Student government suspends members and freezes pay amid alcohol scandal


Courtesy of SGA

The SGA has placed three of its members on administrative leave and froze their accounts for alcohol-related misconduct on a school-sponsored trip.

Luke Heslip and Gideon Halpin

The Student Government Assembly placed three of its members on administrative leave and suspended their financial compensation Nov. 23 in response to a student conduct investigation pertaining to alcohol use on a student-funded trip to a Sacramento conference.

The student representative council also passed a “vote of no-confidence” against student Board of Trustee member Elijah Egger, who was also on the trip and under the administration’s investigation.

Egger is not an official SGA member and did not attend the hearing, according to session minutes. The SGA deferred his pay as well. Egger is not normally under SGA purview, but his compensation comes from the Public Service Fellowship Program, which derives from SGA funds.

The public, in-house hearing’s four defendants — Lucas Alvillar, vice president of sustainability, Jaqueline Herrera, director of marketing on the Petaluma campus, Victoria Sheber, assembly member of student rights, and Egger — are suspected of collectively consuming at least two bottles of Sierra Nevada Beer and six bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. The greater SGA deliberated on the incident’s ramifications.

Alvillar and Herrera both confessed to these allegations during the hearing, while Sheber denied drinking any alcohol. Sheber and Herrera are both under 21.

“I accept whatever punishment, no matter how harsh. I accept full blame,” Alvillar said.

Student Representation Fee funds, a $1 per semester student enrollment charge, helped pay for the delegation to attend the conference.

Before the conference, all delegates signed agreements with the Student Senate of California Community Colleges and Santa Rosa Junior College to abstain from alcohol consumption for the duration of the trip. The alleged behavior was a clear breach of contract, and Student Conduct Dean Patie Wegman presides over the administration’s investigation and misconduct hearings. SGA insiders said she will likely conclude the investigation before this semester’s end.

SGA Chair Joshua Pinaula said the college was liable for the student delegation on the three-day conference. “It is my understanding that college insurance extends to recognized college events,” he said.

Conference chaperone and SGA Advisor Zack Miranda confirmed the college’s liability and said all delegates were aware the contracts prohibited drinking.

The SGA appointed all three officers, but Alvillar and Herrera hold elected seats subject to annual student elections in spring and are full voting representatives. Sheber is a non-voting appointee. SRJC students elected Egger as student trustee in April 2015.

After deliberation, the SGA reached a consensus vote to reprimand the three members whom the alcohol controversy implicated. This amounts to formal disapproval of their actions. SGA officials also voted to temporarily strip them of voting and assembly privileges, effectively barring them from SGA participation while the administration’s judicial protocol continues.

Vice President of Committees Erika Hernandez Ramirez introduced a motion to dismiss Alvillar, Herrera and Sheber from the SGA, which Vice President of Advocacy Hernan Zaragoza seconded. Vice President of Student Life Virginia Kerr and Vice President of Student Health Hannah Cagle attempted to split this motion so it addressed each of the three students individually, which failed. Vice President of Marketing Senay Debesay and Vice President of Finance Eduardo Arango then objected to the original motion to dis-appoint all three accused students at once, and the body agreed to table the ultimate decision until the administration completes its judicial procedures.They do not have the authority to disappoint Egger, since he technically belongs to another legislative body.

Several SGA officers commented on Egger’s absence at the hearing.

“It was the responsibility of Eli to show up,” Debesay said.

“He has completely lost our trust,” Assembly Member of Study Alex Gonzalez said. “He did not show up today. I understand that we should wait for Wegman, but we don’t know how long the body is going to take.”

Pinaula later said, “I’ve heard that there’s intentions from at least one member in our body to come to a Board of Trustees meeting during public comment to emphasize that point [SGA’s vote of no-confidence] and perhaps even request that he resign.”

Egger was unavailable for comment by press time.

The SGA also froze the suspect officers’ PSFP payouts. This unprecedented SRJC student service stipend program, which began this year, allots $300 per quarter to Alvillar and Herrera and $400 per quarter to Egger. It also compensates Sheber for committee work at $10 an hour. The SGA will permanently withhold their compensation if Dean Wegman’s investigation and hearings finds them guilty.

