By Brooke Schultz and Molly Igoe
Many changes have occurred within the Washington College Student Government Association (SGA) following former President Taylor Frey’s resignation, including the induction of a new president, former vice president, senior Audrey Utchen, and the induction of a new vice president, sophomore Melat Kiros.
Frey said of his resignation, “I would have spent the rest of my time in the SGA chasing down problems and controversy and would have really lost my ability to do what I came to the SGA to do—to help students directly, and to make the organization more professional, transparent and accountable.”
He resigned for “personal reasons,” citing in part the strains on his academic and personal lives. “There were some weeks that I spent far over 50 hours working on SGA issues,” he said.
Kiros was elected during Senate on Oct. 11. She answered some questions about her goals and qualifications from Senate members before she was elected. “I’ve been a senator since last year, I am involved in AOPII and as an honor roll board member.”
She described her goals, “One thing that I really want to work toward is transperancy. Rest assured that I’m doing everything to work with consituents, and with trust the SGA will be more efficient.”
Utchen emphasized the importance of responding to student concerns. “I think we’re going to be able to do that really well because we have a really great group of people who are really excited to address student concerns. We’re really going to refocus all of our efforts.”
Utchen said that they are going to create a mission statement and a platform over the next few weeks, working with Senate and Executive Board members to come up with the final version, submitted on Oct. 18. “I think having a clear focus with a certain number of things we’re going to try and get through until the end of March, I think will really help us, one, refocus, and two, organize our efforts efficiently, which are two really big things for me.”
“We’re really trying to make this an office not only for the Executive Board but for the Senate and the rest of the student body as well, because it’s their office, it’s not just ours.” Utchen pointed out the beginnings of a meme wall, to help students feel more involved, where Senate members and students can submit their favorite memes to be displayed in the office. She said that Senate members have already come into the office to work, which was great to see, reiterating the point that the SGA office is their office as well.
Overall, she aims to refocus on student efforts and student concerns and act as a liason between students and administration.
She also spoke about the plan to introduce a student or club of the week, because she said, “We have some amazing students on this campus, and they’re part of our student body, and they deserve to be recognized just as much during the school year as well as at the end of the year during the OSE awards ceremony. I think really trying to bring student government in a good light again is crucial, because we’re here to serve the students with their concerns and the negative parts of their student experience, but we also want to recognize the positive parts too.”
Of Frey’s service, Utchen said, “He really got us more connected with the community, which we weren’t in the past. He established that relationship so well and the community has such a respect for him.”
She said, “In regards to moving forward, we do need more student input than we’ve had in the past… Obviously we can’t address every concern that comes to us, but we can at least try.”
Frey said of long-time friend Utchen, “I wish her the best. I think she has the potential to be an exceptional SGA president… I’ll support her in the only way I can, that is, as a friend. ”
The new Secretary of Academics, senior Bryan Reilly, is excited to be serving in his new position. The two big things he wants to work on, he said, will be compiling data from students of different majors for the State of the Majors Report, completed every three years, to be presented to the chairs of every department. Alex Kurtz, the former secretary of academics, compiled the data already, and Reilly plans on putting together a Power Point report with all the information.
He said, “My other thing that I’m looking at is, I know that there’s a bit of a problem for students that have classes far away from each other that are consecutive on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and they only have 10 minutes to get there, so I’m going to try and make a big push towards the administration thinking about revamping that, so there is a little more time, maybe 15 minutes, and I’m going to start with a survey for that.”
He said, “Traditionally, the secretary of academics is responsible for helping with the National Day on Writing and massage day.”
“I know there’s been some confusion in the SGA, and I do want to say that at Senate meetings — I’ve been to three now — I can see the Executive Board and the Senate moving in a totally different direction than it has been. There’s a level of trust that seems to be building with every new meeting that comes up, and it’s exciting for me to have joined at this time.”
Financial Controller Alex Smith, senior, also weighed in on his thoughts about the changes to the SGA. “I think from an organizational standpoint, 2004 to 2005 was the last school year that the SGA put forth a platform, and I would say that’s the last time the SGA was really focused on students. Over the last two years that Taylor was president, we dramatically drifted away from student’s immediate needs. All the work Taylor did was focused on student needs five or 10 years down the road, when there were a lot of issues now that needed to be addressed and I felt like they kind of got pushed aside, which is why we’re really preaching going back to our roots and back to the old way of how things used to be.”
Frey said, “In a lot of ways ways, my appraoch, I think, to student government was very different from what the SGA has taken for a long time, and I think it was different from the approach that other members of the SGA took. And that, to be frank caused a lot of tension… I think what’s important about the SGA is how the SGA serves students, not how the SGA functions internally.”
