On Feb. 18, screenshots of messages in group chats including members of the USC chapter of Turning Point USA were shared on social media.
The messages in the group chats include homophobic slurs along with racist and sexist rhetoric.
The now-deleted screenshots were posted by second-year international relations student and Speaker of the Student Senate-Elect Noah Glasgow.
The screenshots, according to Glasgow, were of conversations during a student senate debate over two pieces of legislation — one recommending the university end its mandatory mask mandate and the other to recommend the university’s pause on standardized testing enrollment requirements be made permanent.
Some of the discriminatory comments, including the slurs, were directed towards student senators participating in the debate. Others were in reference to the legislation.
One of the accounts seen participating in the group appeared to feature the full name and profile picture of Anna Kelley, a student senator and chair of the health and safety committee.
The screenshots included two group chats: One named “Turning Point USA” and another named “mask legislation.” Though discriminatory remarks were made in both chats, the homophobic slurs were only seen in the screenshots of the mask legislation group chat — which is the chat the profile appearing to be Kelley can be seen participating in.
In the screenshots, Kelley appears to like a message saying there are “too many women and feminine men in the (senate) body” and can be seen sending several messages in the group chat. She does not appear to directly interact with or respond to any of the homophobic slurs or racist remarks.
Addressing the senate on Feb. 23, Kelley said she created the legislation group chat but did not see it as her responsibility to control the comments made in the chat at the time.
Kelley said that she was not paying attention to the other messages in the chat — including the slurs directed towards another senator — when she was sending messages.
"I do not take responsibility for the hateful words used. Not only were they not my own, but they don't reflect my own heart. The thing I would do differently if I could go back in time is defend my friend. For my inaction, I am ashamed," Kelley said.
Kelley said she took the comment about there being "too many women and effeminate men" as a joke and she could not know if the intent of the author of the message was the same.
In her statement, Kelley apologized to the senator who had been the subject of the slurs and said the situation "should have been handled between friends."
Members of USC's Turning Point USA, a conservative student political organization, attended the senate meeting that was discussed in the group chats. During her statement to the senate on Feb. 23, Kelley confirmed she had invited the members to attend the meeting to take part in the democratic process.
“A recent controversy has come to our attention concerning screenshots of some comments that a few of our members made. These remarks have no place being made in our organization or here on campus or anywhere for that matter,” Dylan Baldassarre, the president of USC’s Turning Point chapter, said in a now-deleted video posted to the group’s Instagram on Friday, Feb. 18.
Baldassarre said the organization stands against prejudice and discrimination.
In a direct message sent from the group's Instagram to The Daily Gamecock on Friday night, Baldassarre said “action would be taken against those involved.” Requests for further information have gone unanswered.
“We want to always encourage a respectful, civil discussion. This week, we failed at that, and I as the president of course bear some of that responsibility. It is my promise to you that we will strive to be better and move past this and create a better future for our university and for our chapter,” Baldassarre said in the Instagram video.
Turning Point’s Instagram was later deactivated after the statement was released, before being reactivated, as of Feb. 21, as a private account, with the apology statement apparently taken down.
Glasgow said he was sent the screenshots by a member of the group during the student senate debate. He said he posted them because he felt the comments should be exposed and he did not believe the university would adequately handle the situation.
“I'm just really disappointed that there are members within my organization, in an organization that's supposed to represent all students, that would not disavow and that would openly encourage this kind of stuff. It is completely unacceptable,” Glasgow said in an interview with the Daily Gamecock on Feb. 18.
Glasgow deleted the screenshots from his Twitter on Feb. 22. He said he decided to remove the post after having multiple conversations with leadership and receiving a personal apology from Kelley that he felt was genuine. He said he stood behind his decision to publicize the comments and that those still angry were valid.
Jada Hudson, one of the student senators who co-sponsored the standardized testing bill, says she believes in creating a student body that is representative of everyone in South Carolina.
“I think that we need to push and advocate for women leaders, for feminine men to be leaders, I think that that sort of representation is good,” Hudson said. “Turning Point is not going to stop me from being a student leader, I'll say that.”
Hudson also warned against using the situation as a prop for Student Government campaigns, after several Student Government candidates posted responses to the screenshots on social media.
The messages prompted many reactions on social media from students, Student Government officials and campus organizations.
Glasgow said there have been responses detailing how these messages reflect the experience of many minority students at the university.
In a statement university spokesperson Jeff Stensland provided to The Daily Gamecock on Feb. 23, the university said it had received multiple complaints in regards to the messages in the screenshots and had begun "the process of exploring the allegations." The statement said federal privacy laws prevented the university from sharing any further details.
"On our campus, Constitutionally protected speech is never infringed upon. We do wish to remind all students that civil discourse, which is central to our university’s values and mission, should be rooted in respecting the dignity of all persons, while striving to learn from differences in people, ideas and opinions," the statement said.
The university said it could facilitate constructive dialogue between the affected parties and that these parties had "already begun that process."
USC’s NAACP Chapter released a statement suggesting the university censure or dissolve Turning Point and that Kelley no longer be a part of the student senate.
Glasgow said that though he had personally forgiven her, he still hoped Kelley would resign.
Current Speaker of the Student Senate, Morgiana McDevitt, said “very, very serious” conversations were being had within senate as well as with university administration to decide on a course of action. McDevitt said the first she saw of the screenshots was when they were posted on social media.
“What's tough about when things are posted to social media and brought to the attention of the public, is the public then asks for a response, many different responses, without knowing oftentimes the context of what actually happened, or what can happen,” McDevitt said. “There's no laws being broken that are constituted and written down in our codes that can really guide anything but growth and learning from what happened.”
McDevitt said she was taking the issue very seriously and that she has had “probably some of the hardest conversations of my life” in the days since the screenshots were released.