In June 2018, SGA Chief Operating Officer Amanda Lachapelle spoke openly during a board meeting on how the office had become a hostile working environment since the election of the new SGA President, Tommi-Lee Gauthier.
After Lachapelle’s complaints, the SGA board of directors assembled a human resources team to help aid the internal disputes. Seven months later, SGA staff members are expressing that there has been no reconciliation, and that the situation has turned from “bullying” to “emotional and psychological abuse.”
Luke Robinson, SGA Residence Representative, said that “the atmosphere within the office is very unhealthy, very negative and unproductive.” Robinson currently sits on the SGA board of directors and represents all students, both in residence and students in general.
“I also happen to be a Pride executive for Pride Laurentian and I am the residence officiary, and once again represent students living in residence and acting as a peer mentor for any LGBTQ+ students living in residence for the 2018-2019 year” Robinson said.
“I know that even by speaking up like this I’ll become targeted by her, but this needs to be said” Robinson told Lambda. “[When facing criticism], [Gauthier] likes to hide behind an agenda of social justice.”
When asked about the current working environment and conditions within the SGA office, Robinson said that it is far beyond bullying.
“I would say at this point it’s emotional and psychological abuse, especially targeted towards certain members who have stood up or posed a threat to our president. I know that [the SGA] has taken steps to mediate the conflict/environment, and it just didn’t work and it has only gotten worse throughout this school year.”
“I know that the staff aren’t feeling valued by their executive team, and that they don’t feel as if though they can be productive in such an unhealthy work environment” Robinson continued.
‘Belittled’ by SGA president, board member claims
Recalling a past, personal experience, Robinson said that “the president has called [him] into the office and has talked horribly about [the staff], criticizing [their] work, calling [them] useless”.
“I know that there are members of board who don’t want to go into the office at all because they don’t feel safe, there are members of the executive who just do not take criticism well, and if they see you as someone who could potentially stand against you, they like to belittle you.”
“As someone who is just engaging within the SGA on the board level, it is a very tense environment, it is not healthy,” Robinson said.
“I don’t find that there is the degree of accountability within the executive team that there should be on our board. I find that when we ask questions we are often met with anger and resistance when we are just trying to do our job as a board member.”
Robinson recounted how Gauthier questioned him as to why he was sitting on the board in the first place, making him feel “belittled.”
“Me and many other students are just trying to get engaged within our school because as first and second year students we care about the future of our school, and we are often times met with questions— almost like an interrogation— of why we are getting involved. It is clear [SGA president] is not keen on fostering engagement from the younger students.”
“Quite frankly, I know that the staff have been working very well for the last two or three years and that something this year has changed and that the atmosphere within the board staff themselves is just negative and unsafe, so I am just wondering if there’s any way we can remove things that are impacting the SGA negatively and move forward to the amazing student association I know that it can be” Robinson said.
SGA President says accusations ‘not surprising’
When asked for comment, SGA President, Tommi-Lee Gauthier, told Lambda that she feels the feedback that she has been receiving all year from students and the general membership is typically positive.
“My philosophy is and always has been for the students and for the benefit of the students. In terms of the students and clubs that I work with such as Pride and ISC, the feedback has been really positive” Gauthier said.
“I had a student tell me that this their fourth year at Laurentian and that this year is the first time that they’ve seen the SGA really do stuff or be visible and active.”
“I was elected by the students, along with my VPs, based on our platform and our values, and we were elected to lead the student association. My job is to serve the students, the job of my VPs is to serve the students, and the job of the staff is to support us in serving the students.”
Despite all the positive feedback that she said she has received throughout the year, Gauthier doesn’t deny she has experienced her share of struggles.
“This year has been difficult in [some] ways, it’s been challenging for myself, but in terms of the SGA I’d argue that were having a really successful year so far. We have a fantastic working relationship with the other associations and we have a fantastic working relationship with the university.”
Gauthier said that she feels “comfortable in saying that communication issues within the SGA as a whole in terms of the governance and the operations is not a new issue.”
“In terms of myself being a called a bully, it’s not surprising. It has been a long time since there’s been a female president in office and an even longer time since there has been a full female executive team.”
“I have a very strong personality [and] people tend to be intimidated by me. I make a point to be as open and as inviting as possible with people and reiterating that I’m here to listen. If you have constructive criticism for me-any feedback- I can’t improve unless you come talk to me” she said.
Gauthier said that “[as] with most systems there’s systemic oppression and systemic sexism and [she] argues that that is present in the SGA”.
“Realistically if we look at the pattern over the last five years, there have been three impeachments. There’s a theme here. The people that have been impeached have mental health issues [or] strong personalities. I struggle with mental health and that’s not something that I’m going to hide, that’s part of my life.”
“In terms of the office and the board [of directors], that is an internal issue” Gauthier said. “If there was really anything [negative] happening there would be an investigation by the university’s HR [department] and there hasn’t been in the past, and there isn’t one currently.”
“This really isn’t something that’s appropriate for people to drag out into media and I’m above commenting on that. If there is something that needs to be resolved, it will be resolved. I maintain a good working relationship with the employees in the office.”
“In politics, people will say things about you. Some will be true, and some won’t. That’s the reality of this situation,” Gauthier added.
“I think the students deserve better than what they’re getting and I’m here to give them better. I stand up for what I believe in, when I’m advocating for something that I believe in, which is student rights, I’m a force to be reckoned with and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.”