COVID-19 Era Student Government Elections Lead to Rule Violations, Near Sweep

by Anna Woods, Asst. News & Asst. Features Editor 

Prior to the end of last semester, Student Government held their annual executive board elections. The election resulted in campaign violations which caused a party’s disqualification, and delayed results. Despite the chaos, ultimately it was a large majority of the members of the  Bronx Party — led by president Shannon Gleba — who won the election. 

The other positions filled are as follows:  Anthony Bradley, executive vice president, Isabel Gardner, vice president for social life, DeVaughn Harris, vice president for residential affairs, Amanda Arroyo, vice president for commuter affairs, Alex Nieves, vice president for finance, Peter Janny, vice president for communication, Ella O’Brien, vice president for academic affairs, Alexa Schmidt, vice president for club administration.

“Just Jaspers, “Jasper Town (J-Town)”, and the “Bronx Party,” were the three parties that ran for a position on the 2020-2021 executive board. 

The announcement delaying election results posted by @mcstudgov on April 21,2020 MANHATTAN SGA / COURTESY

Gardner originally ran as a member of “Just Jaspers” but managed to beat out junior Michael Rafferty who ran for the position with the Bronx Party. 

Right as campaigning was about to begin for the three eager boards, the student body was sent home due to the pandemic. All parties had to adapt to the pandemic and rework their campaign strategies that were planned prior to the closure, bringing unprecedented challenges to students who ran. 

“It was a very interesting experience having to campaign during a time when we could not connect with the students in person,” said Shannon Gleba.  

Gleba, a senior studying public health with a concentration in healthcare administration, discussed how technology has been the best way to reach students in the past, making this year no different. 

“However, I feel as if social media campaigning has become much more prominent in the past number of years, so we had a good blueprint of how it would work. Thankfully my board was able to meet on campus before we were sent home, so we all knew each other and could connect over the phone with a better idea of what we were each like in person,” said Gleba.

John Bennett, Director of Student Engagement, shared that the college’s election processes fortunately did not have to be altered too much. 

“The pandemic didn’t change too much of the election itself because we had made the transition a few years ago to online voting,” said Bennett. “When we make any changes [to the rules] it’s acutely your fellow students in student government that are in control. We help the process along and make sure that what is being done is appropriate. And within the guidelines with the student government realm. We back them with what they want to do.”

Bennett believed the biggest challenge was how the shift to online campaigning altered the possibility of other students running. 

“It was a challenge in a sense that you don’t know [what] kept people from running,” he said. “Maybe other people were on the fence about it and would’ve put their toes in the water if we were on campus … maybe we could’ve talked them into it. So I feel like the unknown aspect kind of hurt. But in the same token the amount of students who voted was the same number every year.” 

 Fortunately, the pandemic did not hinder the percentage of students who voted. According to John Bennett, the average percentage of students who vote in student government elections nationwide is about five percent. This year about 20 percent of Manhattan College students voted, which is typical of the school. For the past couple of years typically 20 to 25 percent of Manhattan students vote.

While the election seemed to be running fairly smoothly during the 24-hour voting period, towards the end of the voting period, controversy arose as teams were discovered to have violated campaign rules.

When students make the decision to run as a candidate they are required to thoroughly read official ”Election Rules and Guidelines” paperwork. There are also information sessions that are held to explain the rules further. The  rules are set in place to ensure that the election is fair. In order to give candidates fair warning, the rules are presented to students two weeks prior to the start of the campaign period. This election, the rules came into play more than ever. 

Jasper Town, led by senior Nicole Diaz, received a third party endorsement that was swiftly brought to the attention of the elections committee, which is made of outgoing members of the current executive board. The endorsement came from the popular bar and restaurant, Fontenova Tapas & Tacos, located at 216 W 242 St. 

The endorsement posts from the Fontenova Tapas and Tacos Instagram. @FONTENOVATAPAS / COURTESY

The restaurant posted pictures of the Jasper Town party on their Instagram Stories. The post on their story tagged the party’s campaign account and was captioned “#VOTEJTOWN” with a “Please Vote” sticker. They also posted a photo on their main account with the caption “Fontenova is a proud supporter of the J-Town eBoard student government campaign at Manhattan College! Please support by sharing this post! #VoteJTown.” The Instagram account boasts 847 followers, a significant portion of whom are Manhattan College students. 

The guidelines specifically outline that “no campaign materials may be posted or distributed off campus (including bars and restaurants).” Another rule states that “any outside endorsements, sponsorships, or gifts are strictly prohibited.” 

Additionally, students are expected to maintain social media accounts that are only used for campaign purposes and they are not allowed to post information about their election or campaign on any other accounts.

John Bennett explained why the bar and restaurant rule is set in place.

“The reason why the bar and restaurant aspect is on there too is to not promote underage drinking,” he said. “Most of the candidates were under 21 and seniors are not allowed to vote in the election anyway. So there’s a few different reasons why that rule has been set in place for years, it’s not something new.”

Diaz is a senior majoring in international relations and political science with a minor in Spanish, and was the presidential candidate for Jasper Town.  She explained that when the opportunity to have Fontenova endorse them arose, they immediately seized the opportunity. 

“Our reaction was ‘yeah why not’, never thinking about anything else other than, we want students to know that we’re a team that’s running and we want to get the word out for them just to hear our initiatives,” she said. “ It just had never crossed our minds, even when calling the shots, that it was going to be a problem with the rules or that more than that that it would get twisted in a really toxic horrible, negative manner that we would be promoting underage drinking.”

Diaz owned up to the violation and explained that they were trying to campaign in the most efficient way, given the circumstances.


