Controversial remarks result in impeachment for Sophomore Class President Chris Montalvo
Sophomore Class President Chris Montalvo was censured and impeached due to his comments at the “Your Voice, Our Quinnipiac” event sponsored by the Student Government Association and the Multicultural Student Leadership Council.
Monday, Oct. 23: Your Voice our Quinnipiac: My Culture is not a Costume
On Monday, Oct. 23 the Student Government Association invited members of the community to speak at its event, “Your Voice, Our Quinnipiac,” in the Carl Hansen Student Center Piazza. The purpose of the event was to promote the “My Culture is not a Costume” campaign.
The event was going smoothly in the beginning, according to Vice President for Student Experience Tatyana Youssef.
“Everyone was feeling comfortable,” Youssef said. “It was going just as planned. People were saying they were enjoying it.”
Individuals spoke on personal experiences with racism, sexism and exclusion. Amongst the speakers was Sophomore Class President Chris Montalvo. He approached Youssef, who was facilitating the event, in order to sign up for a spot on the list at the open-mic style event.
“He said (to me), ‘I’m just going to share my life story…but I think you’ll appreciate it,’ and I trusted that,” Youssef said.
However, Montalvo’s speech challenged the claims of the first individuals who spoke, and he stated that he disagreed with everything that had been said.
“I am here to stir the pot…I’m here to cause controversy,” Montalvo said.
Montalvo ended his speech by talking about his tactics to ignore racially-biased individuals.
“I’m just not going to surround myself with that,” Montalvo said. “And if I see it, I’m not going to think anything of it…those people are so irrelevant. It hurts me that [these views] hurt people.”
Many were shocked by Montalvo’s statements, as acknowledged by the sophomore class president when he concluded his speech.
“I definitely shook some heads a little bit, but that’s just how I feel,” Montalvo said.
The future of his career in student government was challenged when senior Class Representative Ian Zeitlin drafted a petition to impeach Montalvo for the views he expressed that evening.
“I think that, although we should never silence a voice in a room…I don’t think someone who holds those opinions should be put in a position of power such as sophomore class representative,” Zeitlin said. “We’re here to represent our students.”
Senior education policy major Nisha Gandhi spoke directly after Montalvo on Monday night, with the intention of giving a statement strong enough to invalidate what he has just said.
“(Montalvo) was trying to place less importance on racialized issues,” Gandhi said. “I understand his sentiment, but it’s hard enough to get up there and share something that intimate with somebody and then when somebody else invalidates what you’re saying, it’s discouraging.”
While Gandhi is opposed to the statement that Montalvo made on Oct. 23, she does not believe that removal from office is the right route to take.
“First of all SGA represents the student body, and as we know, there are people who think like that on the student body,” Gandhi said. “It may even be necessary to have that voice on (SGA) because when you have a group of people who all think the same, nothing really productive comes out of it, regardless of which side it’s on.”
Wednesday, Oct. 25: SGA General Board Meeting
During SGA’s Open Forum portion of its general board meeting on Wednesday Oct. 25 senior political science major Camilo Lemos,presented the issues with the statement Montalvo made at the event to the 41 members in SGA.
“When speaking at an event where vulnerability and moments of pain were shared, that is a slap in the face to inclusivity,” Lemos said. “That is the exact opposite of what Quinnipiac stands for. What we allowed on Monday, because he continued to speak, was a discussion on how the experiences of a white male could mirror the experiences of people that have faced racial bias their entire life.”
Professor of philosophy Joo-Hwan Lee read a prepared statement after Lemos spoke, and succinctly reprimanded the premise behind the impeachment.
“A university is not a safe place, nor should it be. A proper university, this place is a most dangerous place where you should be challenged and shaken to your core by your professors and peers as you learn to articulate and defend your views,” Lee said. “A university is a place of terrifying vulnerability where you learn to question all of your assumptions and presuppositions and subject them to logical scrutiny. Why? Because the unexamined life is not worth living, and you should know thyself.”
Making judgments about other people without knowing them first hand as individuals, based on nothing else but the color of their skin is definitionally racist, according to Lee.
“And let me be absolutely clear; there is nothing virtuous or noble about organizing a petition to silence a fellow Bobcat just because you disagreed with or discovered some unintended offense in their opinion,” Lee said.
Lee took a similar stance as Gandhi in stating that one should not be removed from their position because of differing opinions, especially when others may share the same opinion.
“Stop buying into the lie that you’re some hapless, fragile and perpetually-weak victim whose feelings must be protected at all costs; who must never ever be offended or challenged even slightly because God forbid you’re just too weak and pathetic to handle it,” Lee said. “That’s a lie. And you know it. You have it in you to be so much more than that. But if you swallow that lie, hook, line and sinker, you won’t just ruin your own life, you will destroy this place and take it down with you, and that will be the end of the university.”
Lee concluded by urging this student body not to set the wrong precedent for the next generation of Bobcats.
Many students and representatives throughout SGA spoke both for and against Montalvo’s statements from Monday night.
“The first person that I reached out to talk to yesterday about what happened was Ali (Munshi),” Montalvo said. “I personally went up there because, like Ali said, we go to these events and we hear the same thing. So I thought I have a difference in opinion, however, I sit in the corner at every one of these events and say absolutely nothing; even though I don’t necessarily agree with what’s behind everything, I would like to discuss things.”
Montalvo opted out of speaking for a long time, but rather chose to open up his schedule, give out his personal email address and telephone number, in order to speak one-on-one with those he had offended.
