Student Senate President Justin Pierre resigns: the intricacies behind the action

With a month left in the semester, Student Senate President Justin Pierre resigns, leaving a letter for the board members. Photo Courtesy of Justin Pierre.

Mickayla Miller
News Editor

Last Thursday, April 6, the Student Senate meeting held in the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership (CSIL) Circle started with an uncomfortable shuffle of chairs and a solemn tone.

Senate executive board member Gloria Chung stood with a letter in her hand, stating that Student Senate president Justin Pierre had resigned. Because Pierre was not at the meeting, Chung read aloud the letter to the audience.

In Pierre’s absence, the position of presidency was offered to three executive board members, all of whom declined. It was then offered to the 2017-2018 president-elect Kiefer Luckenbill, who accepted and was sworn in Thursday night.

The night before the Senate meeting, Pierre’s letter was left on what used to be his desk, and on it was a note that said “to be opened by an executive board member or advisor.” The letter addressed themes that allowed the audience to conclude that the resignation was not done on the best of terms.

Cowardice and maturity were two big themes mentioned in the letter, though Senate was not quick to address the meaning behind this iteration. Later in the Senate meeting, it was revealed by several board members that Pierre was given an ultimatum.

Resign or be impeached

“I discovered that my performance was not being received as adequate when I was sat down by an employee … [who] said, ‘hey we found out that your executive board is plotting to impeach you,’” Pierre said. “This happens every year, so I didn’t think anything of it.”

When Pierre went to his executive meeting that night, he discovered that everyone had known what he was talking about, but no one wanted to speak to him about the matter.

Luckenbill said that Pierre was failing to meet his presidential duties; Luckenbill had reportedly spoken to President John Anderson and Brian Hazlett,Vice President of Student Affairs, who he said had not met with Pierre regularly. “And that was just one of the reasons that we decided to go forth with something like that,” Luckenbill said.

Executive board member Olivia Stoner confirmed that he had not been to meetings, and that he was not in attendance for several public outings which featured the senators.

“The impeachment to me was not a risk,” Pierre said. “It would not have passed, that I know for a fact. I spoke with several senators who shared with me that they had no intention of voting for such a thing and I was very convinced that an impeachment would not have passed.”

Regardless of the potential outcome, one thing that both sides agreed upon was that a lot of the impeachment discussion was done without Pierre’s presence.

“I resigned rather than staying in leadership because I did not want to lead a group of individuals who were selfish, shallow and cowardly enough to scheme and plot behind someone’s back for months and weeks at a time,” Pierre said.

In addition, Pierre found the way that Student Senate went about his possible impeachment “embarrassing.”

“I think it undermines the integrity of the entire organization that you’ve got people who are charged with representing students to administration, to delegating $1.8 million, to approving and denying the clubs, and subsequently social lives of students here at Millersville, that the students who are charged with these high-level tasks are not mature enough to confront someone they have an issue with.”

Maturity of the organization as a whole

The maturity of Student Senate was called into question several times at the meeting on Thursday.

“As far as the maturity of senate… should we have probably talked to him about what was coming up, like what we were all feeling, like as a collective body? Yes,” said executive board member Katie Lundy.

“But we had talked to him previously. I guess it hadn’t been super obvious that we were all feeling this way, but it was blowing up in fives,” Lundy said.

Though Lundy and Stoner said that Pierre was approached about these matters, Pierre said the only issue that was brought to his attention was about getting more involved.

“I would say the majority of general senators were in support of the efforts that I had made and the time that I’d given that organization,” Pierre said. “There were other executive members who were more neutral and there were some executive members that thought the impeachment talks were foolish.”

One of the people who Pierre said was trying to push him out was Aaron Jaffe, Student Senate Director of Communications.

“At one point, I was called a bad person and a failure [by Jaffe]. He said he does not like me as a person, and he does not deny that and he’s rooting for me to fail,” Pierre said.

During the meeting, Jaffe noted his bias towards Pierre.

“I think the other senators here know how I personally feel about Justin, and I hope you can see through my biases as they come out … Even though we went into the meeting saying ‘impeach or resign,’ we got to the point as an executive board that we were willing to just talk to him about the issues at hand,” Jaffe said, noting that reportedly Pierre did not return the courtesy.

“During the blackface meeting … he made so many promises … and, to our knowledge, he never followed through on even one of them,” Jaffe said. “It was at the point that we were not able to work with him or talk with him about simple issues.”

“This is going to sound really brash and ugly, but obviously he’s not doing [his job] to the best of his availability if he’s not keeping his promises,” said Stoner. 

“It’s almost as if the executive board of student senate turned governing a student body into an episode of Survivor,” said Pierre.

In Justin’s defense

There were several people who came to Pierre’s defense at the Senate meeting, one of which being fellow senator David Wuestner.

“We’re part of a team here… and on a team … if you have a teammate that’s struggling, that’s not meeting the requirements, you don’t kick them off the team,” Wuestner said. “I know that’s not necessarily what happened here, but usually you rally around that person and make sure that they try to get better.”

In addition, adviser and Student Services Inc. employee, Kathie Giorgio, spoke in defense of Pierre last Thursday, saying, “I think it’s unfair to answer any questions about Justin’s feelings, state of mind, where he’s at, or anything without him here to defend himself.”

Giorgio then questioned the legitimacy of the statements said by the senators.

“I’m not so sure that everybody who was on executive board … is being absolutely honest with everyone here, so I’m not really sure this conversation was beneficial to anyone,” Giorgio said. She and the other adviser, Michelle Perez, said they did not know that impeachment talks were in question.

“No one on the executive board notified an adviser that this was going on, and I find that totally irresponsible to this board,” said Giorgio. “So that’s a level of disappointment that I’m not sure I’ll get over.”

Planning for the future

While Pierre can technically remain a senator following his resignation, he said he does not have any intention of doing so.

Many students garnered interest in Student Senate because of Pierre, and he encouraged them to stay despite his resignation. “I’ve told them to stay involved, keep doing the work that they’ve been doing because if they care they can make a difference and I wouldn’t discourage that for a second,” Pierre said.

Student Senate posted a press release, stating that they still had every intention of moving forward without much resistance. Former Chief Justice Luckenbill will serve the remainder of the semester as the Student Senate President, and Aaron Hill will take over the role as Chief Justice.

“I am going to continue to use the influence I have to push the university where I think it should go,” Pierre said. “I think for the balance of this semester I’m just going to work and go to class and be a student.”

Managing Editor Julia Snyder contributed to this report.