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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

SGA unanimously votes no confidence in Bernhardt and officially calls for his resignation

SGA+unanimously+votes+no+confidence+in+Bernhardt+and+officially+calls+for+his+resignation
Rian Nelson
SGA President Charlize Sivertrino, middle, starts the meeting on Friday, April 26, 2024. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

The Student Government Association (SGA), during its last general assembly meeting on Friday, unanimously passed a resolution calling on President Jay Bernhardt to resign after the four-day “Popular University Encampment” ended in the arrest of 118 protesters

Students, including SGA voting members and some of those arrested on Thursday, chanted, “Get him out” after the vote was passed.

Prior to the vote, students, staff, and media streamed into the Bright Family Streaming Room filling its 170 seats and the sense of community among all attendees was strong. Friends embraced one another, some making contact for the first time since the arrests.

A student shares their experience of arrest at the meeting on Friday, April 26, 2024, holding a friend’s hand for support as their voice quivers. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

The streaming room was packed to capacity in minutes, and excess attendees were sent to Little Building rooms 225 and 227. Meanwhile, a Zoom meeting link was posted on SGA’s Instagram. 381 attendees were watching on Zoom, several in watch parties with over 20 members. 

Charlize Silvestrino, executive president of SGA, explained that voting on annual budget requests would be done via a voice vote to maintain anonymity for the voting members of SGA and make time for student testimonies. Unlike previous SGA meetings, their meeting agenda was made public, and attendees were invited to read the meeting’s contents. 

Before opening the floor to testimonies from arrested students, SGA voted unanimously to approve all remaining annual budget requests. 

Juwaria, executive vice president of SGA, was the first arrested student to take the podium. Members of the audience cheered and some stood and clapped as she took the microphone. 

“When I first came to Emerson … I felt like I could be safe here,” they began, “we had all of these things about equity and social justice, all of these pamphlets.”

They continued, “As vice president, I have felt extremely disrespected by this institution time and time again. Just today, the president met with our internal affairs board, and I wasn’t invited to that meeting.” 

They began sharing details about her arrest, emotion taking over her voice. 

“[A cop] grabbed me, and three [cops] shoved me to the ground,” they said. “Two of them stood on, like were on top of me, kneeling on me as they started zip-tying me.” 

They then turned her focus to Bernhardt and the anticipated vote of no confidence and call for resignation.

“I want to be here. The love that I felt ever since reminds me that this place can be dark sometimes but that there are so many people here that are united in this,” they continued. “But I can not be at a school with a president like that.” 

Their statement was met with applause, and several attendees stood from their seats in the room.

Angus Abercrombie, a member of the Student Experience Senate, then officially introduced “S-Res 2, a resolution expressing no confidence in Emerson College President Jay Bernhardt.” The resolution, if passed, would be the one to express no confidence in Bernhardt and call for his resignation. S-Res-2 “formally recommends that the best course of action to heal our community and support student educational needs is for [Bernhardt] to submit his immediate resignation from the post of president of Emerson College.”

Nandan Nair, incoming executive president of SGA, then took the podium to follow up on the resolution. He explained, “If President Bernhardt does not immediately offer his resignation, we, the Student Government Association, call on the Board of Trustees to terminate his presidency in immediate effect.” 

Martin Tran, the honors program senator, then took a microphone from Abercrombie to address Bernhardt. 

“We urge you to consider everything that’s being said and there is a way out of this,” he stated. “Consider the demands of students of [Emerson] SJP and accept them. Our patience has run thin.” 

Tran’s comment was met with loud applause and cheers from the audience, his words rallying the crowd.

Abercrombie then spoke, addressing the resolution and the process of creating it. 

“This is not something we did because we were simply in an emotional place,” he said. “This is something that we entered into after weeks of thinking about our response, months of thinking about what our response should be.” 

He then addressed the members of SGA who would be voting on the resolution at the conclusion of the meeting. 

“We did not bring this lightly. We do not ask you to vote for it lightly,” he explained. “We ask you to vote for [the resolution] because our students, our friends, our colleagues at this institution are in danger.”

He concluded, “We cannot deny that Emerson College’s administration, under the leadership of President Bernhardt, failed us.” 

No additional members of SGA volunteered to comment on the arrests or the anticipated vote at the time, instead allowing attendees at the meeting to share stories of their arrests and experiences. 

One attendee who was arrested and taken to the A1 facility, Percy, took the microphone to describe their experience and how “[the protesters] watched our friends bleed.” Standing at the front of the room, emotion overtook Percy as they spoke. 

Bringing attention to the subject of the encampment, they shared, “All of this is only a fraction of the fear that the people in Palestine feel and have been for months.” 

Expressing frustration at the perceived lack of empathy, Percy questioned, with their voice breaking, “Why is it so hard for not just the people here and our politicians and our fellow human beings to care about other human beings?” 

