Image courtesy of Plymouth State Student Senate

Analysis: PSSS leaders walk back campaign criticism comments

James Kelly


Managing Editor


At first, the message was clear: Student Senate campaigns should tread lightly. PSSS will not tolerate harassment; bullies will be punished. PSSS Speaker Will Loughlin and Student Body President Devonte Gilmore warned of dire consequences for campaign policy violators. 

Don’t “disparage and attack your classmates,” Loughlin said. A person who breaks the “zero tolerance” bullying policy may be disqualified from the race or referred to Student Conduct, he added. The bullying policy “counts for small things,” Gilmore said. “Like if I go around saying, ‘oh yeah, [Loughlin] didn’t do a good job, don’t vote for him.’”

The warnings came at Monday, March 25’s PSSS meeting. Despite the new rhetoric, there is no new policy. The guidelines around “bullying” on the campaign trail are no different than on the rest of campus, PSSS advisor Jessica Dutille confirmed. “For conduct to constitute harassment… it must include more than the mere expression of views, words, symbols, or thoughts that another person finds offensive,” the Student Code of Conduct says. To violate the policy, a student must discriminate based on a protected class, like race or sex. 

It is unlikely that PSSS found it necessary to remind their members not to be racist. Instead, their statements appear intentionally broad: an implicit condemnation of all criticism.

When questioned later, Loughlin walked back his statements. “There might be criticism… [that doesn’t] hit the level of what can be defined as harassment,” he said. “That’s not for us to interpret… We defer to Student Conduct Code in cases like this”  

Loughlin acknowledged there may be flexibility in the policy for PSSS candidates specifically. “It’d be very case-by-case, and it’d be up to the advisors to determine what they would consider to be a harmful statement.” 

Both claims cannot be true; bullying policy cannot simultaneously be decided on a case-by-case basis and by the Code of Conduct.

Gilmore also pivoted when questioned. Saying a candidate “didn’t do a good job” doesn’t actually violate any rules, he said. “That was just a low-stakes example I used in order to explain the importance of being nice to your opponents…. That is not something that would constitute bullying.”

Dutille reversed her stance on approval for campaign materials, including social media posts. At the meeting, she said all campaign flyers must be approved by advisors, including “flyers that you physically put up on bulletin boards, and also any digital signage that you hang up on the screens and or on social media.” PSSS’s official policy says “flyers must be approved by the advisor(s) of SGA before they can physically or digitally be distributed.” In a statement to The Clock, however, Dutille said advisor approval only applies to flyers displayed on bulletin boards and tv screens in the HUB.

These contradictions are significant. When all is said and done, the Student Code of Conduct is the law of the land. Still, what PSSS says, even if it contradicts official policies, serves a purpose. PSSS knows they don’t have the power to regulate personal speech, but that doesn’t mean they can’t say that they do. 

Even if it’s not real policy, PSSS gets their point across: no criticisms allowed.