My name is Morgan DiFelice, and I want to share my story with you.
I want to begin by making it clear that this is about institutionalized suppression of sexual harassment or assault victims, and the people who support those who have committed such offenses.
From May 2016 through November 2016, I was repeatedly sexually harassed by a fellow USG-Tempe director: John Ghazoul. Since Mr. Ghazoul and I worked for the same organization, I had no choice but to be caught with him in the same place at the same time, regardless of his behavior towards me. He would send me vulgar snapchats asking “When are we going to fuck?” and when I told him to stop, he would say “You know I’m just joking” or “You know it’s going to happen one day.” There were countless instances in which he would touch me during our time together at the USG office. Again and again, after I would tell him to stop or physically move away from him, he would become angry at me or tell me that I “need to calm down.” No one should feel like they don’t have control over their own body, but Mr. Ghazoul’s actions made me feel violated and unsafe in my own work environment.
When I discovered that Mr. Ghazoul was in the running to be nominated as the ABOR representative for all three public universities in Arizona, I decided it was imperative that I speak up so that the USG-Tempe senators would know exactly who they were voting for. Kenzie Johnson, the current USG VP of Policy, was willing to speak on my behalf because it was such an emotionally taxing subject for me to discuss publicly. After she informed the USG-Tempe Senate about the allegations of sexual harassment, several senators spoke in support of Mr. Ghazoul, including DeGravina’s campaign manager, Jacob Lille. As a current senator at the time, Mr. Lille stated that sexual harassment was “hearsay,” and that Vice President Johnson had no evidence to back up her accusations. Essentially, Mr. Lille claimed that if there is no proof of the sexual harassment, there is no reason to recognize claims of its occurrence.
The bill to nominate John Ghazoul passed with the support of Mr. Lille and Dayton Potter (the DeGravina Ticket’s VP of Policy candidate), who both voted yes after being told that Mr. Ghazoul was sexually harassing a female coworker. This made me feel discouraged and devalued by my representatives within the university. You can see the voting record and the bill to nominate John Ghazoul (SB 31) here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1i1a2JqgwozRqBQAvy-2dZLOrw37znYgskdg3lDMFfbQ/edit and https://drive.google.com/drive/u/1/folders/0B4-o4qwbRLyKd0F4OXJhaUppZE0.
Two days later, a special session was held by the USG-Tempe Senate because a bill was proposed to halt Mr.Ghazoul’s nomination. Because certain senators refused to believe the accusations without knowing exactly what happened and who was making the accusations, I was forced to explain in detail what he did to me to the entire senate. You can find my speech that I gave to the senate here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bw0n39EhhjngWTFZNGxSenNVR1k/view?usp=sharing.
Crying, and feeling incredibly vulnerable, I detailed what Mr. Ghazoul had done to me from May to November. After my speech, the bill to remove Mr. Ghazoul from being nominated passed with 13 in favor, 0 opposed, and 4 abstentions. You can find the bill (SB 32) and the voting record here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-yyPErazDif2tC_litYGK4_cLEnf8OI069W0Lvo6sZs/edit and https://drive.google.com/drive/u/1/folders/0B4-o4qwbRLyKQlBFX0RBRm9RaFU.
It took me, a victim subjected to 7-months of sexual harassment, standing up and crying in front of a full room of people for Mr. Lille and Mr. Potter to concede that Mr. Ghazoul should not represent our school.
Later on that evening, Mr. Lille texted me and said the following:
I realize that Jacob was trying to do what he thought was the right thing, and I appreciate his apology. However, whether he knew it or not, he was still perpetuating the problem of victim blaming. In short, he would have reacted differently if he had known the victim; without my face and testimony to attach to the claims, he saw no reason to believe them.
