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

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

The Berkeley Beacon

‘This has changed my focus’: President Bernhardt attends SGA meeting

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Kellyn Taylor

The Student Government Association (SGA) did not hold its scheduled meeting on Friday, March 22, following the arrests of 13 students outside the Cutler Majestic Theatre during President Jay Bernhardt’s inauguration. Instead, Bernhardt attended the March 29 meeting to answer questions surrounding the March 22 arrests.

In the minutes leading up to the president’s arrival at the meeting, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) member Mali, who is requesting his last name be omitted for anonymity reasons, identified himself to SGA’s general assembly. SJP is one of the organizations whose members were arrested on March 22. Following his request, SGA gave Mali permission to include his questions in the discussion with Bernhardt. 

In the days immediately following the arrests, there were concerns about who ordered Emerson College Police Department to arrest the 13 students who were protesting. Bernhardt, who received widespread criticism and alleged responsibility for the arrests, said he had nothing to do with ordering them. 

“I had nothing to do with giving guidance or direction that [arrests] should be what happens,” Bernhardt said. “It shouldn’t have happened.” 

Additionally, he acknowledged the requests for body camera footage from the arresting officers and the official police reports from March 22. 

“Many people have asked—will the college release the police reports, will the college release the video, will the college try to do that?” he said. “I think it could cause more harm to do so. I am not inclined to do so at present.”

Shortly after, the SJP member asked Bernhardt about a study conducted by the president on health behaviors in the Black community and how he should address student concerns. The study’s content has caused campus-wide upset and questions surrounding Bernhardt’s character. 

“I feel terrible about how this is making people feel. I feel awful,” Bernhardt said. “I don’t want any students on this campus, female students of color, or anyone from any background to think that I have any hatred in my heart,” he explained. 

After back and forth between Bernhardt and Mali, the issue ultimately ended with an apology. 

“I am not trying to justify the study. I am trying to explain to you how a study like this works. And I am deeply sorry for the pain that this is causing you,” Bernhardt concluded. 

After a long moment of silence, SGA members unsure of how to break the quiet and tense atmosphere, Kayla Armbruster, the communication studies senator, asked Bernhardt about his alleged unwillingness to meet with organizations like SJP and the Emerson College Student Union (ECSU). The alleged unwillingness has been a point of concern and criticism for many students in the wake of the arrests. Despite SJP’s several attempts to get in contact with him and other college officials, the meetings did not happen, Armbruster said.

In response, Bernhardt said that he could not “find a single request from SJP for a meeting with [him] from the last six months.”

However, he explained to the disapproval of SGA members, that this was not to point fingers or cause further conflict. 

“I own the mistake that I should’ve been reaching out to them and the ECSU,” he said. “It doesn’t matter about meeting requests or not. I’m not here to challenge anyone’s narrative.”

Several SGA members cited another protest that occurred earlier in the semester where protesters blocked all of Tremont Street. They passionately explained that no students were arrested at that protest, despite the Boston Police Department’s (BPD) presence and the road being blocked for over half an hour. One SGA member asked about the discrepancies in response from BPD and why the reaction to this protest was different. 

I can’t say definitively what the difference was,” Bernhardt responded. 

Sensing a need for further explanation, he continued, “If we can change our culture to be more engaging and collaborative and communicative, there will be far less need for protest, there will be far less need for disruptions because we’re listening.” 

SGA members nodded along to his answer. Continuing, he explained that a community that listens to each other is one where, “we’re hearing each other and we’re working together to create the kind of community we want.”

An SGA member then asked about the communication process from college administration, citing Bernhardt’s repeated offer to meet with members of the Emerson community. The room seemed largely unsure of this proposition and was eager to hear clarifications on what moving forward would look like.

“The best way I think to communicate is what we’re doing today,” Bernhardt responded. “It’s for us and me to get out and talk to people, listen to people, have uncomfortable and difficult conversations about uncomfortable, difficult topics. And try to find our shared vision and common ground forward. That’s the vehicle for which we’re going to try to communicate.” 

Before leaving the meeting, Bernhardt took a moment to recognize the effects of the arrests on the Emerson community. He apologized, and in trying to connect with the members of SGA, shared how the arrests have impacted him. 

“This has changed our institution,” he said. “This has changed my presidency. This has changed my focus.” 

After a brief conclusion, SGA thanked the president for his presence at the meeting and expressed hope to see him attend more often. Bernhardt left the meeting which concluded soon after.

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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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