Left: Rick smith (External relations director) Right: Onaje Cunningham (SGA president candidate)
By: Davone Baker
Kentucky State University students’ voices were heard in a profound way during the Student Government Association debate, were potential candidates for SGA positions discuss their platforms while also answering questions of students who will vote to elect candidates for choice of office. Taking place on Wednesday, April 5, the expectation among KSU students attending this event were that all candidates will have the opportunity to pitch their campaign for selected positions. Despite this traditional assumption, that wasn’t the case as SGA president candidate Onaje Cunningham and Mr. KSU candidate Damian Logan were prohibited from speaking to the Kentucky State University student body as well their names were to be also removed from the ballot. Things got heated as students noticed this occurrence and the student body erupted. They wanted answers and the rest of the SGA candidates refused to participate in the debate unless Logan and Cunningham were included. That’s when Cunningham grabbed a hold of the microphone with assertiveness approaching the podium and voiced his disappointment and student frustration with administration.
“It hurts when I come to an Institution that is a HBCU (Historical Black College University),” Cunningham speaking to the student body. “HBCUs were built to help formerly enslaved individuals get an education, the 13th amendment says that basically if you get convicted of a crime, you return to that.” Students roared with applause and appraisal after Cunningham’s honest words represented the students’ disapproval of actions by administration hindering student elections. Reasons behind Logan and Cunningham removal from running for a student elected SGA position are believed to be due to past convictions. Despite this though there isn’t any concrete evidence in writing stating a student couldn’t run for student elected positions as both students were cleared to run after fulfilling all requirements needed to participate. Knowing this all the candidates were asked to do background checks.
“We were called into a meeting, they asked us to do background checks, all us had refused. They said the debate and election process would be prolonged.” said Miss KSU candidate Cheyney Carney. The candidates were patient despite the delay. “They came back to us and said everything was good” Carney explained. Though the debate went on Cunningham was told only an hour before the debate he couldn’t participate and if he did it would be repercussions. “They told me I would escorted out of the building if I participated.” Said Cunningham. Even if their backgrounds were problematic, it was unclear why during the middle of campaign week administrative action was taken to remove both candidates without a clear explanation. This was the narrative that sparked the displeasure among students. Witnessing their fellow colleagues being disenfranchised while trying to improve themselves in a positive way through student leadership provoked a state of unity among students. Students now restless during debate demanded explanations on why candidates were being removed after the time, money, and effort was put into preparing for their campaigns. In conclusion, no satisfying explanations were given to the student body for their concerns. As a result the SGA candidates started a petition to have all employees in student affairs removed immediately and KSU students collectively agreed as a whole to boycott the election by not voting at the polls. “This is the time right here where we show them what K-state made of.” said Cunningham on the unity among students. Logan overwhelmed with the student support behind him and Cunningham goes on to say, “It was more than humbling, I was overwhelmed with the support that student showed, because honestly it’s been a long time since I’ve seen something like that happen at this university. It was great to be a part of that and see it as well.”
Students would hold out and not vote the day of election on April 12, forcing administration to strongly consider reevaluating conducting the SGA student elections based on the unified actions of the KSU student body. The student boycott echoed the power of the students as it was soon announced candidates initially removed were added back on the ballot and all original candidates were an option for student voters to elect on April 19. It would soon be announced after voting, students would elect
Cunningham as their next SGA president and Logan as the next Mr. KSU for the year 2017-2018 year. Based on the boycott and students’ collective voicing of frustration with administration, SGA president elect Onaje Cunningham’s hopes KSU will grow as a university from this. “I hope administration, staff, and faculty start to take us serious as students and I hope us as students start to take ourselves serious because what this is, is a demonstration of power,” Cunningham’s message to all of KSU. “It’s Inspirational.”