Two days later, I received another text from Dayton Potter that said the following:
Dayton Potter had secretly recorded my speech, without my knowledge or permission, and now wanted my permission to send it to Mr. Ghazoul. Since nobody wants to exchange paragraphs back-and-forth over text, we continued our conversation on the phone. Breonn Peoples, another USG-Tempe Senator, listened to our conversation, acting as a witness. I gave Mr. Potter permission to send Mr. Ghazoul the secret recording because Mr. Ghazoul had the right to know what I said. Then, Mr. Potter went on to accuse me of ruining Mr. Ghazoul’s life and said that I should apologize to him. He then told me to tell both USG-Tempe and the Title IX Office that I would rescind my statements detailing what Mr. Ghazoul did to me. His words made me feel like I was to blame for Mr. Ghazoul’s unwarranted harassments, and as though I was alone in my struggle to voice what had happened to me.
I said no, that I would not take back the truth, and our conversation ended there. Jacob Lille and Dayton Potter, in their respective ways, attempted to downplay sexual assault and harassment by silencing Kenzie Johnson and me from speaking out.
Three months later, I see that Dayton Potter is on the DeGravina Ticket running to be the VP of Policy for USG-Tempe, and Jacob Lille is their campaign manager. How can these two men think themselves well suited to represent our university: a community in which, statistically, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted?
The DeGravina campaign claims: “Our team knows that sexual assault and victim blaming are real issues facing college campuses. We want to offer both preventative education and protective legislation to combat these issues. First, we want to implement comprehensive education for ASU freshman to educate on consent, domestic violence, and how to be an active bystander when a potential situation for sexual assault/violences [sic] arises. Second, we will lobby the administration for an amendment to the ASU student code of conduct and disciplinary hearing procedures that makes victims’ dress and previous sexual conduct inadmissible in sexual assault hearings.” Source: https://www.facebook.com/notes/vote-degravina-2017/our-platform/469994239999297
If the DeGravina Ticket acknowledges that sexual assault and victim blaming are real, relevant issues, then how can they be taken seriously with two-thirds of their ticket guilty of silencing victims just three, short months ago? Why are two members of the ticket not being held responsible for their actions, and are instead poised to inherit positions of power?
It could be contested that the other two members of the ticket, Aundrea DeGravina and Rilee Robinson, aren’t aware of this situation, which is why they haven’t done anything to address the wrongdoings of their running mates. However, this is just not true: Aundrea DeGravina and Rilee Robinson are more than aware of Mr. Lille and Mr. Potter’s actions, and have continued to ignore them.
On Monday, March 20, Ms. DeGravina and Ms. Robinson both reached out the Breonn Peoples, who had witnessed all of Jacob Lille and Dayton Potter’s actions firsthand. Ms. DeGravina and Ms. Robinson then asked Ms. Peoples to meet with them because they were concerned about Mr. Potter’s actions. DeGravina’s message went as follows::
During that meeting, Breonn Peoples shared all of the information surrounding Mr. Ghazoul, Mr. Lille, and Mr. Potter with Ms. DeGravina and Ms. Robinson. After Breonn Peoples was finished talking, instead of asking how they could help, her audience immediately began discussing strategies to ensure that their campaign would not suffer. Instead of supporting one of the university’s constituents–me, whom they are aspiring to represent, they sought to erase an instance of victim blaming while professing the need for its acknowledgment.
I did not write this to sway your vote, or even to get you to vote at all. I am not voting in this election, and come next year, I will not be a member of USG-Tempe. I wrote this to shed light on a systemic network of problems deeply rooted in the cultural and political framework of Tempe campus: sexual harassment/assault and victim silencing. By allowing people who are more loyal to their ambitions than their constituents the opportunity to ascend to positions of greater political power in the future, we will never be able to address and correct the societal issues surrounding sexual assault. You may think that holding office in the Undergraduate Student Government isn’t really a big deal, but one thing always leads to another.
I was sexually harassed by someone in our government and silenced by the people who are trying to replace the executives who hired him. How can we empower women and support sexual assault victims if we allow people like this to represent us as a student body? How did they get here in the first place? I am baffled by how we are so ready to believe those people who are so desperate to further their own goals that they would contribute to an issue so caustic as victim silencing. I am baffled by how we are so ready to believe our friends. We make excuses, we say things like “I know them” or “They would never do that,” we leap to discredit the claims of victims in order remain loyal to our friends.
Be conscious of who you support and who you choose to represent you.