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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Let me begin by saying that if I’m being attacked by people who voted against preventing sexual assault on campus, I’m probably doing something right. Don’t worry — I’ll circle back to this. 

There are several differences between Branden Pearson and I — and that’s the understatement of the century. One of these differences is I use evidence to support my claims. Pearson can’t do this because much of what he says isn’t true.

In high school literature classes, you’re taught to question the credibility of the author. Pearson is an ambitious but cruel and largely ineffective lad who has done some things certainly affecting his credibility.

Pearson actually started out in Inspire Party. Looking back, I kick myself for not Googling him beforehand: doing so would have revealed that he was stripped of his JROTC rank in high school. If we’re sticking to the literature analogy, we’d call this foreshadowing.

Pearson was eventually removed from Inspire Party for making demeaning, often identity-based and always weirdly aggressive comments to members of our party’s leadership. After this, he flipped to Impact Party, an environment apparently more conducive to him being his truest self.

Since then, the Impact caucus has used him as a glorified attack dog, sending him to conduct the dirtier side of their politics so their future leadership (the people they actually like) can keep their hands relatively clean.

Members of the Rules and Ethics Committee, which heard Lima and I’s appeals for our seats, and Senate President Shaw, who illegitimately removed us, even “liked” Pearson’s LTE on Facebook (so much for a fair, unbiased process), and shortly after, a machinelike rollout from system affiliates began. This isn’t a coincidence, and these people really can’t claim to be any better than Pearson. When they embrace his words and his leadership, they embrace the problematic things he’s done too. 

Pearson claimed that Inspire Party has “categorically failed to make meaningful change while in Senate.” He specifically called me out as its leader while doing so. Since I’ve been a senator since February 2019, I’ve contributed to over a dozen items of legislation. They include:

  • A resolution opposing the DOE’s changes to Title IX regulations, which would’ve made it more difficult to prosecute people who commit sexual assault

  • A law that would allow students to run in SG elections by their preferred name

  • A law that would’ve required Senate committee meeting minutes to be posted online so that the public can access them—this would’ve included the Budget Committee, which controls over $21 million of your student fees

  • A resolution officially supporting maintenance of affordable housing in Gainesville

The fact that Pearson doesn’t consider these to be meaningful is shameful but unsurprising. He, and many members of his caucus, have actively opposed many of them. 

They voted against the resolution requesting the addition of an Emergency Blue Light Phone to Fraternity Drive. They voted against a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. They even voted against a bill that would’ve fixed a typo in the SG Codes. Tell me, who’s obstructing progress?

But that’s not all. Pearson has specifically objected to a student (not a senator, but a non-affiliated student) having 5 minutes to speak during public debate when they came to share their personal experiences with sexual assault.

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When a Senate meeting was near its end, Pearson moved to adjourn immediately before hearing the Respect Students’ Identities Act, which would’ve allowed students to run by their preferred name in SG elections, and the Award Consistency Revision, which would’ve opened up an award to all gender identities. He went out of his way to avoid hearing statements and voting on legislation that would actively help students. That speaks for itself.

Pearson made several other false claims in his letter to the editor. He said that Lima and I refused to have debate in Senate when, in reality, he and the Impact caucus moved to skip debate 37 times in Summer A alone. 

He said that the minority party has caused a 100% increase in public records requests that cost students $70,000. There is absolutely no evidence of this. I recommend he spend some time looking into the definition of “libel.”

I did submit a public records request recently, though, and when I did, I received evidence of Senate President Pro-Tempore Emily Dunson, who was elected with the Impact Party, creating and altering submitted files of meeting minutes after they’d been public records requested. These minutes happened to be from the meeting in which Senate President Libby Shaw, who was also elected with the Impact Party, illegitimately undid the confirmation of this term’s summer replacement senators, beginning a long chain of events which drastically altered the composition of the Senate in favor of the Impact Caucus.

Not only are these people lying to the public through poorly written letter to the editors, but they’re also altering public records, which is an issue of Florida Sunshine Law.

Pearson said that Lima and I were removed from Senate because we were “disruptive and disrespectful,” but we were actually removed after raising valid parliamentary motions explicitly allowed by the SG governing documents

He said that Senate President Libby Shaw “crafted [a] legislative fix” to remove us, but whatever she threw together wasn’t legislative. You can’t find it in any existing procedures, and she didn’t have the authority to do it. You can’t even find a Google result that defines “constructively absent,” the term Shaw, Pearson and the Impact caucus use to justify our removal. It’s actually impressive. Do you know how illegitimate something has to be to not have a Google result?

“Constructive absence” is really just another way of saying “suspension,” a word that does have a Google result and is referenced in the SG governing documents, but you’ll notice this phrasing is being intentionally avoided. I think this is because Shaw and the majority caucus are blatantly denying us proper recourse for our suspension and are trying to cover it up. The process for suspension of a senator, which is exactly what the “constructive absence” issued on June 18 to Lima and I was, is clearly outlined by SG Code 307. But it hasn’t remotely been followed.

Per the codes, we should have had the opportunity to appeal to the Dean of Students who, per the code, should accept our appeal if the suspension process was violated; the enumerated process hasn’t been honored in any way. These rights were taken from us.

We had the opportunity to appeal our removal to the Senate Rules and Ethics Committee on July 17. This committee is entirely composed of Impact-affiliated Senators. Committee members (including Senators Sean Heera and Gabi Zlatanoff, who spoke up prominently in deliberations to argue against Lima and I’s reinstatement) “liked” Pearson’s sham of an letter to the editor on Facebook the week before our hearing.

The hearing’s format wasn’t exactly conducive to effective decision making. We were only given 1 minute to present our case, 3 minutes of Q&A with the committee and 1 minute of final privilege — so we gave each member of the committee a detailed packet explaining the ways in which our removal was illegitimate. The committee members did not use the full extent of their time in Q&A and, in their deliberations, blatantly ignored Code 307, which supersedes the Senate Rules and Procedures. For context, this committee has previously voted to reinstate a senator who accrued absences for an unspecified personal reason and an Interfraternity Council event, so it’s not like they have remarkably high standards. They just don’t care about rules or ethics.

Remember to verify the credibility of your authors. If you’re wondering who you can trust, check who votes to give you, the public, more access to information about SG. Check who live streams Senate meetings. Check who protects your right to speak. Check who stood up for FLC when their organization was being handed to someone who’d never been a memberCheck who organized a network of colleges across the country to fight a rule change affecting campus sexual assault prosecution. Check who shows up. And please, for the love of all things good, Google someone before adding them to your organization.

Pearson and the people using him can attack me as much as they want; I’m not intimidated by people with morals like theirs. These people actively prevent initiatives that could help students — that’s not the side I want to be on. 

Ashley Grabowski is UF masters student studying political communication. She was the Senate minority party leader until June 18.

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