Save the Union

Grand Marshal Justin Etzine's Response to Dean of Students Travis Apgar's RAA Talking Points

by Justin Etzine ’18, 152nd Grand Marshal

The following is a response to Dean of Students Travis Apgar's Talking Points to RAA Board members:

From: Justin Etzine
Date: November 13, 2017, 10:46 PM
Subject: [RAA Board] Recent news around protests, the Student Union, and administration actions
To: RAA Board

Hi, all. I had tried to send this earlier today, but I’m hearing that it was never delivered to the Board. Please see the message below.


Dear RAA Trustees,

I have reviewed the ‘talking points’ document provided by the Dean of Students Office and SCER, which was sent to the Board earlier today. I believe it is my duty as Grand Marshal to provide insight into what I view as a dishonest attempt to delegitimize student concerns.

Firstly, and most alarmingly, the document quotes former Director of the Union Rick Hartt as saying that the process used by the Executive Board to “put forward the candidates they find acceptable” has always been a recommendation. This quote is used to justify the claim that the Union is running no differently “than it was two or five or ten years ago.”

However, this is not what Mr. Hartt said. In actuality, he explained how the “process was so student-driven from the get-go,” and that the group of students participating in the hiring process would ultimately submit a recommendation to the Executive Board. As he put it, “the Executive Board would vote to either approve or disapprove the recommendation. Now, there would be a number of people from student government who would be involved in that process. A lot of Executive Board members would be involved in that process, and those individuals who were involved would make that presentation to the Executive Board.” The claim that the Union is not run any differently than it was two, five, or ten years ago is not only inaccurate, but it serves to both downplay and undermine the extent of student governance that existed historically. For 127 years, the Union was—but is no longer—student-run. The student body wants to see their Union continue with a student-run future, and we have proposed means by which this can occur.

In another talking point, AVP Apgar references “several conversations” and an email sent from SCER on October 12 as proof of notice to the community that barriers would be established. I would like to note that not only was the email vague regarding the details of the “event boundary”—mentioning only that it was “near the south side of campus”—but also that the October 12 email didn’t arrive in my inbox until just before 4 pm that day, as was apparently the case for most students with whom I checked. As this amounts to no more than a day’s notice in advance of the peaceful demonstration while in the midst of a busy academic week on campus, I think it was unreasonable to expect most students to have viewed the email by October 13. Furthermore, prior to this, posters and social media in support of the capital campaign week had clearly advertised the best viewing location for the fireworks to be within the newly-established “event boundary,” and these posters and social media with conflicting information had been published and circulating for weeks. Expecting a very late notice about an event barrier—which makes no mention of the area being “restricted”—to become common knowledge literally overnight after weeks of promulgating a procedure that is directly contrary to the former seems unfair at best. I would also like to add that “leading” the demonstration is neither commensurate with moving the barrier nor encouraging crossing of the barrier.

Additionally, to AVP Apgar’s point about anonymity, I believe the students coordinating the “Save the Union” efforts are hiding behind anonymity for legitimate reasons, first and foremost being a concern for their academic safety. The students who have been adjudicated as “leading” the October 13 protest have been hit with steep judicial charges in response to their participation. As a student leader who has personally experienced frightening ramifications as a result of merely representing my peers—which has included comments from administrators explicitly referencing expulsion—I understand all too well from where their concerns stem.

Much of this so-called “twisted information” is no fault of the students; rather, the information being disseminated by students is supported by references, research, facts, and eyewitness accounts. Given this hard work, I have to commend my fellow classmates for their research and their fact-based points. If the administration continues to point to misinformation as a major issue for discrediting students’ concerns and marginalizing students’ voices, then I ask: what misinformation is being spread? What ulterior motives could students possibly have? If any recent situation would give rise to the question of ulterior motives, I would point to the choice of each and every administrator present at the capital campaign launch event to not approach a single protester and ask them to “modify their conduct so as to comply with regulations,” per the Rules for Maintenance of Public Order section of the Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities, especially considering the administration now unilaterally authors the policies in the Handbook.

Our nation is clearly in a state of political contempt, and a number of universities and cities have sadly fallen victim to viciously dangerous and destructive protests. In sharp contrast, our students demonstrated poise, respect, calmness, and inclusivity in their October 13th demonstration. This could have served as a fantastic opportunity for positive attention for RPI, given how refreshingly passionate yet respectful our students are. Unfortunately, it has become apparent that free speech is not a right afforded to current RPI students, let alone one that is celebrated.


Justin Etzine
152nd Grand Marshal
Student Body President
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute