Former SGA President Dakota McGranahan alleges “illegal” conduct by SRJC

Dakota+McGranahan%2C+recently+ousted+student+body+president%2C+has+alleged+impropriety+in+the+college%27s+decision+to+remove+them+and+replace+them+with+runner-up+Delashay+Carmona+Benson.

Courtesy of Dakota McGranahan

Dakota McGranahan, recently ousted student body president, has alleged impropriety in the college’s decision to remove them and replace them with runner-up Delashay Carmona Benson.

Alex Fuller and James Domizio

Dakota McGranahan, the recently ousted Santa Rosa Junior College student body president, fought back Monday in a Student Government Assembly (SGA) meeting, alleging the college conducted a flawed investigation into complaints against them, violated their right to participate in shared governance under the California Code of Regulations for Community Colleges and violated SGA policy when removing them from president and naming their replacement.

McGranahan, SRJC’s first non-binary student body president, was removed Sept. 3 after an investigation into charges of bullying and campaign violations during McGranahan’s successful campaign for president. In addition to disagreeing with the severity of the charges, McGranahan says SRJC administrators should not have been involved in the SGA proceedings removing them and appointing their opponent, Delashay Carmona Benson, to president.

McGranahan won the student vote in the Spring 2020 election with 418 votes to Carmona Benson’s 214.

In an email to SGA and school officials Sept. 4, Student Life and Engagement Manager Hilleary Zarate made two announcements: that McGranahan was ineligible to serve in student government for the rest of the semester and that Vice President of Student Services Pedro Avila determined the runner-up, Carmona Benson, to be student body president.

The same day McGranahan was officially removed, the Oak Leaf received an email from Carmona Benson. “I think it’s time we talk,” she said. “SRJC just wrapped up an investigation with me as the victim of racism.” 

While Benson says she is prohibited from commenting on the investigation, in an interview with The Oak Leaf, she said, “I’m not about to say I’m an expert on the bylaws, but I can say the people that investigated turned every stone. I think that if we were able to speak about the investigation, I don’t even think this would be a conversation. It would be a no-brainer [why Dakota was removed.]”

She also would not comment on whether JC administration erred in circumventing SGA policy to appoint her.

In an official video statement on Instagram, McGranahan said, “[During my campaign], a grievance was filed against me stating claims that I had bullied and harassed a student and that I had fabricated elements of my campaign throughout the election. Though I argue that the evidence gathered is not clearly convincing of wrongdoing, it is neither here nor there.” 

The unfair investigation is only one of McGranahan’s grievances. 

McGranahan alleges that prohibiting their participation in SGA in any official capacity violates their rights under the California Code of Regulations for Community Colleges. The code states “students shall be provided an opportunity to participate in formulation and development of district and college policies and procedures that have or will have a significant effect on students.”

McGranahan also takes issue with the way in which the administration removed them and appointed Carmona Benson, calling it “an unprecedented decision in SRJC’s long-standing history with the student government.” According to SGA Policy, only the Associated Student Body, in this case SRJC’s SGA, holds the power to deny a student those rights.

“What would have normally taken the votes of six or more SGA officers has been circumvented into the hands of one SRJC administrator in both the removal and appointment of the student body president,” McGranahan said. “The college is making a clear statement here that they can and will suppress the student voice.”

McGranahan asserts the college had no authority to involve itself in student government processes.

“Throughout this process, the college has ignored its own procedures for handling student conduct cases, intervened in a student election, and suppressed my individual rights as a student,” McGranahan said. “The college needs to be aware that I will not bow out silently and allow them to steamroll the student voice with broken policies and procedures and unprecedented sanctions.”

McGranahan’s video was accompanied by a change.org petition that now sports 82 signatures.

“The college cannot be allowed to get away with this. If students and student government remain silent on this issue, the college will have gotten away with breaking the law and who’s to say they won’t do it again to future students,” McGranahan said.

Burnice Nyamien, vice president of clubs in the Spring 2020 semester, agreed SRJC administration acted above the rules, which she considered a form of anarchy. She also accused some SGA members of remaining silent despite knowing SRJC abused its power. 

“Leaders are supposed to be honest and willing to learn from others,” Nyamien said at the SGA meeting, “not manipulating, conniving hypocrites.”  

Evelyn Navarro also felt SRJC administration falsely and unjustly interpreted the SGA’s code of conduct to remove McGranahan. She called out Avila for abusing his power. 

“Shame on you, Pedro Avila, for making this decision without the students,” Navarro said. “You have taken an opportunity from the students to learn in a learning institution.” 

SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong declined to comment on the investigation, McGranahan’s removal and Carmona Benson’s appointment and referred questions to Avila, who said, “The college cannot comment on any specific student-related misconduct investigation or disciplinary outcome based on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. We cannot prohibit students involved from commenting on their own record, but the administration will not be commenting. Trust that all cases received are made with great care and thoroughness.”

Asked if she agreed with the decision to remove McGranahan, Zarate echoed Avila’s words. “I am sure this was a difficult decision for the administration, and I trust that the case was reviewed with great care and thoroughness,” she said.

In the interest of transparency, McGranahan is a former Oak Leaf editor-in-chief and staffer.

Additional reporting by Mike Combs.