Two audience members embrace as they listen to attendees at the meeting sharing stories of their arrests and experiences during the SGA no-confidence vote on Friday, April 26, 2024. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

The microphone was then passed to Carli, an arrested student who said they stood on the front line facing Boylston Street during the arrest. 

They recalled, emotionally, “thinking how lucky I was to not have been hurt and to know that nobody around me was killed as I watched people get dragged and beat mercilessly.”

An unnamed attendee then spoke about the encampment. 

“Do not let them tell you that this was for the protection of Jewish students,” they said. “It is not for the protection of any students.” The attendee spoke of their Jewish identity amid concerns over anti-semitic rhetoric being used in the encampment.

Gwen, another student arrested on April 25, took the microphone to advocate for accountability. 

Standing at the front of the room, she said, “Although I have no confidence in Jay Bernhardt, this might make him a scapegoat and I do not want that,” she said. “This was a failing of the institution and wider administration.”

Avi, who was arrested, shared the charges brought against them, sounding angry and confused, “I got charged with trespassing on my college.” 

They then called attention to those who organized the encampment, saying, “The organizers of this whole thing were part of the ones who had the most police brutality, so I just want to thank them for standing so tall.”

Attendees on Zoom were then invited to testify. Kylie, a student arrested on one of the front lines, reported, “I will never forget being able to see fluorescent yellow through the umbrella I was holding.” She then called attention to the cause, “I would like us to remember that this is not about the individuals who were arrested but about the collective and continuing to fight,” she concluded. 

Juwaria then took the microphone to address an update from the Beacon, which reported that 118 students were arrested during the early hours of April 25, not 108 as previously reported. The members then took a moment to edit S-Res-2 to include the figure of 118. 

The Zoom testimonies then resumed with Ensor, another arrested student, addressing Bernhardt, “This is a communications school, and you will not mute our voices through passiveness or other forms of deception.”

Sam, who was also arrested, emphasized unity, “Together we make change. Alone we don’t, and we have to make change.” 

Marcus, a student on Zoom expressed anger and a need for legal action moving forward. “What happened on that day was completely unconstitutional,” he said. “Class settlement should be started.”

SGA members were invited to comment again, and Kayla Armbruster, the incoming executive vice president, then took the podium. She called attention to “the staff and people who do protect us on this campus,” and how they “do not get acknowledged and do not get recognized.” Several faculty and staff members were present during the arrests, including members from the Office of Student Affairs, who were there to help guide students to safety as the encampment was evacuated. One staff member livestreamed the moment the Boston Police Department (BPD) exited the Massachusetts Transportation Building where police assembled.

Nair then took the podium to express his plans to continue working towards a solution. “This does not end here. This is the beginning,” he said. “From here on, we will be working tirelessly with admin, and you guys, to make sure that students have a voice at this table that we so disproportionately fund.” 

Julia, a Zoom attendee, used the allotted time to express support for the encampment from international and disabled students who were unable to physically provide support during the April 25 raid. 

“This is an inclusive movement,” they said. “We see you and we are with you even though we are not physically there.”

Julia added that it is a “misconception” that disabled and international students can’t participate in acts of solidarity. Students were offering emotional support at precincts and drafting emails to send to college officials.

Willow, an arrested student attending via Zoom, shared their experience at the precinct. Angrily, they recalled, “When they were processing me at the jail, the officer told me that I had changed nothing. I think we’re proving them all wrong today.”

Rew, another student present in the screening room, was arrested and shared that, “Seeing the support of the community and seeing everyone continue to show up has kept me going.” 

Fatima, an arrested student who attended via Zoom, called attention to the cause of the encampment. 

“I would like to double down on the fact that we are here for a free Palestine,” she said.

Zola, a student who was not arrested but was present at the protest, shared that she was injured during the protest. 

“I now have a concussion from a cop punching me in the face,” she said. Reports from BPD have not included any information on injuries that students have sustained, although many have come forward with injuries and video footage shared on social media showing BPD using extreme force on protesters.

Owen, a student who was arrested and visited the hospital in response to injuries that he suffered due to brutality from the police, called into the meeting, Abercrombie holding the phone to the podium microphone. 

“This narrative is being pushed by the media and the cops that no students were hurt,” he said. “Obviously, that’s not true. You’ve all seen this shit.”

“I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think,” he said. He recalled being held down by seven cops after being thrown to the ground and hitting the Norman Lear Statue in the alley. “I began to be unable to speak. I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe. Everything started turning black.” 

Attendees and members of SGA, moved by his testimony, shed tears and hugged those around them. Attendees on the Zoom in watch parties could be seen crying, a somber mood falling over the room. 

“I thought I was going to die,” Owen repeated. 

“They could not defeat us because we were for a righteous cause. We were on the right side of history,” he continued. “I want to share all of this to let all of you know that people were fucking brutalized by these animals and that I am okay and I will not be defeated.”

Silvestrino took the podium to ask people to keep sharing their stories. 

“We want to hear it,” she said. 

