Grievance denied: Key Baker’s ASEWU election victory stands

ASEWU election board rejects Reilly Responte’s grievance

By Jeremy Burnham, Managing Editor

The ASEWU elections were almost two weeks ago, but the battle to become president continued Tuesday. Reilly Responte, having lost in the polls to Key Baker by 11 votes, took his fight to the courts, asking the ASEWU election board to overturn the vote of the student body.

In a statement obtained by The Easterner and confirmed by both candidates, the board unanimously ruled in favor of Baker.  

The hearing was a result of a grievance Responte filed the day after the election closed. In the complaint, he alleged that Baker violated an ASEWU bylaw barring campaigning in the classroom.

Responte cited Bylaw 2017-18/206A section 4-D, which reads, “Campaign paraphernalia shall not be posted on classroom surfaces (e.g. walls, doors, glass, windows, and bulletin boards). Campaigning shall not be allowed in a classroom, nor shall a candidate request from an instructor the opportunity to address formally students during class periods.”

Responte argued that a message an EWU staff member sent out on the Africana Studies’ Canvas page encouraging program students to vote for Baker constitutes campaigning in the classroom.

Responte spent much of his time painting the image of Canvas being an academic app.

Reilly Responte making his case to the ASEWU election board. Responte filed a grievance alleging that Key Baker violated an ASEWU bylaw. | Richard N. Clark IV for The Easterner

“Canvas is used to extend the classroom by assisting and teaching and learning for students,” Responte said. “By using Canvas, a platform based entirely on academics and classroom interaction, Ms. Baker used the classroom to promote her own agenda.”

It is unclear what class Responte accuses Baker of campaigning in because the Canvas page in question is not a page for any class. It is a page for the Africana Studies program.

The message was sent by Christina Lonning, the programming coordinator for the Africana Studies program, and contained a link to the voting website with a reminder to vote for Baker.  

As evidence that this was in-classroom campaigning, Responte stated that Lonning was a professor. However, Baker stated, and The Easterner has confirmed, that Lonning is not a professor and does not currently teach any classes on campus. She did, however, teach African American Culture and Expressions as recently as fall 2018.

While Responte argued that Canvas is an extension of the classroom, Baker spent an equal amount of time saying it wasn’t. She continuously referred to the page as a “virtual lounge,” and stressed that it wasn’t connected to a class, and was used to socialize and coordinate events.

Baker’s main argument was that she did not send—or authorize—the message. Lonning testified for Baker, saying she sent the message on her own accord.

Key Baker defending her victory to the ASEWU election board following a grievance filed by her opponent Reilly Responte. Baker won the general election by 11 votes. | Richard N. Clark IV for The Easterner

Responte seemed to argue that Lonning was part of Baker’s campaign, citing Section 4-B of Bylaw 2017-18/206A, which reads, “A candidate is ultimately responsible for their campaign and the activities and conduct of those who assist the candidate in that campaign.”

“This does not mean that a candidate is responsible for anything anybody does,” Baker told the board.  

Lonning denied any connection to Baker’s campaign. After the hearing, she told The Easterner that she was just trying to support a student in the program she worked for. She admitted she didn’t know anything about Responte.

“Because (Baker) is a part of our program and I had seen her in the lounge a few times, I put ‘vote for Key’,” Lonning said. “I didn’t know the other person (Responte) at all. I knew nothing about him. I believe in supporting the students in the Africana Studies program.”

While acknowledging that she supported an ASEWU candidate from her position as an EWU staff member, Lonning stressed that she didn’t do anything wrong.

“Number one, it didn’t violate any bylaws,” Lonning said. “Now I realize there are people out there who are willing to twist bylaws to fit their own agenda. So as far as (supporting another candidate in the future), I would probably think twice about it. Just for that reason, not because I did anything wrong.”

Another witness for Baker said she saw Responte campaigning in front of a polling place. Responte said he was in front of the PUB to watch preacher Keith Darrell.

Responte had a list of six witnesses to speak on his behalf, but he said that two backed out. He also said the remaining four chose only to write statements on his behalf, and to not appear in person. His witnesses said that they had received an invite to join the Africana Studies page, and then received the message from Lonning.

After the results were sent to the candidates, Responte and Baker both spoke to The Easterner in phone interviews.

“I’m disappointed,” Responte said. “A staff member got involved in the ASEWU student election. That’s what really upsets me … (Lonning) doesn’t pay tuition. She’s not a student. She’s a paid staff member and she endorsed a candidate in student elections.”

“I’m ecstatic, I’m so happy,” Baker said. “I feel like I can finally celebrate my victory.”

Responte said he has until Thursday, May 9 at 5 p.m. to decide if he wants to appeal the decision to the ASEWU Superior Court. He told The Easterner that he does not plan on doing so at this time.