Title IX complaint filed against SGA President over social media posts he ‘liked’


Sean McInnis

Western Kentucky University Student Government Association President Cole Bornefeld (center) waits to speak during a judicial hearing regarding accusations of publicly endorsing transphobic comments through an Instagram post in Downing Student Union on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

Michael Crimmins, Administration reporter

A Title IX report was filed against Student Government Association President Cole Bornefeld for engaging in gender-based harassment on Feb. 19, according to an email obtained by the Herald.

“Student body president Cole Bornefeld, both as student regent and representative of the student body, has engaged/is actively engaging in gender-based harassment,” the Incident Report states.

According to the Student Conduct’s website, the definition of gender-based harassment “may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping, even if those acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature.”

The complaint draws its origins from Bornefeld’s “liking” Instagram posts that contained anti-transgender sentiments, according to the email. Information about who filed the Title IX complaint was redacted from the records the Herald received in response to a public records request.

This led Yulia “Julie” Mishchuk, SGA speaker of the senate, to request a Judicial Council hearing attempting to censure Bornefeld. The Judicial Council unanimously declined to censure Bornefeld during a public hearing on Feb. 17.

The four posts liked by Bornefeld, and obtained by the Herald, were posted on Turning Point USA’s Instagram and said such things as “roses are red, violets are blue, women don’t have penises,” “white privilege isn’t real,” “abortion is not healthcare” and “men can’t get pregnant, women can get pregnant, transwomen can’t get pregnant, transmen can get pregnant.”

“Bornefeld’s actions alone constitute gender-based harassment,” the complaint states. “By allowing someone in his position the ability to publicly broadcast these beliefs without repercussions, the university is making the broader statement that WKU is not a welcoming, and potentially even dangerous, environment for trans people.”

Jace Lux, university spokesperson, said in an email that the university does not comment on student conduct matters.

“The university generally does not comment on complaints made to the Office of Student Conduct,” Lux said. “WKU strives to be a welcoming place for all individuals while also respecting the free speech rights of all members of the campus community.”

Preston Romanov, SGA director of public relations, declined to comment on the complaint.

“President Bornefeld does not have anything additional to add. I point you back to his Judicial Hearing response on 2/17,” Romanov said in an email.

The complaint, sent to Student Conduct, seeks the removal of Bornefeld, a “public statement from WKU’s commitment to create a safe environment and a public apology from Bornefeld.” 

The removal of Bornefeld must be done through the impeachment process unless Bornefeld decides to step down from his position. 

According to the SGA Constitution, a “written endorsement of at least 20% of the Senate membership is required” for impeachment to move forward for an executive member who does not willingly step down.

“A final vote in a special session of the Senate may not be called until at least fourteen days after proceedings are initiated,” the Constitution states. “The impeachment procedure shall be by a two-thirds vote of the full membership of the Senate acting as a judicial body.”

An email sent the same day that the Title IX complaint was filed from “a very concerned alumni.” The email was redacted and contained similar language to the complaint. The sender said they graduated from WKU and knows a prospective student is transgender “who have expressed discomfort with what is happening.” 

“WKU students have taken this personally, particularly LGBT students and allies,” the email states. “I am 100% certain I would have been removed from office if [I] had taken the actions Bornefeld has chosen to take. In fact, I have spoken with former presidents Jay Todd Richey and Stephen Mayer about this, and they are just as shocked as I am that this is taking place.”

The incident report and the email also states that Bornefeld’s official response, which was published on Feb. 17 on the SGA Instagram, “is evidence” that WKU SGA has “officially taken the position that it is acceptable to hold these discriminatory beliefs about trans people.”

Administration reporter Michael Crimmins can be reached at [email protected].