Reintroducing Student Government Association

By Alexandra Kukulka

Columbia has had a Student Government Association for more than a decade, but the organization, along with many other campus groups, struggles to grab students’ attention. However, it’s still pushing to be a voice for the student body, according to SGA President Cassandra Norris.

Norris, a senior journalism major, said she believes that approximately 40 percent of the campus doesn’t know the organization exists, and many of its Senate seats are currently vacant. Because the SGA primarily works with the administration to advocate for students rather than hosting major events, it often remains in the shadows.

“[The SGA] is not an event organization,” said Kendall Klitzke, a junior television major and SGA executive vice president. “A lot [of the organization’s] work is done in meetings with departmental chairs advocating for students … and not big spectacles, so it can be easy for [the SGA] to go unnoticed

by students.”

According to Norris, the SGA is broken down into four types of members: the executive officers, departmental senators, senators- at-large and general members. The executive board makes all final decisions and departmental senators communicate with the chairs of their assigned departments to discuss student concerns. Senators-at-large represent the voice of the entire campus, which is important for the organization when there are open seats, Norris said.

With only 18 of the 30 seats filled this year, Norris said effectively representing students from each major is a challenge, but the organization focuses on the student body from a wider perspective.

“[The SGA] has more of a focus on the whole [campus] sometimes than the individual departments just because of the nature of our small Senate,” Norris said. “It’s easier to focus on everyone than only five departments because it is the only fair way to do it.”

Norris said the organization has more members during the beginning and middle of the semester, and vacancies are common toward the end of the semester. She said that many members leave because they can no longer afford to attend Columbia, don’t have time for the extra work or have scheduling conflicts with outside jobs. Norris said she is working with her senators-at-large to make up for the vacancies.

Aldo Guzman, director of student engagement who has worked with the SGA for four years, said vacancies have been common for the organization since he started.

“It would be great if a representative from each academic department was in the Senate, so when the Senate is having its conversations, it is truly speaking for the entire student body,” Guzman said.

The SGA’s presence re-emerged on campus during last year’s prioritization process when it worked with the administration to provide a platform for student input on department recommendations. Norris said the overall perception of the organization is a positive one, especially after the last process, because it effectively represented the voice of the student body.

“In light of that negative publicity that Columbia received [during prioritization], SGA was taken to the forefront, not by choice, but we’ll take it,” Norris said.

Dashiell Bark-Huss, a senior fashion studies major, said she learned more about student government and its role on campus through prioritization. She said she noticed that many students disliked the SGA after last year, but she personally admired the organization’s involvement.

“I think people thought [The SGA] was sucking up to the administration, more so than being the voice of the students, but I really respected that [the SGA] let us email the recommendations in,” Bark-Huss said.

Hristo Mintchev, a senior music major, said he was unaware of the organization and believes it could do more to reach out to students.

“[The SGA] is not giving students enough incentive for students to push for initiatives … or information to get involved,” Mintchev said.

Klitzke said the organization reaches out to students through the Student Loop email and its website.

Norris said she believes that students may not pay enough attention to the organization’s efforts.

“The information is out there,” Norris said. “Whether students choose to absorb it or not is entirely on them.”

Forrest Frazier, former vice president of The Renegades, Columbia’s athletic association, said the SGA plays a key role on campus.

“As much as [students] criticize the SGA for not being involved with the student body, when students do reach out to them, it does a really good job at getting back to them,” Frazier said.

Frazier, who is also a senior film & video major, suggested that the SGA could find a way to broadcast campus updates and events to students’ televisions in the dorms.

To become more visible on campus, the SGA has been working on expanding its social media presence and getting involved in events such as the Nov. 6 Presidential Party, at which the organization partnered with 20 other campus groups to cater to more than 300 students in attendance, Guzman said.

The SGA is also participating in a global poster campaign, Fashion Against Bullying, which advocates against bullying based on an individual’s appearance. The organization has hung posters of professionals who face this challenge around campus, Norris said.

The SGA also partnered with other local colleges such as DePaul University to initiate a textbook petition that asks students to sign letters to local legislators to lower the cost of textbooks. As of press time, the organization has collected 170 signatures, according to Norris.

Despite the lack of involvement, the SGA’s mission to work in the best interest of students is unwavering, she said.

“[The SGA] is not an organization that operates based on what people think of it,” Norris said. “[It] operates based on what needs to be done.”