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SGA Vice President Deana Ayers speaks out against “toxic” dynamic among executive board members

SGA Vice President Deana Ayers speaks out against “toxic” dynamic among executive board members

SGA Vice President Deana Ayers speaks out against “toxic” dynamic among executive board members
May 02
11:58 2020

The Student Government Association’s Vice President Deana Ayers contacted the North Texas Daily alleging they experienced a “toxic” and “uncomfortable” workplace dynamic among the executive board similar to that for which former vice president Hillary Shah resigned in December.

Ayers said they and SGA President Yolian Ogbu had a personal falling out earlier in the semester. At first, Ayers “didn’t see it as a big thing that had to do with work,” but over time felt like Ogbu was leaving them out of decision-making and conversations they should have been involved in.

“There’s just a lack of being able to separate the personal from the professional,” Ayers said. “She’s never been rude to me. But somebody will frustrate her or she’ll be disappointed in something and she’ll freeze them out of decision making.”

Ayers said despite the position of president and vice president possessing equal power, Ogbu made them feel as though they could not voice any disagreement with her thoughts or actions.

“I’ve very frequently been the person who speaks up about something we did poorly and criticism puts me on her bad side,” Ayers said. “I’ve never been trying to tear SGA down from the inside, but sometimes we do things wrong and we should fix it. She takes that as personal criticism. That results in her freezing us out … and you not being able to do your job to the full extent.”

Because of the tension in the executive board, Ayers said they did not feel safe or comfortable doing their job.
“I’ve been really anxious about work even though we’re all working remotely because it doesn’t feel like a culture of people respecting each other,” Ayers said. “It’s been a very uncomfortable dynamic for me.”

One example of this dynamic Ayers gave was when they put together an initiative to advocate for rent cancellation in Denton to help students facing financial strain because of COVID-19.

Ayers did not include SGA executive board members in the initiative because they felt it was a personal project for them and did not want the other members to feel it was their responsibility too.

“Everyone was on my ass about, ‘Was it a success? What did you do? What are the next steps?’ and offering a bunch of criticisms but not offering help,” Ayers said. “I pointed out it was hypocritical because over the course of this year, Yolian very frequently made SGA about her personal interests and there was no oversight on that. It was like Yolian’s interested in it, so we’re all going to do it now. I was trying to do something I was interested in that would benefit the students without making it everybody’s focus.”

Ayers said they felt shunned for their decision not to include the executive members in their personal initiative.

“I had a couple of people in [the executive board] text me afterward and be like ‘they shouldn’t have talked to you like that’,” Ayers said. “But we had a video call and they just went in on me again. Yolian and our advisor were there and didn’t say anything. It went over the line of disrespectful and they were just being rude.”

Before Ayers took on their current position, they were the Governmental Affairs Director and chair of the City and State Relations Committee. Ayers assume the position after former Vice President Hillary Shah resigned last semester citing “consistent isolation, dismissal, and belittlement” to the detriment of her mental health.

Ayers said it was not until they became vice president where they could understand the problems that led Shah to resign.

“We have the executive board and then we have Yolian’s clique within the executive board that actually make all the decisions and have the power,” Ayers said. “I think being inside of that [clique] I didn’t see it as a bad thing. But if you’re someone on the outside, you’re sort of an enemy and you will get frozen out.”

The Daily spoke with Shah about her vice presidency to compare her experience to Ayers’s. Shah said she and Ogbu had been like sisters since before college. Shah was unable to begin her duties in person because of a summer internship and found Ogbu already established a dynamic in the executive board she felt unable to create a relationship with them.

“I was pushed out of the group of executives and they had these little cliques that I tried to even join and be friends with them,” Shah said. “One of their critiques was that I tried to join the club and they didn’t like the fact I tried to be friends with them. So it was an incredibly awful working environment.”

Later in the fall semester, Shah was sick and hospitalized. She said she received awful messages from her coworkers who were upset she was not able to work.

“Every day, I would wake up and I was incredibly anxious and depressed,” Shah said. “I would tell them that and they would shun me for it more. I think they thought because I was feeling that I was [using it as] an excuse to not do my job.”

Shah felt Ogbu had a mentality of “… you’re either with Yolian or you’re against her” and said this made it difficult to do her job.

“I very quickly began to realize she didn’t want someone who is on equal footing with her because I’m someone who could disagree who has the same level of authority as her,” Shah said. “That mentality is difficult because you can’t be with someone who wants a yes man when you’re supposed to have your own decision-making power. So the easiest way to take that from someone is to freeze them out of important decision making.”

Shah said she ultimately believes good work came from SGA, but felt people were pushed aside.

“I remember thinking whoever replaces me is gonna say in a few months the exact same thing in order to feel like a semblance of peace for themselves,” Shah said.

Ayers said their reasoning for coming forward has nothing to do with their personal relationship with members of the executive board, but because they feel students deserve to understand why initiatives failed.

Ayers said they included themselves in the failures and problems of the administration and accredited them to poor leadership and communication on everyone’s part.

“I think a lot of people realize this administration didn’t get a lot done,” Ayers said. “The lasting implications will be that nobody sees the inside. They just saw this radical, progressive push on SGA, then it falling apart and nothing being accomplished because of fear of criticism from the outside.”

The Daily reached out to Ogbu for response to these accusations and received the following written statement:

“At the end of the day, SGA is a student organization made up of student leaders and just like any other organization, we are bound to have internal conflict that shouldn’t be seen as newsworthy.

This administration helped to create a culture shift and changed what SGA means to students … drama shouldn’t detract from any achievements and progress made this year. While we had a laundry list of initiatives we wanted to touch on this year, nothing could’ve prepared us for the events that had gone on throughout the school year.

We believed SGA’s role was to help organize and advocate for students in those moments when the whole campus was going through an issue. We changed the future of SGA regardless and are excited to see what the next administration has in store for the student body. Here is a link to a list of what our administration has been able to do: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AbTmn4B-1DJdVSMDcn4gpXNfuJntr7dyUX9fKD6Pao/edit?usp=sharing

Featured Image: Deana Ayers speaks to students about community alternatives to calling the police on Feb. 18, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas

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Brooke Colombo

Brooke Colombo

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