How a CUSG election controversy happened: Revolution party and Black Student Alliance in conflict

Contact CU Independent Editorial Manager Ellis Arnold at ellis.arnold@colorado.edu, and follow him on Twitter @ArnoldEllis_.

The long-contested results of this semester’s University of Colorado Student Government (CUSG) elections were finally solidified earlier this month, and thus the controversy surrounding the Revolution party has settled in its conclusion. The details of that controversy, though, were not well-known to those outside the courtrooms. The conflict after the election found Revolution and its outside critics at odds — in ways that went beyond the typical fray of election politics.

“I am under the impression that after hearing you bash and undermine student groups that you are not in support of underrepresented students,” read a comment from Paris Ferribee, co-president of Black Student Alliance (BSA), posted repeatedly on Revolution’s Facebook page and related pages as early as April 5. “We don’t take this as a joke, and your lack of willingness and commitment to us as a community is troublesome.”

BSA was perhaps the most vocal critic of Revolution on social media, and at the same time that the Ignite party filed allegations of election code violations against Revolution, Revolution filed allegations against Ignite, and also filed allegations of harassment and libel against Ferribee, and libel against BSA as a whole.

Ferribee said she had reason to characterize Revolution as being unsupportive of minority student groups.

According to Ferribee, Colton Lyons, one of Revolution’s reinstated winning candidates for CUSG’s tri-executive positions, reached out to her to say his party would work with BSA in the future. Lyons and another Revolution party member met with Ferribee on April 6 to discuss Revolution’s potential relationship with BSA going forward, according to Ferribee. She said she was disappointed, though, in Lyons’ proposals.

In a town hall-style event on campus on April 5, Lyons and other Revolution candidates had mentioned pushing for increased funding for student groups, as well as pushing for more recruiting of minority students and faculty and staff. Ferribee said she took issue with what the candidates had to say.

“[I felt like they were] pushed to say the right thing,” Ferribee said. “[It’s] a way to get people to believe they’ll do the right thing. When I met with [Lyons] and asked, ‘What are your plans?’, they didn’t have any.

“We’ve been looking to get a diversity center on campus, and reorganize orientation to discuss microaggressions,” Ferribee said. “[Revolution has said] ‘We want to work with student groups and bring their concerns to [university] administration,’ but we’re already doing that. So what are your plans?”

Revolution also expressed desire to create a long-term plan to address minority students’ concerns of demographic underrepresentation and feelings of being unwelcome. University administration has been working on developing such a plan since last May. BSA has also been meeting directly with Chancellor Philip DiStefano since last fall.

Ferribee said that sources told her they overheard Lyons and another Revolution party member saying they “don’t really care about” BSA and other student groups. That, Ferribee said, was the basis for her widely posted claim that Revolution undermined such groups. However, Ferribee could not disclose who the sources were.

Lyons and Marcus Fotenos, Revolution’s other CUSG president-elect who was reinstated, could not be reached for comment related to BSA.

Under the first hearing before the CUSG Election Commission on April 13, Revolution brought harassment allegations against Ferribee for her Facebook post, based on the frequency and breadth with which it was posted. Revolution also brought libel allegations against BSA as a whole for another Facebook post, claiming it falsely quoted the party. Revolution brought libel allegations against Ferribee as well, taking issue with the fact that her post accused the party of “bashing and undermining” and not committing to underrepresented student groups.

The commission did not award BSA or Ferribee any infractions on those counts, not finding them guilty of any allegations. Revolution was awarded 25 infractions, later revised by the CUSG Appellate Court to 13 infractions each for Lyons and Fotenos, and five for Revolution tri-executive candidate Madalena DeAndrea, only. Among the infractions were bribery with consumables (for conduct regarding the Sigma Nu fraternity), underreporting of campaign expenditures and unauthorized campaign tabling.

Lyons’ and Fotenos’ resultant disqualification from the election was overturned by DiStefano due to procedural errors made by the commission which included failing to consistently provide candidates the right to cross-examination. CUSG Appellate Court Chief Justice Steve Marcantonio and CUSG’s current tri-executives were in agreement with DiStefano’s decision.

Before that decision, Marcantonio commented on Revolution’s conduct during the hearing processes.

“For a political party to lodge election complaints against a student group that did not directly participate in the election is ludicrous, and Revolution should be ashamed of themselves for attempting to smear the Black Student Alliance and those associated with it,” Marcantonio said in a letter to the university. “Moving forward it is clear that student groups should not be dragged into the political process.”

Ferribee said that students in BSA and other minority student groups at CU like African Student Alliance, UMAS Y MEChA and Oyate Native American Student Organization were critical of Revolution because they did not see the party as having made sufficient efforts to support them the way the Ignite or Ally parties had. At the town hall event, Ignite claimed that it was the only ticket whose members had worked with groups like UMAS and BSA.

“When I hear Ally and Ignite talking, they’re addressing [our concerns],” Ferribee said. “Other student groups of color are not happy. ASA, Oyate, UMAS…But we can’t cry over spilled milk. We gotta keep moving.

“I would just hope that for students who are passionate about CU being an exceptional university that supports all people, administration and staff and faculty can come together to support that position,” Ferribee said.

Revolution expressed its opinions on DiStefano’s decision in an official statement.

“The chancellor’s ruling…confirms what we have been saying all along — that none of the post-election complaints, allegations or evidence presented by the losing tickets and their supporters in an effort to overturn the results of the student government elections met the standards required to sustain any findings of misconduct,” said Marilyn Alexander, campaign manager for Revolution.

“I’m very grateful that the chancellor and others in the administration were willing to step in to provide advice and direction to student government to help protect the rights of not only the candidates who ran for office, but the rights of thousands of our fellow CU students who participated in the election and whose voices and votes have now been sustained by the chancellor’s decision,” Fotenos said.

“I appreciate the thoughtful way that everyone approached the review of the election complaint process, and I’m glad that the current tri-execs and CUSG chief justice agree with and support the chancellor’s decision,” Lyons said.

“We want to thank all of our supporters, voters and allies that stood by us through this long post-election review process. We have not lost our passion, and we are more committed than ever to continue to fight for our fellow CU students,” Alexander said. “Now the hard part begins, and we welcome input and encourage everyone who wants to improve things on campus to join us in tackling the issues the Revolution ticket set out to change.”

Ellis Arnold

Ellis Arnold is the CUI's editor-in-chief and a journalism and political science student. He writes about diversity issues, politics, student government, music and (sometimes) life advice. Is he qualified to do that? You'll never know. He's a senior from Aurora, Colorado, who's been with the CUI for eight semesters.

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