Editor’s Note: The vice president of Associated Student Government, Michaela Todd, senior communication and political science major, sat down with The Bulletin Wednesday morning for an interview about her Facebook post that used the term “illegal alien.”
The post endorsed Kris Kobach for governor, and said Kobach would “put Kansans first, not illegal aliens.” It was initially a public post, made on Todd’s personal Facebook account. Todd later deleted it.
The interview was conducted in the ASG President’s Office. In attendance, in addition to Todd, were Abigail Ponce, photo editor of The Bulletin and junior math education major, and Allie Crome, managing editor of The Bulletin and junior English and journalism education major. Crome conducted the interview.
A full transcript appears below.
Allie Crome: Alright, and so for my first question. So what was your intent behind making the original Facebook post?
Michaela Todd: So, my original intent was, you know, it was election day, everybody was being really vocal about, you know, who they were supporting and like just to encourage everybody else to go out and vote, and that was exactly, you know, what I wanted to do too. I wanted to show, you know, that I was involved with my local government, and that I cared about it, and that this is the person that I was supporting and these were the reasons why I believe he’s a good fit for Kansas and, yeah, so just showing, you know, that I care about Kansas and that like I was being involved, so.
AC: And so, what is your response to students saying that the terminology “illegal alien” is insensitive and dehumanizing?
MT: I was really, I was taken very off-guard, I was very shocked. I definitely, after listening to what the students had to say, when I met with them with the Diversity and Inclusion Committee last week. I definitely understand where they’re coming from and, like I said last week, it was never my intent to offend or hurt anybody and I’m very sincerely sorry that that happened and that it occurred, because as the vice president I do want to represent all of the students and so I’m hoping that we can learn from this situation and it’ll make me a better leader and that I’ll be able to do a better job by the students.
AC: And so, on kind of the same note, what does “illegal alien” mean to you? What did you mean when you were using that term?
MT: I was using the term because that is what was used for the platform that I was supporting. I knew that it was a legal term that was used in the federal government and here in Kansas, like it’s just a legal term that they use. The university uses it as a legal term regarding, you know, different human resources stuff, so I was simply using it as a legal term and I thought it was correct for what I was talking about.
AC: And so, at that time, what was the definition of the legal term?
MT: The definition of the legal term I think was, “any foreign person coming into a country,” you know, someone like not from there or something, yeah. I’m not sure what exactly it was, but it was like any foreign person from that land or country.
AC: And so, that was the definition that you were using?
AC: Alright. And so, why did you choose not to resign on Monday, despite calls from senators and student body members to do so?
MT: The first, there’s a lot of reasons. The main reason was I felt that, when I posted my post on social media, I was doing it as an individual, as a Kansan, I wasn’t doing it as the vice president of ASG. And when you’re in a position like this, you know, you do have to separate your position and your personal life, and you’re able to, you know, say what you believe in and stuff when you’re not in your position, and I felt that I wasn’t. I wasn’t representing, I wasn’t saying that I was the vice president or anything, I was just “hey, I’m Michaela, this is who I’m supporting.” So, when people were saying that I couldn’t post that and I couldn’t say I wanted to, what I believe in, I felt like they were infringing on my First Amendment rights and what, saying that, you know, I couldn’t say that. So that was the main reason. The second reason was also, I want to do better by the student body and I want to learn from this and grow and understand, you know, where other people are coming from and to be able to be a better representative for ESU. And also, there were a lot of students that came out in support of me and they were feeling attacked for supporting me and I also felt I had a right to stand up for them also since they were standing up for me, so.
AC: And so, had you previously mentioned on your Facebook that you were the ASG vice president?
MT: Not, it’s not in my bio or anything, the only time I think I did was maybe when we won the election back in May. But it’s not something I have on my Facebook bio or anything.
AC: And so, you also said that you’ve learned, and you’ve grown…
[Todd’s phone begins to ring]
MT: Is that mine? I am so sorry. I have no idea what that is. I’m so sorry.
AC: No, that’s good.
MT: Oh my gosh. I am so sorry.
AC: No, that’s fine. Sometimes things like that happen, no worries. So, you said that you’ve learned and you’ve grown from this experience. What kind of things have you learned from it?