Oliver Katz, incoming executive treasurer, took the microphone to explain the process of voting on the resolution, citing the anonymity required to protect members of SGA. Via “an encrypted Google Form,” SGA members voted while the energy in the room stood still. 

After a few brief minutes, Silvestrino took to the podium once more to announce that the vote had unanimously passed 17-0. Attendees cheered, standing from their seats and chanting, “Get him out.” Juwaria was then invited to use the microphone to chant, and the meeting concluded with cheers of “We keep us safe” and “Free free Palestine.” 

Students applaud and cheer as Silvestrino announces that the vote of no confidence is unanimously passed 17-0 by the SGA voting assembly on Friday, April 26, 2024. (Rian Nelson/Beacon Staff)

In an interview after the meeting, reporters from the Beacon spoke with Nair, who expressed the two sides to hearing student testimonies. 

“I will be honest, it was hard to listen to many of those testimonies. It was heartbreaking to hear of my peers, and my friends, getting so violently brutalized for peacefully protesting,” Nair said. “It was an incredible escalation of violence, but I’m so proud of our community for showing up today.”

In response to a question about the police response and accusations of brutality, Nair explained, “For Mayor Wu to have claimed that this was justified and that this force was justified, [and] any of this was justified quite frankly, is a calamity. I’m extremely disappointed in her remarks.”

Moving forward, Nair said, SGA’s first priority next academic year is to make sure that they engage with administration more.

“That makes sure that students have a voice at the table and to ensure that at the end of the day, we’re representing all of our students and we’re representing the interests of the student body because that’s what we were elected to do,” Nair said.

Addressing concerns over whether the Board of Trustees would fail to call for Bernhardt’s resignation, Nair explained, “If there is no resignation, we will be very disappointed. But we will have to adjust and take measures accordingly.” 

Before the SGA meeting, Nair received a phone call from Bernhardt who requested to speak with Nair and Silvestrino this morning.

“We attempted to negotiate and discuss a way forward, but during that meeting, it became very evident to us that the president has been keeping empty promises,” Nair explained. “[He] has not been keeping [promises], and we cannot accept making the same promises as he did a month ago with no action.”

Nair said Bernhardt’s inactivity after meeting with SGA in the days following the arrests of 13 students outside of his inauguration was “inadequate.” 

“I think it’s not enough,” Nair said. “You can’t make promises and claim for discussions and listening and then not do it.”

Juwaria, despite being executive vice president of SGA, had not been invited to the morning’s meeting with Bernhardt, Silvestrino, and Nair. This caused anger from the Internal Affairs Board. 

“[Juwaria] has constantly been a target and been smeared because of her status as an organizer, and we stand vehemently against it,” Nair said.

On the subject of HRE, faculty, and staff members who were present at the arrests, Nair expressed appreciation for their work. 

“[SGA] respects them and appreciate[s] them so much. They are what makes Emerson what it is,” Nair said. “With that being said, I have not heard anything on what President Bernhardt did in the aftermath or in the build-up to that as far as I understand.”

When asked if SGA planned to meet with the faculty and staff present at the arrests, Nair responded, “We definitely are working on getting testimonies from faculty and students at the scene.”

“The effect of the administration’s response has made [SGA] feel inadequate and underserved,” Nair said 

“It has made us feel like we do not have a voice and is also very significantly scarred and damaged,” Nair continued.

As the interview was being conducted, the government names of the arrested students were publicized by Boston 25 News. When asked about his immediate reaction, Nair said, “Oh my god. That’s awful. The fact that they’ve listed the government names and released them to the public, I’m very saddened to hear that. I fear for the students. I pray for them. I pray for their safety.”

Regarding the role SGA may play in the appointment of a new interim president, Nair referenced students’ role in appointing the next provost this year.

“I believe many of those questions were very productive and very useful, so my hope is, if the search does start for any president, that we continue that,” Nair said.

Citing Bernhardt’s only appearance at an SGA meeting this semester, Nair spoke about his receptiveness to Bernhardt’s potential requests for conversation in the future. 

“If President Bernhardt reaches out to meet with us, I will accept,” Nair said. “I think that while we may have our differences and we may be calling for his resignation, we still have to keep going forward, and the only way forward without resignation is communication and collaboration.”

A few hours after the SGA vote, the Emerson Board of Trustees released a statement where they described Bernhardt as a “transformational leader who could bring us together in difficult times,” and stated continued unequivocal support of his presidency.

In response to the Board of Trustees, Abercrombie said, “The statement from the Emerson College Board of Trustees gets only one thing correct: Jay Bernhardt’s ability to unite our campus. Students are united, along with many faculty, staff, and some administrators, who have approached us to express their quiet support for today’s action. We are united in our calls for his resignation, and reforms to the way Emerson does business so instead of continued escalation, our students can find safety and the college’s reputation can be repaired.”

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About the Contributor
Katherine Cressman
Katherine Cressman, News Co-Editor
Katherine is a freshman journalism major from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. When she is not writing you can find her singing in Achoired Taste, playing tennis, or watching cat videos on TikTok.

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