Smith said that having a platform will help get Senate members more involved, because in previous years most Senators didn’t have much going on a weekly basis, and getting back on track with what the SGA is supposed to be doing will be a big help.
Concerning the Senate, he said, “Only about 10 people from last year came back, and it’s really a predominately freshman Senate. At least 50 to 60 percent are totally new, or are new from the first meeting, and I feel like that shouldn’t be the case. I’m fortunate because last year we made it all the way through and never had any issues, because it [the Budget Committee] was really the only committee that had a weekly structure of things to do, so I think giving the Senate more to do and more say is going to be really powerful because it will get more people involved in Senate and give them more position prestige.”
Referencing Frey’s resignation he said, “I wouldn’t say that it was a bad thing or a good thing, I think the SGA as a whole wouldn’t function had Taylor still have been in his position, at an Executive Board level, at a Senate level, and at a student level. There was a lot of unclarity with how these pay changes came about, which left a lot of Board members frustrated, and drove away two of our secretaries and Samson the parliamentarian. Samson Ramasamy and Alex Kurtz were really long-term people who have been with the SGA for a long time, and for those two to kind of walk away was really powerful, and that was kind of a turning point for our Board.”
“You could see the animosity during Senate, especially during the first one, which is usually in-and-out, and it was like an hour and a half. The third one was a little more heated, that’s when people in my committee started asking a lot of questions, and within 48 hours of that Senate, he [Frey] was no longer president. I think in the long run it’s a good thing that Taylor moved on from SGA because it allows the SGA to refocus itself and listen to student needs, so I’m quite happy,” he said.
Frey said, “At every point in my time as SGA president, I’ve really followed college policy and been accountable to students and also the folks in administration that have oversight over us..”
Senior Elisabeth Engle has been involved with SGA since her freshman year. She started as a senator for East Hall and, by the end of that year, she was elected to the position of speaker of the senate. Now, Engle has stepped into the role of parliamentarian, who is chair of the review board, oversees the constitution, and that the senate is run properly and efficiently.
“SGA is my identity on campus, I guess you could say,” she said. “It really means a lot to me. With everything that’s going on, I just really want to see the most positive outcome.”
In her new position, Engle is looking toward engaging the student body as her committee reviews the constitution. “My committee, myself as well as any other student who wants to get involved, we’re going to be reading through the constitution and the campus will be made aware of these changes,” she said. “They should be, they have to be, but I also want them to be. When we do make those changes, if they’re made to the constitution, the majority of the student body will have to vote on it. If it’s made to the bylaws of the constitution, the senate will have to vote on it. If it’s made to the executive board bylaws, then the review board will have to vote on it. But in that, I want to make sure that the senate and the students are participating in all the changes that are going on, even if they only, solely, involve the executive board.”
Engle said that she is still new to the position and that there is still confusion about the changes the Business Office has made, but she said that the alterations were made to mainly the pay structure and some suggestions were made for the constitution.
“In my opinion, it is the student government, we should have the most say and I will take suggestions as parliamentarian, but if it goes against the constitution then it’s not okay,” she said.
Engle said that former Parliamentarian Samson Ramasamy did an “excellent job” in his position and that he has offered her guidance as she takes over the role. “I want to make sure that his voice is heard and that the constitution is followed and abided by in the new changes, as well as what has been written in the past because it is a fantastic piece of work that students put so much effort into,” she said.
Engle added that she wants to make the SGA more approachable and transparent in the future.
“That’s the number one thing: I feel like there’s a divide between the students of SGA and other students. They might see us as being too businessy, too political, too this and that, whereas I don’t feel that way about myself and I don’t want students to think that to join SGA that they have to act that way. You can be you because you’re a student; that’s what it’s about,” she said.
Director of Student Engagement Nick Spicer, a temporary adviser who stepped in to see SGA through the transition, believes that the organization has identified real issues with the way it operates, “I think Audrey and the rest of the executive board are looking to spend the rest of this semester and year addressing those issues,” he said.
Spicer also noted a disconnect between SGA and the student body. “The more SGA can get back to representing students and their concerns, the more successful the organization will be. I believe transparency has been an issue in the recent past because the senate and student body have not always known what the executive board of SGA was doing. I think increased communication would be a big step forward,” he said.
In the past, Engle said that she believes the organization has kept trying to be transparent but “you need the dedication of every member of the executive board to do so.”
Attitude is where transparency starts, Engle said. “We are students. We are a part of the student population. It’s keeping that in mind – you’re on the same level. You’re not higher than anybody.”
Additional reporting by Catalina Righter, editor-in-chief.