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VP Catalano under fire: Calls for GSG resignation grow amid union backing controversy

A building with two spires sits on a grassy piece of land with water to its front.
Graduate College.
Angel Kuo / The Daily Princetonian

On the evening of May 11, Christopher Catalano GS, Vice President of the Graduate Student Government (GSG), sent an email to all University graduate students. 

His message, issued just days before a vote to finally decide the issue of graduate student unionization, consisted of a single call to action: Catalano urged students to vote in favor of establishing a union for graduate students in the then-upcoming election, writing that he was “frustrated by the monumental effort that it takes for us to move Princeton’s administration to make even minor change.” Catalano did not respond to requests for comment.


Although Catalano’s message was ultimately ineffective to the unionization cause, as the vote failed, it did not go unheard or unnoticed. Backlash in response to his statement quickly grew in the days after his email and continues, bringing his position within the GSG under scrutiny with calls mounting for his resignation.

In the 24 hours after Catalano’s email, the GSG Executive Committee sent two separate emails from the official account stating that the message sent by Catalano was a reflection of “his own opinions and feelings towards the unionization of graduate students and should be taken as such.”

They also noted the email was not approved by the Executive Committee — the central body that, according to the message, remained committed to neutrality on the issue. The Assembly, a larger body consisting of representatives from all academic departments and other recognized programs, would be free to express an opinion.

Paola Moscariello GS, the GSG’s International Student Affairs Officer, told The Daily Princetonian that, in the wake of the email, Catalano excused himself from that week’s executive meeting so the rest of the board could discuss paths forward. According to Moscariello, many present voiced that Catalano should face consequences, as the email affected “the thoughts that people have in the neutrality of the board and in the resources and the power being used in a correct way.” 

She told the ‘Prince’ that, as a result, the majority of GSG members believed in the need for a special assembly and also agreed to ask Catalano to voluntarily resign. 

Catalano contested this version of events during the extraordinary session, writing in the meeting’s Zoom chat that he had not received a request for resignation and claimed that Moscariello was expressing personal animosity.  


Around the same time, Camila Llerena-Olivera GS, an Assembly member, presented a formal request for an extraordinary session to the Assembly, which was soon granted by Amari Tankard GS, President of the GSG.

The meeting took place on Zoom on May 21, and around 130 graduate students were in attendance. Tankard wrote in a statement to the ‘Prince’ that extraordinary sessions were “uncommon and unprecedented for the last three years,” but that she decided to hold one due to the many opinions held by graduate students on Catalano’s position.

At the meeting, Catalano was given the floor first, starting with a statement apologizing for sending the email. “I was mistaken to do that, I was wrong to do that … and I’m very sorry for the disruption and the confusion that this has caused,” Catalano said.

He went on to explain that he acted in response to demand for members of the GSG to speak on unionization, providing a screenshot that was sent in the GSG Slack. 

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“We deal with a lot of the same issues that the union was trying to deal with, and so I thought it would make sense under the purview of my office to issue a statement to the student body in a similar way that [Vice President for Campus Life] Calhoun issues statements to Princeton. I believe it’s part of the role of elected officials to make statements of this kind, and I believe I was elected for that purpose to represent the student body,” Catalano said. 

Catalano acknowledged that, in sending the message without prior authorization, he violated a standing rule of GSG. The body’s standing rules, as posted on the GSG website state that “All mailings sent to the list shall be approved by the Executive Committee.” Catalano claimed that he had initially misinterpreted the rule, as he had believed “the rule applied to the email account, not the listserv.” 

Furthering his defense, Catalano argued that this was not the first message sent without approval by the GSG: “On March 19, there was an email sent without approval from the GSG email account with the subject line, ‘Today’s Event: Nowruz Celebration.’ There was some discussion in the board about this email as well, but nothing like what we've seen with my email.”

Later in the meeting, Tankard said that this event reminder was a follow-up to a previously approved communication. Jan Ertl GS also saw this as a different situation, saying in an interview with the ‘Prince’ that “I think to compare those two is utterly inappropriate, because one was also a violation of rules, but the intent was quite different … To send a reminder seems very different than an email that is actively trying to sway an election.” Ertl had lost a close election to Catalano earlier in the year.

Also of concern was whether or not the GSG Constitution had been violated, as clause seven of Article XII states that “The GSG is not a labor union, and shall not participate in or lend support to industrial action.” Catalano disputed claims that he had violated this rule, saying that he “acted as an individual and never intended to speak on behalf of GSG. I believe that this clause applies to GSG as a body, not to individual officers.” He also acknowledged that other members of the executive board felt differently about his making a statement, and he committed to abiding by neutrality moving forward. “This won’t happen again, is what I need to say. But I’m sorry that it did happen.” 

