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Monday, May 27, 2024
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Students call for SGA action

The Gallery of the Student Government Association was fuller than usual on Monday. Students came from across campus to ask SGA to take a public stance and make a statement on the events that happened last Thursday.
The Gallery of the Student Government Association was fuller than usual on Monday. Students came from across campus to ask SGA to take a public stance and make a statement on the events that happened last Thursday.

SGA’s gallery, which is typically only filled when organizations ask for funds from SGA, took a more combative tone as concerned students sought answers from the students in elected positions in regards to the recent uproar over the Turning Point USA (TPUSA) event hosted on Mercer's campus last week.

There had been similar questions put forward to SGA a week earlier, but the discussion was cut for time.

The student to speak was Matthew Simmerman ‘24. He said that allowing the lecture to happen was in conflict with part of the university’s mission statement, specifically the idea that the school will “affirm and respect the dignity and sacred worth of every person and celebrate both our commonalities and our differences.” 

Simmerman added that the university should not “endorse guests who do not believe in or support the dignity of all humans, regardless of race, gender, identity or sexual orientation.”

Simmerman went on to explain why they believed Jennifer Grossman, CEO of the Atlas Society and speaker at TPUSA’s lecture, should not have been allowed to speak at the university given instances that Simmerman said were Grossman infringing on those same Mercer University standards at other venues.

Finn O’Brien '27, who was arrested at Grossman’s lecture, said that he didn’t regret disrupting Grossman, but that he did regret the way in which he acted, which led to his arrest by Mercer Police. 

Michael Malta ‘26, the other student detained at the lecture by MerPo, asked SGA make an official statement about the event. SGA President Benjamin Smith ‘24 told Malta that the group did not have one at that time, but talks were under way to put out a statement.

“SGA has not been reluctant to comment. We have been working on a comment or on a way to comment,” Smith said. “We have had multiple meetings, I’ve had a meeting every single day of the week with Dean Pearson and we met as an executive board to discuss a lot of our issues.”

That comment led a gallery attendee who declined to provide their name to ask Smith to say that SGA "stands with the student body." Smith did not provide a comment for the student’s demand.

After several speakers voiced their concern about SGA’s lack of a statement, SGA moved into closed senate. All discussion during that time is off the record, according to Smith, but Senator Eric Foreman said SGA decided not to release any statement. Instead, it will send Simmerman’s statement, co-authored by mercer student Tori Glazier, to Dean of Students Doug Pearson. “Many members on Senate were upset that we decided to do nothing at the moment,” Foreman said.

Simmerman's Address:

In Simmerman's statement, he cites Mercer University's invitations of previous speakers, including Erick Erickson, who spoke at the 2013 Founder's Day address and Jay Sukelow, who spoke in 2018, as problematic due to allegedly racist, misogynist, transphobic, islamophobic, homophobic, and anti-LBGTQ+ comments that each speaker had made in the past. 

Simmerman also called the decision of the SGA to stand with the university's choice at that time "inadequate." No current member of SGA was enrolled at Mercer University for either of those Founder's Day events. 

Simmerman also included in the address complaints towards speakers Bryan Caplin — a libertarian economist and professor at George Mason University — in 2019 and Judith Miller — a journalist who resigned from the New York Times after it was found that many of her stories about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iran were fabricated — in 2022 at the Center for Economics and Liberty of the Stetson-Hatcher School of Business for their racist views and "trivializing sexual harassment." Simmerman also said the center's head, Dr. Saravia, had made the matter worse with his own expressed opinions on racial profiling and systematic racism.

"What makes these problems so much more disturbing is that one of the most problematic speakers the center has had is the head of the center itself, Dr. Saravia, who remains a professor at Mercer University," Simmerman wrote. "As part of the CSEL’s lecture series in which he claimed that systemic racism no longer exists and that police profiling is always justified. Specifically, he said that profiling is justified because black Americans engage in more crime, which he attributed solely to “the disintegration of the nuclear family."

Finally, Simmerman concluded his address with five requests for the university administration and SGA.

  1. That Mercer University administration review the response of the University and Mercer Police to the peaceful protest of the event on Thursday, April 4, 2024.

  2. That Mercer University publish an official statement addressing the “transphobic” and “racist” views of Ms. Grossman and condemning the response of the Atlas Society, Turning Point USA, and Charlie Kirk, and/or a statement that affirms Mercer University’s support of transgender people and people of color.

  3. That SGA make an official statement to the same effect.

  4. That the university review and amend its speaker selection process to ensure that those who are selected to speak at official Mercer events fit with Mercer’s values and mission.

  5. Most importantly, that peaceful protests be allowed to happen in the future when they pose no threat to students, faculty, or guests, and when they do not hinder the operation of the University.

SGA said they would provide a copy of Simmerman's concerns and requests to the university administration.



Gabriel Kopp

Gabriel Kopp '26 is majoring in Journalism and Law and Public Policy at Mercer University. He has written for The Cluster since he started at Mercer, and currently works as the Sports Editor. When he isn't studying, he enjoys going for runs and reading the New York Times.


Henry Keating

Henry Keating '24 is a Journalism and History student at Mercer. He has worked at The Cluster as SGA correspondent, State and Local News Editor, Managing Editor and now as the Editor-in-Chief. Henry has held internships at the Macon Newsroom, Macon Telegraph, and Greenville Post and Courier. He enjoys backpacking, rom-coms, pottery and photography.


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