Division surrounding an unfriendly amendment drove debate during the College of William and Mary’s Student Assembly meeting Tuesday, Sept 22. Following the introduction of SA’s “For the Bold” Resolution — which criticized the actions of administration in their handling of eliminating seven varsity sports at the College — Sen. Rory Fedorochko ’22 said the bill needed stronger language that called for the firing of Tribe Athletics Director Samantha Huge, evoking strong reactions from fellow senators.
Sept. 3, Tribe Athletics issued a statement cutting men’s and women’s swimming, men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s indoor and outdoor track and field and women’s volleyball. This decision affected 118 athletes and 13 coaches and has faced intense criticism from students and alumni over the past three weeks, particularly as Huge was accused of plagiarism based on the statement’s strong resemblance to a similar Stanford University announcement.
SA specifically called out this incident in the bill, and also recognized the College’s poor engagement with student athletes prior to its announcement. The bill specifically said, “None of these affected members of our community were consulted during the decision-making process, and were only notified of the decision in a 7-minute long scripted Zoom call with no Q&A session or further clarification and received a plagiarized written notice from Stanford University’s response to cutting athletics.”
The resolution sought to condemn the athletic cuts and highlight how the College administration’s actions may have violated aspects of the College’s undergraduate student honor code. By the time senators met the evening of Sept. 22, there were 609 signatures on the resolution from non-SA members, including members of the student body, student-athletes, coaches, faculty and staff.
However, Fedorochko said that although the resolution strongly spoke out against the College’s actions, he felt it did not adequately chastise Huge’s role in the decision making process. Fedorochko subsequently introduced an amendment to the resolution demanding that the university’s Board of Visitors fire Huge for her role in the Sept. 3 decision.
Class of 2023 President Conor Sokolowsky ’23, the sponsor of the bill and a member of the Men’s Swimming Team, said that including the call for Huge’s firing was considered when writing the resolution, but was ultimately left out because it would distract from the bill’s overall objectives. He also said that since people from outside SA had already signed the bill, the bill should not be amended without their knowledge and consent.
“Making that kind of statement would require making criticisms of the Athletic Director’s character, and of specific things she’s done, and it would take away from the overall intent of the resolution as it currently stands,” Sokolowsky said. “ … We want to keep it separate for now, particularly at this moment in time, because we’ve had hundreds of people sign this, including people that work at the university, and I believe now that by introducing this amendment and then changing it, this wouldn’t be the document that they signed onto.”
“making that kind of statement would require making criticisms of the Athletic Director’s character, and of specific things she’s done, and it would take away from the overall intent of the resolution as it currently stands.”
Sen. Will Wasson J.D. ’21 said that, while he understood Sokolowsky’s concerns, the style committee responsible for crafting the resolution wanted to include this provision from the start and had limited ability to revise the language once it was taken out.
“I support this amendment, specifically because I think the committee of style considered this a lot, we originally wrote it into the bill, it was taken out kind of without a lot of our consent,” Wasson said. “ … I think a lot of us believe it’s impossible to critique what happened in this way without saying, just to be frank, it falls to Huge’s head. If we believe what happened was unethical, if we believe what happened was immoral, it falls to the leader of that department. We’ve laid out a lot of really damning evidence in this resolution, and it seems almost illogical to not say that the person who’s directly responsible for allowing this to happen, the person who’s most egregiously involved in this egregious behavior, needs to go.”
Several senators, including Sen. Gloriana Cubero Fernandez ’24, contended that including the amendment would distract from the main purpose of the bill, which was to ask the administration for transparency and inclusion. While some senators acknowledged that they would not be opposed to asking for Huge’s resignation, they refrained from formally demanding it.
“I think in this case, it’s about weighing what we can do versus what we stand for,” Cubero Fernandez said. “So do we want to put this amendment into this resolution, and say this is what we stand for, we want this person to be removed, and actually end up accomplishing nothing, or do we want to leave it out of the resolution but accomplish a lot? So it’s like, okay, yes, maybe we do really really want this, but we may not be able to accomplish anything if we put it in. So then we have to weigh, do we want this ideological highground, or do we want to actually get something done?”
“So yeah, we can focus on transparency and get that, but guess what, we’ve already done that like nineteen times, we’ve already passed two resolutions on it – we’re probably not going to get that anyway.”
Wasson rejected the idea that excluding this amendment would cause the administration to give any greater consideration to the resolution’s call for transparency.
“I think what it comes down to, and what Student Assembly stands for and what we should stand for is, we represent the student body, we don’t care about the response of the administration,” Wasson said. “ … When I think of what a representative is, I think it’s a person who fights against injustice, no matter what it is. And people keep saying, ‘oh, well, we can focus on one thing that can actually get done,’ but like people are saying, we’ve asked for transparency nineteen times this semester alone, and have literally never gotten it. So yeah, we can focus on transparency and get that, but guess what, we’ve already done that like nineteen times, we’ve already passed two resolutions on it – we’re probably not going to get that anyway.”
At the beginning of the debate, SA voted to move the resolution into old business in order to place a vote on the bill so that SA President Anthony Joseph ’21 could bring the Resolution to the College’s Board of Visitors. However, in response to Fedorochko’s amendment, Joseph said that he would not sign on as a supporter of the resolution and present it to the BOV if it was successfully added.
“If I bring this to the Board on Friday, which I intend to do, with that clause in there asking for her resignation, we lose any type of conversation that can be had, or any influence that we have in transparency, period,” Joseph said. “I’m telling you that because I know that for a fact … adding Huge’s resignation, demanding that, detracts from the political power of this resolution. I can’t be a supporter of this if you’re going to put the resignation on there.”
Ultimately, senators voted down the amendment before unanimously approving the resolution. Seven senators voted to approve the amendment while fifteen voted against the amendment. The resolution now heads to Joseph, who has seven days to sign it.
Also at this week’s meeting:
- Katie Rys ’22 was confirmed as the seventh member of the Review Board.
- Alexandra Byrne ’23 was confirmed as the Board of Visitors representative for Academic Affairs.
- Chair of the Review Board Braeden Salazar ’21 swore in the new representatives for the classes of 2021, 2023 and 2024.