Relocation of Digital Summit
August Pelliccio – News Writer
Lack of clear communication is what a few university officials attribute to a turn of events that was portrayed as discrimination against the Republican community in two publications last week.
Sarah O’Connor, President of the College Republicans at Southern, said when she decided to book space on campus to host the CTGOP Digital Summit, she was very clear about what the event entailed. There were several speakers there to represent the Republican Party, whose goal was to inform students on how to effectively utilize digital and social media.
“It’s a private event, and people have to buy tickets,” O’Connor said, “and I told them that.”
O’Connor said she booked three rooms in Davis Hall for the event, which stretched across three days: Feb. 9-11. Daphney Alston, in charge of making that arrangement through a computer program, Ad Astra Information System, said every detail was not clear.
“Maybe we should have gone more in depth,” Alston said, “but we didn’t.”
In a statement by Tracy Tyree, vice president of Student Affairs, said she wrote the event was presented as a student organization. This was the understanding according to Alston and according to Brad Crerar, director of the Student Center.
Tyree went on to explain that on Jan. 26, a call came in to the university switchboard, housed in Adanti Student Center, inquiring about the event.
“Clearly a democrat tried to sabotage the event,” O’Connor said, “and they fell for it.”
Crerar said during the phone call, a student asked about the $150 admission fee associated with the Digital Summit.
“At that point we realized,” said Crerar, “this really isn’t a university event.”
Crerar explained that student groups are allowed to charge admission in order to cover event costs, but that would be something coordinated with the school and processed through the school’s financial accounts. Because tickets were being sold and transacted through Connecticut GOP, Southern had to follow standard protocol for outside organizations.
“The reality of it is, as a state institution,” said Crerar, “we are not allowed to use our space to support any political party.”
This meant the school could not subsidize the event, and between the custodial staff and the site director, the room rental fee and insurance, the going rate was about $4,100.
“We like to try to make things happen,” said Crerar.
This is why Crerar said he handed the baton to Klicsu, coordinator of Conferences and Events, who offered to change the location from Davis Hall to the Student Center Theater. Klicsu brought the cost down to roughly $2,100 with the change, largely due to the fact that a private company is contracted to maintain the Student Center 24/7, regardless of ongoing events.
O’Connor said if she knew from the beginning that the reservation was only possible at such a cost, the College Republicans would have gone elsewhere for a venue from the beginning. By Jan. 26, O’Connor said tickets were already being sold.
The CSCU Guidelines for Communication with Federal and State Public Officials and Political Activity on Campus clearly states that political events are welcome on campus, with certain restrictions.
“Institution facilities may be rented for political events in accordance with campus policy on facilities use,” the guidelines read. “Such sponsored events may not be ‘subsidized’ or otherwise supported by CSCU or an Institution.”
Crerar said he went over that contract with O’Connor in their Jan. 26 meeting.
In review of that meeting, O’Connor said: “How am I, a student, supposed to know about that? It is not my job to know about that, so don’t put the blame on me.”
She said the whole situation would have been avoided if organizers knew what to ask, and properly relayed regulations and rules.
On Feb. 2, News 8 reported on college Republicans at Southern saying they are being discriminated against, regarding the matter.
“I say with conviction,” said President Joe Bertolino, “that I won’t tolerate discrimination based on a political belief, or based on anything else for that matter.”
Bertolino said he was disappointed that instead of raising concerns to the school’s administration, the decision was made to go straight to the press and “shape a story.”
“I’m empathetic to the College Republicans’ frustration,” said Bertolino. “If they feel there is a culture of discrimination, we should engage that conversation, and talk about how to combat it.”
Bertolino said the College Republicans missed an opportunity to open a dialogue about political discrimination on this campus.
“I think it went to press too fast,” Bertolino said.
In addition, Bertolino was disappointed in the event coordinators failing to be communicative after the misunderstanding had surfaced.
“The state GOP could have returned the university’s calls to renegotiate,” said Bertolino, “because there were options.”
O’Connor said the decision was made quickly to secure the new location, the Caritas Christi Center, on the Campus of Sacred Heart Academy. After the weekend-long event, O’Connor said there was a good crowd, and she was happy to have knowledgeable speakers.
“I wish it still took place here,” said Alston. “I feel very badly about the miscommunication.”
Alston said during the first reservation of Davis Hall space, there was purely a misunderstanding. Alston said there was no interference regarding political agenda.
“My goal is to build up and maintain a positive rapport with the College Republicans,” said Alston. “It makes me very sad when a student feels discriminated against over their political identity.”
Alston said she wants to make herself available to have a conversation about how political identity relates to social justice, and that her office remains a safe space for anyone.
Photo Credit: Sarah O’Connor