The Importance of an Effective Student Government Association: Unhurried Conversations as a Vehicle of Civic Responsibility

By Taylor Frey
Elm Staff Writer

The 2014-2015 academic year at Washington College is one for the history books. This fall, we simultaneously begin a presidential search and welcomed two new vice presidents – Dr. Xavier Cole in Student Affairs, and Dr. Mark Hampton in Finance and Administration. As we undergo these leadership transitions, we are implementing a new Student Affairs structure, re-examining portions of our curriculum, and planning changes in both the physical plant of our campus and the size of our student body. During this period of significant change and development, the student perspective should be strongly advocated. As a liberal arts institution dedicated to the undergraduate education of emerging citizen leaders, the very mission of our College calls upon us to be actively involved in our civic environment, and play a direct role in the decision-making processes of our community.

Even as our College continues to move in the right direction, it is incumbent upon the student body to influence big-picture policy and make note of initiatives that do not align with College culture as well as our higher aspirations as an institution. In an ideal world, all students would be able to participate in the interworking of College politics; alas, that is not the case. A mark of our status as a small, distinct liberal arts school, students at WC are notorious for their busy schedules and high-level of involvement in scholastic and extracurricular endeavors. Between classes, club meetings, practices, and rehearsals, most WC students simply do not have the time or resources to approach the numerous individuals who influence College policy and direction. This is where the Student Government Association (SGA) comes in.

As the voice of the student body, it is the responsibility of the SGA to vigorously represent the student perspective and partake in strategic, unhurried conversations with members of College faculty and staff. While the SGA certainly does not have a final say in any aspects of policy and direction, the SGA does play a vital role in most major College decisions. It appoints student representatives to all faculty committees, represents the student population on the Presidential Search Committee as well as the Board of Visitors and Governors, administers much of the Student Activities Fee, oversees student organizations, appoints the majority of voting Honor Board members, and maintains direct relationships with almost every office at the College. These responsibilities carried out on behalf of all WC students make the SGA the metaphorical “five-hundred-pound gorilla” of campus advocacy.

Much has changed at WC in the last decade, but the components that make-up a strong and successful SGA have remained constant. Effective leadership and cohesion, an emphasis on strategic student advocacy, and the creation of reachable yet lofty goals by an SGA have had, and can continue to have lasting beneficial impacts on our alma mater. As we examine these three components, it is important to set a high standard for our role as active constituents and a high standard for the senators, secretaries, and review board members that coordinate our SGA efforts. As the current SGA administration charts our course for the remaining half of their term in office, it is important to look to past SGA administrations, and examine the aspects of the three components listed above that contributed to their past SGA successes and failures.

Reflecting on his experience as a member of the SGA, Stephan Jordan, Class of 2012, said, “strong, determined leadership is always a key factor in the SGA getting things done,” and emphasized that successful SGAs work as a “cohesive unit,” and value everyone involved with the policy-making process. A former Interim Honor Board Chair, Jordan served on the SGA Review Board in the spring semester of his junior year, and maintained his position as a Senator during his entire time as a student. Jordan advocates the empowerment of the Senate, and said, “Senate meetings are such an important part of what we do,” and that during periods of SGA success, “even the Senate felt they made a difference…the Senate can’t just sit around and say yay and nay all the time.”

At the end of his tenure at the helm of the Honor Board, Jordan challenged the re-election of the current SGA president. While Jordan lost the election and did not receive any official position with the SGA, his opponent recognized that he had a lot to offer. When the new president took office, Jordan was asked to attend Executive Board meetings as councilor and advisor to the administration’s second term. While Jordan served in this advisory role, the SGA hit its stride and soared. That year, the SGA made 100 percent participation in the 2012 class gift a clear goal, and after a year of hard work they were met with success.

This year’s SGA officers come together for a group photo. To the far left is this year’s SGA president Connor Harrison.
This year’s SGA officers come together for a group photo. To the far left is this year’s SGA president Connor Harrison.

Jordan’s experiences clearly demonstrate that when an SGA brings everyone in to work as a cohesive unit, clearly and adequately states their goals to the student body, and advocates those goals strongly, the SGA is successful. As Jordan put it,  “you are not going to get anything if you don’t ask for it…we wanted our goal to be 100 percent….and as a team we believed we could make that happen.” “We were there to help serve our fellow peers and try to leave the college in a better place than when we first started.”

Similar to Jordan, former SGA President Aundra Weissert, Class of 2008, emphasizes the importance of strong leadership and cohesion within an SGA, and advocacy of clear goals. While serving as president her junior year, Weissert came into the SGA and made a “total overhaul of the budget” and the improvement of community service her key priorities. In these two areas, her administration succeeded in part because she was not afraid to be direct in her advocacy of student views, and made sure to include all branches of the SGA in decision-making processes. Early on, Weissert discovered that “in reality (the administrators at the college) are just people and want students to be happy.” As she puts it, “[Members of an SGA] can’t be heard if they don’t speak up…You have to make a direct ask.” Weissert also stated that an executive board should not run senate meetings or they run the risk of invalidating the role of senators who are the “direct connection” with the student body, which is needed because as an SGA you are “representing not just yourself.”

As we return to the present, and re-examine the state of our College, it is clear the change and development occurring at our institution requires all offices and organizations to be firing on all cylinders – including our SGA. As the SGA executive board and Review Board plan for the second half of their term in office, we should challenge them to lead us with fortitude, empower and work alongside the senate and their constituents. Most importantly, we should challenge our SGA to fill the shoes of their predecessors, Weissert and Jordan. If the current SGA administration develops a set of goals distinct to this period in College history and advocates those goals every chance they get, not only will they make our college stronger, but they might just find themselves a place in College history.


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