Nathan Watkins, the losing candidate in the recent Student Government Association presidential race, believes his campaign may have been upended by social media reports that he made racial remarks while campaigning.
Watkins, a sophomore, denies making any such comments and alleges the posts that accuse him of racist language come from a friend of Courtney Brandon, who defeated him to win a second term in SGA’s top position. For the record, Watkins is white, and Brandon is black.
This was the second year in a row that the contest for the presidency was controversial. The previous scandal also involved Brandon, who was elected as president in 2017 and was then impeached due to alleged campaign violations. The impeachment charges were later dropped, however.
Two students who have not been identified approached Brandon on April 11 as she was campaigning in the Keathley University Center. The two students alleged that Watkins used racial comments while speaking to one of their classes.
Watkins said he learned the two students alleged to Brandon that Watkins said, “Black people oppress SGA.”
“Upon hearing the allegation, I was shocked to say the very least,” Brandon said. “I didn’t believe that the words the student quoted were verbatim, but I did believe something was said by my opponent to make the student feel that he felt that way.”
After that conversation, Brandon relayed this information to Montavius Euwing, a senior and 2017 Homecoming king. It was Euwing who allegedly authored posts that were aimed at Watkins.
The posts made statements and posed questions such as, “If black people are oppressing SGA, then why don’t you join a different organization?,” “No matter what you decide to run for never, and I repeat, never put down an entire race to help you win any position” and “I lost mad respect for you.” While the posts never explicitly named Watkins, he believes the messages were clearly aimed at him just days before the election ended.
Sidelines contacted Euwing, but he declined to respond for comment.
“After Montavius posted about it, I saw it a few hours later,” Watkins said. “I texted a friend of mine and my girlfriend, and I said, ‘Tell me this isn’t about me.’ These are not things that I would ever say for any sort of reason. But, they were put out there.”
The day after the posts were published, Watkins and Brandon met with Danny Kelly, the faculty adviser to SGA, and had a conversation about the incident.
But by that time, Dalton Slatton, another SGA senator, filed a complaint to the SGA Election Commission about the social media posts, saying that they were slanderous. This was the first of two claims that were covered in a hearing last Monday regarding the controversy. The second was the complaint that Watkins submitted. Watkins said that he was campaigning on Thursday, April 12, and was approached by a student who requested to remain anonymous.
“He approached me and said, ‘There were a couple of people that were campaigning to me the other day, and the things they were saying made me uncomfortable,'” Watkins said. “‘They were saying that you don’t like black people.’”
The anonymous student believed one of the people who said the negative comments about Watkins to be Brandon, and the other he did not recognize.
“I asked him if he’d be up for testifying in a hearing,” Watkins said. “He said, ‘Yes. Because this makes me feel weird as a human that someone would go to these lengths to win a race.’”
Brandon, however, denies completely that she told anyone about the alleged racist comments while campaigning.
“My campaign only consisted of me speaking on my goals for the upcoming year, as I have many,” Brandon said.
During the hearing the anonymous witness was unable to verify for sure if Brandon was one of the individuals that had approached him and said negative things about Watkins. The witness stated in the hearing that Brandon “looked really familiar” and that he was “95 percent sure” she was one of the people he spoke with.
Both Slatton and Watkins’ claims alleged that Brandon violated Article 5, Section 1 of the SGA constitution, which states, “Slander or libel against any candidate shall be prohibited and the Election Commission shall investigate any charges of slander or libel and will take appropriate action.”
During the Monday hearing, the three election commissioners, who acted as the court for the hearing, made the unanimous judgement that there was not enough proof of slander, libel or malicious intent for the first claim, and for the second claim, the testimony was not reliable enough to warrant any action against Brandon.
“I stand by (the Election Commission’s) decision and by the way I ran my campaign,” Brandon said in regards to the hearing. “I did not use racial slurs to campaign to any student against my opponent, and I did not participate in any slandering. The hearing provided an ample opportunity to speak for myself and for both of those who made complaints to do so as well. That decision should speak for itself.”
Brandon also stated that she doesn’t believe the controversy changed anyone’s mind regarding who they supported.
“I do not believe this controversy affected the results at all,” Brandon said. “There was only a difference of 17 votes between my opponent and I, and I believe if this would have affected results then there would’ve been a much larger difference in the outcome.”
Watkins said that the incident changed the way that he views SGA and his involvement in the organization at the university.
“I’m not going to stop being a public servant, because I do believe in public service,” Watkins said. “I don’t plan on trying to get re-appointed to the SGA Senate. To be honest with you, I just don’t want to do it again. I had a fine year this year, but I didn’t like a lot of the way that things were facilitated. I didn’t really feel like we were working for the students … I may end up serving SGA again if I was appointed to the Student Judicial Board. I think that may be a better use of my time and talents.”
Watkins stated that, upon looking back at the year and the election, SGA is disconnected from the students.
“Only 4 percent of the (student) population voted for president,” Watkins said. “If that’s all that voted for the top office, people either just don’t care, they don’t want to get involved or they don’t want to mess with it. (This) just makes SGA look bad again. And I hate that because this is an organization that I’ve served in and loved being in for the past two years.”
Watkins said that, while he doesn’t believe that SGA connected with the student body enough this year, he hopes that the organization can in the near future.
“The best thing your senators could do is to go out and talk to you,” Watkins said. “Frankly, we didn’t do that this year. We didn’t just actively go into the community and ask the students, ‘Hey, what do you need different?’ A huge focus for our senators this year should be getting people involved with student organizations, working with those student organizations and fostering friendships with the general public. It’s really on the shoulders of the senators now, and I’m excited to see what they do.”
To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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