Catalano also spent a significant portion of his speech defending his past record on the board, referencing campaign promises like advocating for housing and more comprehensive meal plans for graduate students.

A skeptical crowd

Graduate students were next given time to speak. Though this was meant to be an open forum, many sought answers directly from Catalano and the Executive Committee. The meeting had a much higher attendance than normal assembly meetings of 20–30 students, contributing to general disorganization. Some speakers’ questions were not answered and several votes were held without proper parliamentary procedure.

Jacob Votava GS said that part of the inherent disorganization of this meeting was because “A lot of people just want to push their opinion across. These meetings aren’t designed for 120 people coming into a Zoom call, they’re designed for 20 people in a room to have a discussion.”

Toward the end of the meeting, there was an effort to extend discussion time by 10 minutes to accommodate the high volume of participation, but the vote failed. 

Several students saw this issue as one that set an unclear standard in terms of holding individual opinions. However, most viewed the issue as a misuse of power in using the GSG platform to advocate for a controversial cause.

Votava, for instance, said that “[Catalano’s] apology comes 10 days after an incident that happened right before an election, I think it represents a clear attempt to influence the election of your peers … that’s an abuse. I think that my main question to you is what material change — for example resignation and changing some policy, perhaps giving up some of the extra money you get from being a GSG member — will you make to regain your constituents trust?”

Ertl expressed similar sentiments in an interview with the ‘Prince.’ “I think a lot of students have lost faith in the neutrality of GSG. And again, it’s perfectly fine for people to have private opinions and offer them on Slack; it’s about using GSG resources to send a mass email to everyone.” 

Rebekah Rashford GS, on the other hand, said that “I think that a mistake was made … but I think that the things that he’s done to help graduate students [have] been helpful.” Rashford also suggested that in order to build trust, Catalano would perhaps need to commit to resigning after another incident.  “I think that trust, at least for me, starts again with: Okay, you said you won’t do it again. So you can keep doing your job. But then we’ll watch it, and then if anything happens again, then that’s immediate resignation.”

Catalano himself saw resignation as “not proportional.”

Tensions within the executive committee were also highlighted. Victoria Bergbauer GS, the Communications Director, explained that “in the communication strategies, we have been neutral,” but felt that after the email, many students no longer feel represented by the board. Further, in response to a question from Michael Schwoerer GS about whether or not the board could have “a productive working relationship with [Catalano] moving forward as vice president,” Moscariello said that she had considered resigning because she had lost trust in the GSG.

Moving forward

The assembly will have a short period of time to consider their options. Llerna-Olivera, in an email sent on May 17, shortly after Tankard granted the extraordinary session, suggested temporary suspension, the formation of an investigation committee, and future amendments to GSG rules, among other points, for addressing both Catalano’s specific violation and preventing future cases. 

According to the GSG bylaws, there are two methods of recall: an Assembly-initiated trial or petition. If at least 10 percent of the Graduate Student Body signs a petition for recall, then “the Assembly shall hold a separate Judicial Proceeding as outlined in the Constitution and By-Laws.” Currently, a letter is circulating calling for his resignation, with 30 named signatories at the time of this article’s publication.

The letter states: “If [Catalano] does not resign voluntarily, we will later contact the signers of this letter as part of a petition under By-Laws Sec. 8, which will be a separate document and will result in judicial proceedings if 10 percent of the student body signs, or suspension if 2/3rds sign”

However, the time to act is limited for a recall, as the by-laws also state that a trial is “to take place not more than one month after the original complaint is brought to the attention of the Assembly.” Though the specific “complaint” is up for interpretation, any judicial action will likely need to be taken before the end of June.

Ultimately, some students believed that the meeting was a missed opportunity for more in-depth discussion. Moscariello, for instance, felt that a better conversation would be had “the executive board had started with a statement to summarize what had happened and what we think on this. What happened was that only Chris was given time to speak basically and he gave a version that is his version and biased and people were unclear of what was going on.” 

Llerena-Olivares, the Assembly member who had requested an extraordinary meeting in the first place, wrote to the ‘Prince’ that though she “was hoping that the meeting could provide a clear overview on students' thoughts regarding the email and potential ideas on how GSG could regain the trust of the general public,” the meeting felt unfinished. 

“I understand that personal obligations from other folks could have been a contributing factor to ending the meeting on-time. However, I wonder how the meeting would have played out if those extra 10 minutes were approved or if the meeting itself had been originally scheduled for 1.5 hours.”

Christopher Bao is an assistant News editor and the accessibility director for the ‘Prince.’ He is from Princeton, N.J. and typically covers town politics and life.

Meghana Veldhuis is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’ She is from Bergen County, N.J. and typically covers faculty and graduate students.

Please send any corrections to corrections[at]

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