Senate confirms Torey McCleskey as AASU Assistant Director, sparks outrage


A tense atmosphere filled the Senate Chambers as the Senate voted Feb. 14 to confirm freshman Torey McCleskey as the assistant director of the African American Student Union.

The Senate voted 19-11-0 in favor of confirming McCleskey for the position after hours of debate on the matter.

Supporters and protesters divided the Senate chambers.

Members of AASU were vocal about their disapproval of McCleskey taking the position. Several members of the AASU Executive Cabinet, three former directors and the current director, Joanna Hillman, were present.

Hillman spoke in front of the Senate and said Student Body President Sitou Byll-Cataria’s choice was racially driven and unlawful.

“They [Byll-Cataria and Student Body Vice President Giovannie Medina] are using Torey as a white poster-child for diversity to fulfill their personal agenda of a multicultural agency,” Hillman said at the Senate meeting.

Hillman later said she believes the AASU’s true goal is promoting African-American culture, not black people. She said the student body, and even SG can often misconstrue this mission.

Many students felt the Senate disrespected them, said Brazil Fedd, a graphic design junior, especially Senate President Carlo Fassi. There was commotion when he commented on the attending members’ place in the proceedings.

“Well honestly, I wouldn’t take their [members of AASU present] judgment seriously,” Fassi said.

The appointment is ultimately the student body president’s call, not students’, he said.

Fedd, who spoke in front of the Senate, said Fassi’s comments appalled her, and she questions the Senate’s objectives.

“If that’s your main concern is to serve the students, why would you tell us to our faces that what we’re saying has no value?” Fedd said.

Sen. Curtis Pugh questioned McCleskey’s commitment during the meeting and said McCleskey sat in the back and left early during the AASU’s Black History Month proclamation event.

Fedd said she is skeptical about the number of AASU events McCleskey has attended and the extent to which he participated.

Osprey Productions Director Mike Naughton stood up to support McCleskey, saying McCleskey was fully competent for the role as AASU assistant director.

“When he [McCleskey] came in with his Osprey Productions application, he had a resume attached to it that was more impressive than mine at the time,” Naughton said.

Fassi said while addressing the Senate he trusts Byll-Cataria’s judgment in the welfare of the student body.

Student Body Vice President Giovannie Medina added that McCleskey played an important role in the success of the Reel Big Fish concert in October 2010 as the production assistant.

“I don’t see color when I interview candidates,” Medina said. “My principles aren’t based on that, how I was raised was not based on that,”

Medina said neither Byll-Cataria nor himself intends to turn AASU into a multicultural organization. But Hillman said statements Medina made have implied characteristics synonymous to a multicultural agency.

Many members, including Hillman and Fedd, have said McCleskey’s race is not the issue, but rather his qualifications.

McCleskey is a second-semester freshman and a member of Osprey Productions. He also received a runner-up position in a national competition between other Eagle Scouts in 2009.

McCleskey, along with Christa Merix, an advertising junior, and John Iyoyo, a mechanical engineering junior, were interviewed in front of an advisory board.

During the interviewing process, the advisory board unanimously suggested to Byll-Cataria he hire Merix for the assistant director position.

This is the first time Byll-Cataria has gone against what the advisory board has suggested, Hillman said. Byll-Cataria has the highest executive power and thus does not have to follow the suggestions of the advisory board.

In lieu of the backlash toward his hiring, McCleskey said he wants to try and mend bridges between the members of AASU and himself and show them he wants what is best for the agency.

McCleskey said he saw an opportunity to help an SG agency with a cause in which he really believes.

McCleskey would not comment on allegations that he received his position – in any part – due to his race.

During the Senate meeting, McCleskey tried to make light of the situation and explained he supports diversity.

“Variety is the spice of life,” he said, “and I like my food spicy.”