MT: Just getting to hear the students’ point of views that were hurt by what I said. It’s hard to know everybody on campus, even though we are a small campus, so it also opened up communication pathways between me and some constituents that I hadn’t been able to connect with before. And so, I’ve been able to meet with them and talk with them, and they share, you know, like their past and, you now, what they believe in. And I’m able to share, you know, what I want do in this position for them. So, I think that’s the main thing, it’s helped me connect with the students, even though it’s not exactly the best way, you know, you want to connect with the students. It’s been able to open up communication pathways between them and me, so.
AC: And so, what steps do are you going to take in the future to represent all the students at Emporia State?
MT: I think, like I said, being able to talk with the students. We, it’s hard to say, you know, like “oh, we’re going to make, we’re going to like, make this bill” or something because the bills and resolutions that the senators bring forth, they bring forth because the students say “this is what they want.” And so, as the vice president, I think the best way to represent students is to just talk with them. I think face-to-face talking is much better than, you know, reading, you know, stuff from like Facebook and from, you know, newspapers and everything, because that human connection makes us remember, you know, we’re all human, we all have different beliefs and we all want, ultimately, we all want us all to strive and to achieve greatness like through ESU. And while it’s very rocky right now between students, I think, ultimately, it’s going to bring us together. I don’t think the community that we love here at ESU, I don’t think that’s going to be tarnished, I think it’s just going to make us stronger. You know, families fight so, but they’re still families, and I do believe that ESU is still going to be a family after this, so.
AC: And so, do you consider ESU, and the student body here, a family to you?
MT: I do, you know. Families, families fight, families disagree and don’t agree on everything, but I know that all the students here want to achieve and to go on and do greater things, and I am here to help them along the way in this position, and that’s what I want to continue to do.
AC: And so, what is the one thing you think the biggest thing people are misunderstanding about this situation?
MT: That’s a good question. I think, I think it goes back to not knowing who people are and what their intentions are. Because when people were criticizing my leadership, it was coming from people that I felt didn’t know me very well, and, you know, that could’ve been on my part, you know, I wasn’t reaching out to them and showing them leadership, which is something that I will work on. But I think just judging a book by its cover is definitely something, like it goes for both sides, you know, just judging somebody by their Facebook post or something, knowing that, you know, actions speak louder than words, so.
AC: If there was one thing that you could tell people, what would it be?
MT: That I am still dedicated to being a representative for the student body, that I want to finish out what I started and I want to make ESU a better place for the students now and the future.
AC: And so, Goal Five of the University Inclusion statement, or, the University Inclusion Plan, is “to create a campus climate culture that embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Do you believe that your post was representative of that value?
MT: I think so because diversity and inclusion also goes towards diversity of thought, which is something that we need a lot of in today’s society, because the way, you know, our society is, it’s very divided. And, it’s hard to achieve things with just one point of view, and so being able to have diverse conversations with people that have different beliefs than you, that’s how you come together and you compromise and that’s how you find solutions to stuff. So, I think being able to have diverse conversations that will help us here at ESU, and then will also help us when we get out into the real world and have to diverse conversations with people that don’t think the same way we do, so.
AC: And so, does ASG have any plans right now to start opening up diverse conversations? Having any type of meeting or plan about that?
MT: Definitely. I think Michael and I want to work a lot with the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and also with our Campus and Community Relations Committee, because they’re to connect the campus and the community and everything. We, at the beginning of our term, Michael and I wanted to provide more town halls and more, you know, roundtable discussions, that’s something we haven’t been able to achieve so far in this semester, but it’s something that we’re definitely planning on doing and just creating more opportunities for students to come and talk with their senators and to talk with us, so.
AC: Okay, and so, for my last question here, so considering Kris Kobach’s efforts towards voter suppression and then the behavior of his supporters at the watch party in Topeka, are you still comfortable calling yourself a Kris Kobach supporter?
MT: I’m not aware of what happened in Topeka, so I’m not sure what that is.
AC: The thing in Topeka was the supporters singing the death to Laura Kelly song.
MT: Oh, I was not aware of that. I would say I am a supporter of Kansas. Now that it’s over, I still have my beliefs and like, that’s always going to be part of me. But overall, I want Kansas to achieve and through our democratic process, you know, the candidates that won, won, and I want Kansas to achieve, so I am going to be supportive of whoever is in office to make the decisions that help better Kansas, so.
AC: Alright, I think that was all of my questions. Is there anything else you would like to add, anything else I should know about this?
MT: No, I don’t think so.
AC: Alright, well thank you so much for meeting with me. I really appreciate it.
MT: Thank you.