and I think that he brings great perspective to the executive cabinet.”

At-large Sen. Joshua Mallard said that while SGA allows any student to join, he thinks Caudillo being appointed is a conflict of interest.

He said he didn’t agree that the Senate couldn’t vote on Caudillo and hear his speech. Okere appointed Caudillo into office by executive order

“I definitely don’t agree with it,” Mallard said. “We have had other partners in SGA … but they weren’t in a position where  … (their partner) was their boss.”

Martins said the vice president’s main roles are to support the president and preside over the Senate. As vice president, she said she would not be very involved with the cabinet’s “inner workings.”

“I’m working a lot with the Legislative Branch, not that much with small projects that the executive team is working on,” Martins said. “Unless I like really have a specific interest in one. Then I will obviously help out and be on committees with certain things.”

At-large Sen. Gregory VanDyke Jr. said he did not see Caudillo’s appointment as a conflict of interest. He acknowledged that others in SGA leadership have held relationships, and he doesn’t want to make assumptions.

“From what I’ve seen throughout these last couple of weeks prior to school ending, that they (Martins and Caudillo) were both willing to keep everything professional in the setting,” VanDyke said. “They were both willing to perform the job and perform the duties.”

Okere did not stand for questions after announcing her appointment of four people, including Caudillo, during the Student Senate meeting on April 26. Okere said this decision was not due to “anything specific” and attributed it to the “timeframe of the meeting,” because the Speaker of the Senate elections ocurred after. 

VanDyke said that other senators had opportunities to mention concerns, and no one did to his knowledge.

“No senators have brought that up, nor has any senator mentioned it throughout the last couple of weeks, so I personally feel like it hasn’t been that grave of a concern,” VanDyke said.

Okere and Martins also shared their process of appointing or nominating each cabinet member.

Okere said she evaluates the positions’ needs and then consideres individuals based on their work, either from SGA or other areas she has interacted with them.

“From there, it was, ‘Well, who do we know who’s already in the association? And then who can we bring into the association?’” Okere said.

When asked about her decision behind appointing people into office by executive order or nominating them before the Senate, Okere said SGA’s Constitution requires that the Senate vote on certain positions.

Okere said she appointed the other people because she thinks they have done “great work.”

“Everybody would have an executive order if it was down to me because I know that they’re going to do the work,” Okere said. “To be fair, we put (the required positions) in front of the Senate so that (senators) can see the (nominees’) great work … and they know that they have the experience.”

Okere said diversity also played a “huge role” in selecting her cabinet. This thought process also led to her appointing international student Tavonga Mwenje to director of international affairs, a first-year position.

“When I was in the DEI position (for SGA), I always was asking international students where they fit,” Okere said.

The Okere-Martins cabinet also has several members not previously involved with SGA. Both Okere and Martins said they would support those people, especially since they were first-time senators last year.

“(SGA is) where you just kind of get involved in it really, really quickly,” Martins said. “We’re able to be really good mentors and good leaders for people who don’t quite know how things run yet.”

Martins said she encourages anyone with questions to reach out.

“My door’s always open. You can come and talk to me,” Martins said. “So if there are questions or specific interests about certain executive orders, we would strongly encourage people to reach out.”

While VanDyke said this session has had a “rocky start” like last session, he thinks SGA is onto “bigger and better things.”

The Senate vacated the Speaker of the Student Senate position following alleged sexual harassment claims; Sen. Kylee Hower was elected as the new speaker.

VanDyke said that these actions show SGA’s willingness to improve.

“I think that’s a testament to the direction we as a student body intend to go, and that’s to higher heights,” VanDyke said.

On May 25, Amy Nguyen, director of public relations, sent The Sunflower an email with all the selected cabinet members, either through appointment or the Senate’s vote. 

Below are the appointed positions:

Kyla Gordon, director of community engagement and outreach

Tavonga Mwenje, director of international affairs

Diana Grajeda, director  of leadership and engagement  

Kyan Caudillo, director  of health and wellness 

Valeria Paunetto, director of legislative affairs and policy

Devin Moore, assistant treasurer

Aubany Russell, code of ethics and accountability task force chair 

The following positions were nominated and voted on in the Senate:

Jia Wen Wang, student body treasurer 

Nora Malone, chief of staff

Aiden Powell, director of student organizations

Emma Glover, director of sustainability

Amy Nguyen, director of public relations 

Noel Hawkins, director of media relations

Ashlynn Clark, undergraduate advocate

Tatumn Graham, graduate advocate