“I will give you the opportunity to educate me and I will give myself the opportunity to show you the kind of person that I am, and why I might have the beliefs that I do,” Montalvo said.
Montalvo publicly gave his email and cell phone number at the forum to allow those offended to contact him directly.
Junior class president Jack Onofrio motioned to censure Montalvo as a response to his comments made on that Monday night. A censure is an official showing of disapproval from SGA.
“I wanted to stress the need for action from SGA,” Onofrio said. “…I conveyed to the student government that this is our opportunity to take action. When this many students show up and share their concerns, there needs to be some sort of response.”
At the forum, Onofrio also said that there needs to be a dialogue between the opposing sides in order to make this debate a productive move for SGA and the community.
“Why don’t we address the reason that this happened?” Onofrio asked. “Why don’t we address Chris’ perspective? Why don’t we address the perspective of people who walked out of that room and try to understand each other here…People here are clearly very upset and there are clearly people here who are defending the virtues of free speech…There is a middle ground.”
The Impeachment Process
Petitions for the impeachment of an SGA member require 10 signatures of current members in order to be recognized by the Executive Board. Zeitlin was disappointed by the amount of time it took to collect the signatures from his fellow SGA members, a process that took a few days.
This is to be compared to another incident, that of sophomore class representative Helen Dong, whose petition for impeachment only took about two hours to fulfill, according to Zeitlin. Dong’s impeachment is currently in the investigation process.
Impeachment does not necessarily mean removal from office, and removal from office is not necessarily a result of a successful impeachment. Impeachment means that there is an investigation into the actions of an individual to determine a proper evaluation and punishment for those actions. Any current elected member of SGA can initiate impeachment proceedings against any other SGA member.
The initiating member must submit the signatures of 10 members, or one-fourth of SGA, to the Vice President, who will notify the Executive Board of said concerns within 48 hours. All members of SGA will be notified at the next general board meeting, and a committee will be formed to address the impeachment.
Committee meetings are closed to the public, and to non-committee members. If the committee finds the concerns of the initiating party relevant, they can make recommendations for addressing the issue, which call for a two-thirds majority of SGA in order to act on any of these recommendations.
Munshi is chairing the task force that has been assembled in regards to the situation as the student government moves forward to find the necessary repercussions for Montalvo’s comments.
“I have selected, along with the executive board, a small group of students who are going to serve on the task force,” Munshi said. “Should Chris Montalvo’s impeachment fail, the student government is going to take actions to show that they reprimand the comments that were made by Chris Montalvo, and censure him in some sort of regard.”
Youssef showed her understanding for those demanding Montalvo’s removal.
“I get it. You’re angry,” Youssef said. “You were belittled. You were invalidated. He represents you and you don’t feel safe with that. I get it. But it would be so wrong to just give up. We need to do the best we can to just continue the conversation.”
SGA Vice President Jacqueline Schmedel believes that it is unlikely that Montalvo will be removed from office, but that does not mean that there will not be an opportunity for education.
“Unless it was in direct violation of the student handbook or our constitution, there is a pretty slim chance that he’s going to get (removed from office), but that is open.”
SGA President Ryan Lynch believes that there will be repercussions, regardless of whether Montalvo is removed from office.
“This can’t happen,” Lynch said, “And we’re trying to show that our organization doesn’t tolerate things and that if he were to not get [removed from office], that we wouldn’t just let things move on.”
Chris Montalvo apologized for his statements in an interview with The Chronicle following the SGA forum .
“My intentions were not to cause outrage,” Montalvo said. “It was to cause people to think from a different perspective, and I didn’t do that well enough at all…I went up there without regard for other people in the room, and I shouldn’t have.”
He said that his unpreparedness was the crux of his speech at the “Your Voice, Our Quinnipiac” event.
“In a sensitive environment, as it was, going up there unprepared was wrong,” Montalvo said.
Schmedel believes that the dialogue from this past week will spark a need for more conversations on campus.
“We (SGA) had briefly talked about creating a campus-wide event where both sides (would be) politically speaking on how we feel about the political climate right now,” Schmedel said. “It would consist of faculty, staff and students…to be able to show that not only are both opinions here, but they are both valid.”
Schmedel mentioned how she believes Montalvo’s comments to be a misrepresentation of a valid perspective.
“We do feel like Chris’ words were a very poor representation of what a lot of students here believe,” Schmedel said. “We do feel like what he said came off as bigoted and racist when they were not intended to do so. We’re just trying to restore some legitimacy to both sides.”
Youssef talked about how she plans to further develop the “That’s Not Okay,” campaign on campus for the following year. The campaign was intended to encourage individuals to defend others when racism or other bias comes into play.
“The first step is “that’s not okay,” and you’re calling it out…the next step is about taking action,” Youssef said. “I’d like to hope that the efforts that we’re doing on campus are able to move us forward to the third step of the campaign, which would be implementing a positive mindset with all of this and celebrating diversity.”
Vice President for Public Relations Victoria Johnson believes that there needs to be more internal training to allow representatives to express themselves in a more respectful way.
“I would love to see SGA have someone come in from public speaking, because you need to learn how to say things in a public manner,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we know how to do that, and I think that’s how some people were offended.”
This training will allow people with opposing views to fuel more conversations on campus, according to Johnson. She continued to state that SGA is brainstorming ideas to help encourage dialogue and acceptance on campus.
“We’re working hard,” Johnson said. “We’re trying our best to find a solution to make this place a better place for anyone of color, of any religion… We’re doing our best.”