Former presidential candidates Julia Cunningham and Jillian Wilson were assessed a $100 fine and a warning after three out of seven grievances filed against them regarding social media posts made for their campaign were found to be violations of the Student Government (SG) Statutes.
Six of the seven grievances were filed by senior finance major Yusuf Fattah, who is also the manager for Student Body President-elect Jaida Abbas and Vice President-elect Jennifer Kelly’s presidential campaign. The hearing was held April 1 on Microsoft Teams from 10 a.m. to noon., but since each grievance was discussed at length, the hearing reconvened at 6 p.m. and lasted until 9 p.m. The ERC decision was announced Monday evening.
Five of Fattah’s filed grievances regarded the Cunningham-Wilson ticket’s activity on the campaign’s Instagram page, @green.together.gold.forever, while the other concerned a tabling event the candidates posted about on the Instagram page.
The final grievance was submitted by Devon Shank, a USF alumnus and “Student Government expert” for the Abbas-Kelly campaign, also regarding the use of university logos and trademarks.
The grievances alleged the candidates were in violation of SG campaign statute 706.2.3, which forbids the use of “any logo or trademark that is owned by the university” in a campaign as well as statute 701.15, which outlines that no member of a campaign can violate any university policy.
“We felt that all the grievances filed have no merit, and that was reflected in the SG Election Rules Commission’s (ERC) decision,” Cunningham said in an interview with The Oracle.
“We were a little disappointed that we got three out of the seven grievances, but we respect the ERC decision and we’re glad that this shows that we did run an ethical campaign, and that the integrity of our campaign was shown throughout the entire election.”
SG statute 706.5.4 states that a campaign would need to accumulate seven violations to be disqualified from the election. With only three violations accumulated, Cunningham and Wilson’s only consequence will be paying the $100 fine within 10 business days.
For the six grievances dealing with the use of a university logo or trademark, screenshots of Instagram posts and stories of the @green.together.gold.forever profile were included in all of the grievance submissions. Four of the grievances featured photos and videos of the Sarasota-Manatee and St. Pete campuses that were posted from the Cunningham-Wilson ticket’s visit to the campuses, according to Cunningham.
“This video … was taped while campaigning at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. The purpose of this video was to show students on the Sarasota-Manatee campus that we took the time to visit their campus and speak to them and to demonstrate that we will continue to do so when elected,” said Cunningham.
“The illegible seal on the building is incidental and obviously not intentional.”
Fattah pointed out in his statements later in the hearing that previous candidates have gone through efforts of hiring photographers and videographers to blur out instances where USF logos or seals appeared.
“Not realizing that there was a university logo, and it is unfortunate, but there were other tickets this year, and in previous years and years to come, that pay extra money to photographers, and they pay extra money to videographers, and they take extra time to blur out things like this, because that’s what statutes say,” said Fattah.
“So unfortunately, neglect for that is not a proper defense.”
More evidence was presented on both sides of the grievances, including interpretations of the intent of SG statutes versus their language and the legibility of the seals in the attached images.
Of the four grievances surrounding visits to the St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee campus, only one was found to be a violation by the ERC, where three of the members voted it was a violation and two voted it was not.
Two of the grievances, both submitted by Fattah, dealt with logos appearing on the clothing of individuals pictured in posts on the @green.together.gold.forever page. One featured a USF bull on a backpack, and the other was the logo on an ambassador’s blazer that Whitney Clark, a sophomore public health major, was wearing in a post that showed her endorsement.
Ultimately, the ERC decided the image with the backpack featuring the logo was not a violation, but the image of Clark was deemed a violation of election rules in a vote of 2-1, with one abstention.
The final grievance submitted by Fattah did not pertain to statute 706.2.3, which outlines the university logo policy, but rather 701.15 which dictates that members of a campaign cannot break any university policy.
With this grievance, Fattah included a screenshot of the @green.together.gold.forever page which showed the candidates advertising they would be tabling on campus at Holly Drive. They also included a picture of Cunningham and Wilson at the table. Fattah argued that advertising tabling and arranging in-person events on campus was against university policy at the time.
The university had not yet approved tabling events or the advertisement of in-person events as a precaution against COVID-19 when the grievance was filed and so the ticket was found in violation of statute 701.15 in a vote of 2-1 with one abstention.
The Abbas-Kelly ticket currently has one major grievance filed against it. While the details of this grievance have not been revealed, it will be detailed in a public trial on Microsoft Teams from 3-6 p.m. on Friday. In the event the ticket is disqualified, the SG Senate will evaluate its options from the pool of existing candidates to choose the next student body president and vice president, which currently only consists of the Cunningham-Wilson ticket.