At Tuesday’s Student Government Association meeting, Benjamin Halls, the class of 2014 senator, ran his fingers through his messy brown locks before raising his hand to make an amendment to a fundraising appeal. Before Halls’ comments, the appeal had gone unquestioned.
The request for money was from the Emerson Poetry Project, and called for an extra $400 to use as a gift for two volunteer coaches during an upcoming competition.
“I don’t know if a gift for volunteers is the best use of student activity funds,” said Halls in his recognizable English accent, making one of his signature objecting points.
After Halls’ questioning, the near 30 SGA participants began to nod and engage in conversation. Murmurs filled the previously silent room. A discussion continued, and the group eventually voted to keep the $400 in the appeal.
“I’m not comfortable with this,” said Halls as he rolled up the sleeves of his olive green shirt. The shirt was layered under another bright blue tee shirt with the word “Pong” written across the front. “But I’m not going to dig my heels in.”
Nicknamed the “contrarian” by his fellow SGA peers, Halls said he consistently plays the devil’s advocate at meetings to initiate more multi-faceted conversations.
“I never go out to be disruptive,” Halls said in an interview with a laugh between sips of his English breakfast tea. “I just really believe a true discussion has to include all sides.”
The nickname started as a joke that SGA President Tau Zaman wrote as a Facebook status, said Halls.
“I think he posted something like ‘omg Christmas is coming so early this year,’ to which I responded ‘Shut up, Christmas is magical,’” said Halls. The joke then carried over to meetings, according to Halls.
Halls is a junior writing, literature, and publishing major. He started at Emerson a few years later than most Emerson students, after working as a marketer and copyeditor in England for investment property and gambling websites, he said.
Although he is 25 years old, Halls said he is not the oldest student at the college.
“I’ve looked around; there are definitely a couple guys older than me,” he said, releasing a cackling laugh.
Halls left Stoke Poges, a small town of 4,000 people located west of London, for college last year. He said he hopes to pursue a career in writing, and eventually return to the United Kingdom as a teacher.
“I figure if I stay in England, nothing changes,” he said.
He said he became involved in student government after meeting members at an orientation event.
“I had a big chat with them and I was really impressed,” said Halls.
Last year, Halls served as the class of 2015 president. However, because of transfer credits from high school after his first semester he officially became a sophomore. He then joined the class of 2014 council.
Members of the SGA said they appreciate Halls’ adverse opinions in meetings.
“He brings a necessary controversial voice,” said senior journalism major and secretary Melyssa Cantor. “He always sticks to his guns. “
Class of 2013 President Jenna McPadden said Halls is helpful.
“SGA can get frustrating when we all just sit here and agree with each other,” said the marketing communication and writing, literature, and publishing double major. “Sometimes people seem to have a fear of voicing their opinions. Ben doesn’t have that fear.”
This year, Halls said he hopes to continue working on a security initiative that former Communication Studies Senator Abagael McCauley started before leaving for the Kasteel Well program. This initiative focuses on improving security alert systems by incorporating more phone calls and email updates, according to a copy of the initiative.
But not all of Halls’ behavior in SGA is serious and confrontational. Throughout Tuesday’s meeting, he laughed to himself and made jokes to members sitting around him. He picked up a camera and took pictures of himself, sticking out his tongue as he posed.
After the two-hour meeting ended, Halls waved goodbye to Cantor and said, “Well, I’m going to go smoke a cigarette and kick a kitten,” before leaving the multipurpose room.
And so the contrarian continues outside the meeting room.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mispelled Halls' hometown of Stoke Poges, London.