SGA President at the Center of COVID-19 Controversy
On Aug. 21, Mills failed to live up to the very policy for which he has been the figurehead.
Student Government Association (SGA) President Griffin Mills is the face of The Paladin Promise, the social contract at the center of Furman University’s COVID-19 response. Furman featured Mills in its required health and safety training video that students had to watch before returning to campus. Elissa Nadworny of NPR interviewed him earlier this month as part of her “College Road Trip” series. As recently as Aug. 18, Furman News released an article which claimed that “the immediate agenda for Furman’s 50th SGA president couldn’t be clearer: Do everything possible to keep people from contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus.” In the same article, Mills proclaimed, “I’m just going to step up to the challenge. It’s what I signed up for, so I’m ready.”
Only three days later, on Aug. 21, Mills failed to live up to the very policy for which he has been the figurehead. According to Mills, he and approximately 14 friends were gathered in a North Village apartment when Furman Police arrived on the scene. It was a clear violation of The Paladin Promise’s visitation policy, which states that in North Village apartments the “main shared living area occupancy will not exceed four people, and no more than four people will be in shared bedrooms, and no more than two people in private bedrooms at a time.”
In an interview with The Paladin, Mills explained that “on Friday night I made a very immature mistake” and expressed regret for his “lack of awareness.” Mills, however, was quick to point out that his mistake was unintentional. According to his account, he sat on the porch with a mask on for the entire night and hardly noticed as the gathering grew into a party of 15. Ultimately, he concluded, “it was just bad circumstances… I am human, I made a mistake. It wasn’t malice, it literally just happened.”
One week following the event, on Friday Aug. 28, Mills informed the student body of his “immature actions” from the previous weekend in a statement posted on the @FurmanSGA Instagram page. Notably, Mills only chose to be transparent with the student body that elected him after The Paladin contacted him about their knowledge of the story and intention to run a piece on Wednesday Aug. 26 at 3:30PM. Initially, in fact, Mills responded to The Paladin’s request for a comment by saying, “I don’t want you to include my attendance there because it's a lot more complex than that.”
Since Mills announced the news, some students have already begun to cast doubt on his telling of the evening. When asked if he believes Mills’ account, one Furman senior answered “Absolutely not. Having lived in North Village, I think it would be impossible not to notice that there were so many people inside of an apartment.” The student clarified, “I think it is important to give people grace and second chances, but he is the SGA President and should be held to a higher standard.” Another Furman senior who is currently in quarantine questioned why Mills is “so quick to stay in touch with the student body via email yet posted his apology on the SGA Instagram account with a mere 1000 followers?” She concluded, “Seems like a cop out to me.”
As students have taken to the comments section of the @FurmanSGA post to either call for Mills’ resignation or commend him for his honesty, Mills has continued to emphasize that he does not plan on resigning and is “more committed now than ever to being the person that can lead us through this.” He claims that he has learned his lesson and wants to encourage students that “we can’t be passive if we want to stay safe. We actually have to try.” Mills went on to explain that the student body has become “much more divided in the past few days” as student-reporting of Paladin Promise violations has led to “people feeling attacked and upset.” Mills concluded that it is important for students to understand what they “can do because they have been told so often what they can’t do,” summarizing that “it can’t go on like this, people are just not feeling welcomed here.”
Meanwhile, Mills drew a sharp distinction between his situation and the parties that occurred at the former Kappa Alpha Fraternity house on the same weekend, describing the events as “complete opposites.” Mills elaborated “that there just happened to be more than eight people in an apartment is not the same thing as a deliberate party with underage kids and people who were from on and off campus.”
In sum, Mills seemingly wants students to “stay focused that we’re in this together” in two important ways: first, by following the Paladin Promise and foregoing “deliberate” parties like those that occurred at the former Kappa Alpha fraternity house, and second, by giving other students the benefit of the doubt and talking to them before filing a LiveSafe report when they make “unintentional” mistakes like Mills and his friends. Whether students will support Mills in this mission and continue to trust in his leadership remains to be seen.