Amid harassment allegations, Butt withdraws from NISG race

Bennet and Struck now run unopposed after Butt and Hussain withdraw from the NISG presidential race.

EMMA'LE MAAS, Executive Editor

Following social media uproar and allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct, Muhammad Shamir Butt has withdrawn from the 2021-2022 NISG presidential race, along with his running mate Bilal Hussain. Running now unopposed are Samantha Bennett and Alisanne Struck.

In an interview with the Northern Iowan on Friday, Feb. 19, Bennett chose not to focus on Butt’s withdrawal, instead expressing her excitement for the road ahead.

“I firmly believe that if you’re a good person, and if you work hard, then that’ll come through in what you do, and people will know this, and that’s what keeps me hopeful,” she said.

Butt declined to comment following his withdrawal.

The accusations against Butt began circulating on Thursday, Feb. 18, when current NISG President Elle Boeding posted a statement on her personal website asking students not to vote for Butt due to his alleged history of harassment and sexual misconduct.

“Speaking truth to power is scary,” Boeding wrote. “But, the thought of not speaking my truth and not doing all I can to protect and inform UNI students is far scarier.”

Boeding wrote about personal experiences with Butt, spanning back to her own campaign in 2020. She described how she was campaigning in Maucker Union when Butt interrupted her explanation of their ticket’s plans for equity-based issues to ask, “Don’t you think students of color make everything about diversity? Don’t you think Black students think they should get all the attention?”

Boeding also focused on the campus environment which she feels enabled Butt. “I am sad that our campus has rewarded his behavior and ‘leadership,’ when in reality he has been the farthest thing from a leader,” she wrote. “I do not even hate him; really, I am indifferent towards him, but I am not indifferent towards this cause. For far too long on this campus, we have let bad men take and take and take — with no accountability. Shamir is a symptom of a system that is long broken, and this ends with me.”

Boeding also shared a call to action for students.

“I implore you to consider what you are looking for in a leader and evaluate carefully,” she wrote. “My values do not elect leaders who have crossed boundaries to make women feel unsafe. My values do not elect leaders who publicly claim social justice values, but in conversation disparage those advocating for change. Your vote matters. Your voice matters.”

In conclusion to her post, Boeding added the hashtag #SupportSurvivorsUNI, which received high attention from UNI students in the coming hours and days. At press time, the original tweet featuring Boeding’s post had over 108 retweets.

Several other students posted about their own experiences with Butt. These included opposing 2021- 2022 presidential candidate Samantha Bennett, who took to her own social media to recount harassment she had experienced in the past by Butt.

“I had an encounter with Muhammad Shamir Butt last year at an eating establishment on the Hill,” she wrote. “He was seated near the entrance, noticeably intoxicated, and upon seeing me immediately began to detail in crude language how he could get me to sleep with him if he wanted me to.”

Bennett wrote that she was “extremely uncomfortable” and immediately corrected Butt and declined his invitations. He asked for a hug, and even when she refused and stepped away, he got up and attempted to grab her.

“I had to walk around a table to put distance between us as he was not taking no for an answer,” Bennett wrote. “He then gave up in his pursuit shortly after and left, leaving me shaken up from the encounter.”

Following her statement, Bennett discussed her feelings while campaigning against Butt in this election.

“Since he entered this NISG race, I haven’t been able to enjoy the experience of running for Student Body President like I had hoped,” she wrote. “I am devastated that I have had to lose a part of this special experience… I am heartbroken for all the other individuals who have suffered because of this man as well. It will never be fair he has done this to us.”

Several campus groups, including the university’s Greek life organizations, responded to Boeding’s original post with statements supporting survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

NISG also released a statement Thursday evening outlining resources for survivors of assault and harassment, as well as their support for those who have spoken out.

“Northern Iowa Student Government has been made aware of recent allegations regarding a person involved in the election process. NISG strongly condemns sexual misconduct and commends those who have been speaking out and sharing their stories,” the post read. “We remain committed to the welfare of our students, although it is clear that we still have a long way to go to effectively combat sexual violence on campus and in the surrounding communities.”

Butt and his team have not responded to the allegations, but withdrew from the race on Friday, Feb. 19.

Although Bennett and Struck are now unopposed for the presidential and vice presidential positions, they still encourage students to vote, and vote for other positions as well.

“A lot of good can come from the people who hold these roles,” Bennett said. Following Wednesday’s debate, Struck and Bennett had a message for students as well.

“We truly care about every single student here at UNI,” Struck said. “We care about their experience and we can make them feel valued and cared for, but most of all, we can help them find a sense of belonging at UNI… We want students to feel completely cared for and represented.”

Struck also focused on the importance of representation and inclusion.

“It’s so important to Sam and I that we create an inclusive space, a space that students can just get a warm hug when they come to campus, because we want UNI to feel like somewhere students can look at and call their home,” she said.

Bennett wants to let students know their platform “is not set in stone,” and encourages students to reach out to them about the issues they’re facing.

“If there’s something students want to see on (the platform), we’re absolutely open to that,” she said.

As one of several UNI students who shared their stories of sexual harassment at the hands of Butt, Bennett has expressed the difficulty of campaigning against him in this season’s elections.

She and Struck both said their campaign had its low points, but their bond has kept them strong throughout the process.

“In the past few weeks, it has felt like sometimes Sam and I have been through the wringer and back,” Struck said. “Every time (we) need to step back, and just take a moment, every time we pick ourselves up out of what we’re going through, we always remember we are running because we love UNI and we want to show our service to students.”

“We have had our points where it is hard, and you do maybe get a little nervous and a little scared about what’s coming, but I think what has kept me hopeful despite those challenges is I know we have really put our hearts into this,” Bennett agreed.

She continued, “We have been working really hard on this for a long time because we know UNI deserves the best and we want to give that to them.”

The NISG elections will take place from Tuesday, Feb. 23 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 24 on MyUNIverse. Results will be released Wednesday around 7 p.m.