“Pretty much the rules and guidelines that we got sent to us were the same rules that were for in-person campaigns,” she said. “So nothing was adopted, nothing was changed, nothing was rewritten or explained in a different manner to adapt to a pandemic or to an online campaign. My team takes total fault — to not reading the guidelines but I think at this point like every team was trying to get a hold of students the best way that they possibly could.”

To her, the decision was coming from a place of wanting to connect with voters.

“I think that we really just said yes to it because we  wanted to be able to connect with students in as many ways as we possibly could, seeing that everybody was kind of everywhere  in the middle of a pandemic,” Diaz said. “We said yes to it. And we definitely saw the repercussions of that so much as to winning the vote of the student body for most of our positions but having to forfeit that and getting disqualified – pretty shameful to say the least. We spent quite a long time preparing and planning everything. But you know at the end of the day as a leader I’ll always say this and I’ll own up to it. I was president of that board so I should have gone through it more and maybe not had Fontenova promote us.”

Bennett shared that the elections committee and student engagement were notified of the post by fellow students. As a result. the elections committee conducted an official investigation to ensure that the election remained fair. 

Bennett said that discovering whether the disregard for the rules was intentional or not was a key component of the investigation. 

“There’s always kind of the discussion of is it something completely innocent and they’re naive to or is it something that they’re in support of,” said Bennett. “So the elections committee did their research and looked into and interviewed students on both sides. Ultimately, the committee found that it was something done consciously so they thought it was worthy of the removal.”

While the elections committee had the final say, Student Engagement leadership also sought support from the National Student Government Association office. 

“The elections committee felt that [the post] swayed the vote enough to change the elections which is why they disqualified one of the groups,” Bennett said. “As the committee makes that decision and they are empowered to do so, within student engagement we followed up with the National Student Government Association office to make sure that [the decision was] appropriate, in order to make sure it was okay if this is what they decide and the [Association] did say yes. That was more official and more unofficially we also reached out to some of our sister schools that we have a relationship with  and asked how they have dealt with similar situations. They all said they had removed parties and candidates in the past too. Ultimately, we wanted to make sure that what the elections committee was deciding was okay to be decided upon.”

Bennett also added that Student Engagement and members of the 2019-2020 executive board reached out to the members of Jasper Town after the disqualification to encourage them to run for other open positions.

Diaz shared that at first she did not realize that JTown was going to be disqualified when they were initially notified of the violation. 

“Each member was called in for individual interviews by the elections committee to determine the severity and ultimate disqualification of the party,” she said. “The committee also met with the two other parties to discuss their social media violations as well. Every other team had a hearing as a group, except for ours. When we found out that other teams had met together, we knew something was up and we knew that we were definitely in more trouble than it seemed to be. So we each met on our own and explained that it was an honest mistake that we had never intended to do and we were really trying to play by the rules as much as we could.”

Each member of JTown was called in for individual interviews by the elections committee to determine the severity of the violations, which did ultimately lead to the disqualification of the party. The committee also met with the two other parties to discuss their social media violations as well. 

Nadia Itani, a senior civil engineering major, was the vice president of academic affairs last academic year and was present for all of the hearings with the Elections Committee. 

“I was present for the hearings with each board as a member of the Elections Committee,” said Itani. “Essentially, every board did violate the rules in one way or another, and the common thread between each board is that at least one member of each board advertised their board on their personal social media accounts. For this reason, each board was asked to attend a hearing to discuss. JTown was asked to attend a hearing as a part of this evaluation, but due to their more serious allegations, their board members were asked to attend individual hearings prior to their total board hearing. The other two boards were very polite and apologetic and were quick to accept blame for their actions, while JTown was – with reason – very guarded and a bit defensive. The purpose of meeting with each member of their board individually was to gauge who was truly involved in the endorsement. It was important to us as an Elections Committee to notify them that they were not diligent in reading through the campaign rules and to acknowledge, assess the manner in which they reacted to the situation.”

On being on the SGA executive board while the hearings were taking place, Itani felt “uncomfortable” at times.

“In all honesty, being part of SGA at that time was both uncomfortable and strange, especially knowing I’d be returning to campus as an assembly member for my senior year following this election,” she said. “It’s obviously not an ideal situation to have to disqualify an entire board from an election but this was an instance in which we had to enforce the rules to have a fair and honest election. It took quite a bit of time and effort to come to a just decision but I admire the commitment of the senior members of our board despite their fast-approaching graduation date.”

Due to the hearings, election results were delayed. SGA made a statement on their Instagram which said:

“Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Student Government election results for 2020-2021 have been delayed due to violations getting reviewed by the Elections Committee. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to or”

The board members elected were notified via email that they had won. Despite the controversy of the election, Gleba and the executive board are excited for this upcoming year. 

“This year we are most excited about bringing the same sort of energy back to campus that we have had in the past. While this is definitely a difficult task as a result of protocols put in place, we are hoping to still plan events and programming that will get all of the students excited to be back together! Also, over quarantine many issues were brought up to SGA and we are eager to get down to work with our fellow students to make Manhattan College welcoming, and the way our students want it to be. There is a lot of work to be done, but getting everyone back on campus happy and healthy was definitely our main goal since April,” said Gleba.

Gleba is grateful for the opportunity to represent the student body and to make Manhattan a better place.

“Campaigning, voting, being elected and taking the position have taught me so much about what it means to be a leader in these few short months,” she said. “While many of the topics and issues we have dealt with so far are very emotionally-charged, and important, I feel like I have learned to approach these sort of situations. 

“I have also learned even more about how driven and amazing the students of Manhattan College are. It is inspiring to see so many students take a stand against injustice, and I hope to continue to be a vessel for creating change on campus. It is my job to represent the students’ voices, and I will never lose sight of that.”

Editor’s Note: Shannon Gleba, Peter Janny and Alexa Schmidt are members of The Quadrangle.