Egger’s receival of the PSFP is contingent on him attending at least 80 percent of the weekly SGA sessions.

“[The] SGA as a body should take a stance before the administration does. We have the responsibility [to] take action for the student body that we represent. I would like clarification about whether all four students drank or not. Regardless, all four students involved should be equally responsible,” Ramirez said in deliberation.

“To my understanding a lot of the student conduct hearings are confidential. There’s some practical applications where some people have like a need to know basis, particularly when it involves this,” Pinaula said. “For instance, even though it’s confidential, if she [Dean Wegman] were to say that all of them should not be on student government, obviously that would need to be communicated.”

Earlier this month, at the three-day SSCCC General Assembly in Sacramento, student representatives from other California community colleges staying at the same hotel as the SRJC delegation gave Egger and Alvillar the Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Sierra Nevada beer, which they brought to Herrera and Sheber’s hotel room and consumed, Alvillar testified.

Sheber denied drinking anything and said the situation made her uncomfortable. According to her testimony, she set down a beer someone handed her and later poured out another beer off a hotel balcony to imply participation. She admitted she was in and out of the hotel room with Egger, Herrera and Alvillar and was often on the phone with her boyfriend. “When I looked up, there was alcohol. I did not feel strong enough to say no. I did not want to drink for personal reasons,” Sheber said. “I don’t know who drank or how much people drank.”

The SGA’s official hearing transcript has discrepant testimonies regarding Sheber’s alcohol use. Alvillar and Herrera both said everyone in the room drank, which conflicts with Sheber’s account. “It sounds peculiar, but I have no reason to doubt the story,” Pinaula said of Sheber’s testimony.

“I am not sure of the truth to the situation. I didn’t get to observe the actual drinking happen. I didn’t catch anyone in the act, so I can’t confirm either story,” Miranda said.

The following day at the conference, Herrera repeatedly threw up, arousing overall concern from Miranda and the delegates.

“She was throwing up like every 10 minutes. I was concerned for safety,” Sheber said in her testimony. “Up until that point I had not said anything, but then Zack [Miranda] asked me and I responded, ‘Alcohol was in the room last night.’ I do take responsibility for not bringing it up sooner.”

Miranda said he contacted Dean of Student Affairs Robert Ethington with this information, but did not inform SSCCC. “As soon as I talked to Tori [Sheber], I gave Robert [Ethington] a call and confirmed with what we had been observing.” He said Herrera’s safety was his first priority. Ethington subsequently filed a report to Dean Wegman.

“If I knew it was alcohol poisoning I would have spoken up,” Herrera said. “Nobody finished any of the drinks. At most I had one-fourth of the alcohol present.” Addressing the assembly she said, “I apologize for the position I put [the] SGA in. I cannot speak for all the members involved, but I do accept that I should either be suspended for a longer period of time, or resign my position.”

The cause of her sickness may have been food related. Herrera said at 5 a.m. she ate leftover shrimp that had been sitting out since dinner time.

Alvillar apologized to the student legislator for his conduct. “I am terribly sorry for shaming the body in such a way,” he said in his testimony. “I did break contract. I am so sorry that I would do something to the body. I don’t want to see this come down on you all. I will not defend myself.” He said he’d much rather be dismissed than see the public Service Fellowship be taken away. “I know there was a lot of effort put into that.”

During the SGA hearing a student representative asked Ethington if the college had experience with this sort of controversy; he said similar events had transpired at another student conference in Sacramento about 10 years ago and resulted in officer removal. “If you feel like there’s still some unknowns, if you feel like you need more, I suggest you wait for the administrative decision,” he said.

“I think honesty goes a long way for these students,” Miranda said. “This is student government. This is all about integrity and kind of holding each other accountable, and I feel like there are ways to do that. I’m interested in what the SGA decides, but I’m not sure what the most appropriate action is because this does not happen every day.”

Seven SRJC student delegates in total attended the conference, along with Miranda. The student conduct investigation and hearings do not currently apply to the other three student officials, including Pinaula.

“We as a body have a responsibility and we should all hold ourselves to the highest standards. In my opinion, disappoint everyone that was involved. Before this gets out of hand, we should take responsibility for our actions,” Zaragoza said near the end of deliberation.