The Crimson White

Reflecting on FYC gate, one year later

Tray Smith

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One year ago this Sunday, Grant Cochran resigned as The University of Alabama’s Student Government Association president. He was the first SGA president to resign in over 60 years and stepped down in the midst of an investigation into the selection process for the SGA’s First Year Council, a freshman leadership forum within the student government.

I was one of the lead Crimson White reporters on the story, and I was tasked with unearthing the details behind the FYC scandal. The ensuing course of events taught me a lot about reporting, but I also learned a lot about the fallacy of some of my own narrow mindsets and the impact those mindsets can have on other people.

As a freshman, I served on FYC, and as a member of the CW editorial board my sophomore year, I forged a consensus against endorsing Cochran’s opponent in that year’s SGA election. It was the second election cycle in a row in which the CW did not endorse an SGA presidential contender, which surprised many who expected the editorial board to live up to its long history of endorsing the non-Machine candidate.

Grant Cochran was a good candidate, though, and he had an admirable track record of SGA service and a solid platform for what he hoped to accomplish in office. The story that came out in the days leading up to and the months following his resignation is best understood not as an indictment against him, but as a crude reminder of the corrupting influences of power and the disastrous consequences of the senseless divides that still exist in too many parts of our campus.

We now know that, as SGA officials screened FYC applications, they changed at least one applicant’s Grade Point Average, and that applications were marked to ensure that candidates from certain greek houses were selected. In the end, six more SGA officials stepped down as the investigation continued.

The details of that investigation were tucked away in the vaults of the University’s Judicial Affairs office, so we do not really know who did what.

It is doubtful, though, that Cochran, or any of the others, did anything that had never been previously done. They may have been sloppier at it; the process may have been more blatantly biased. But the First Year Council was created by greeks in the SGA, and for years it was used as a tool to breed more greeks for SGA involvement.

FYC-gate brought the appalling details of that cycle to light, but it was the inevitable result of a broader culture that pits certain students against one another the moment they step on campus. Viewing the scandal in this context does not excuse the wrongdoing that was committed, but illustrates the consequences that occur when we start to think it is acceptable to elevate ourselves, and people like us, over peers who are different.

Ironically, student leaders who act on that mentality end up hurting the students they are most trying to help. Greek students stacking the cards against non-greek students have a pretty disparaging view of their own community if they think its members cannot succeed through fair and open competition. Students who do rightfully deserve a place in premier programs suffer the most when a process unfairly corrupted in their favor taints their accomplishments. The same would be true of any student group that received unmerited privilege.

As a greek Crimson White reporter, though, sometimes I felt that these larger lessons were lost in the flurry of articles we produced in the aftermath of the FYC scandal. Too often, our stories were seen as fitting into the same tired narrative of The Crimson White against the student government, and we were seen as overenthusiastic reporters trying to break the next story.

The reality on our end was far more complicated, as I assume it probably was for many of the individuals inside the SGA. Calling fellow students, many of whom I knew well, to ask why they gave up their lofty student government office and repeatedly asking University administrators for more information was hardly a fun exercise.

The result, though, is a story we can all learn from – even those of us who helped write it.

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Reflecting on FYC gate, one year later