For the Student Government Association, a new school year brings initiatives for greater student involvement, as well as the opportunity to be a stronger resource for students, according to SGA President Benjamin McNamee and Vice President Nicole Cassidy.
“We’re adjusting to hopefully getting another 50 students involved, so if we have that then we’ve got a lot on our hands,” said McNamee, a senior history education major with a minor in political science.
Cassidy said a new program this year, the Delegate Program, will allow students to be more involved in SGA even if there are no seats open for new representatives.
In the past, SGA had 25 voting members. To become representatives at large, students would come to meetings, apply for membership during the semester, then be brought forward by the executive board and
be voted on by members, said Cassidy.
Now, said Cassidy, SGA is allowing students who are interested in becoming more involved in the organization to hold office hours with a representative at large, sit on and vote in internal boards and committees.
“Those members will not be allowed a vote in actual SGA meetings, but will act as mentees to learn the ropes of SGA,” said Cassidy, a junior elementary and special education collaborative and Spanish major.
Introducing another new initiative, McNamee said SGA has allocated $15,000 for 15 $1,000 scholarships through the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee, also known as SAFAC. SGA also voted to endow the Cheryl J. Norton Scholarship.
“We’re working on getting those scholarships up and running and being able to get that money to the students,” said McNamee, who has been meeting with former University President Cheryl J. Norton over the summer to set the criteria for that scholarship.
McNamee said one of SGA’s major functions is to manage its budget built upon the student activity fee each student pays per semester. This year the fee is $125.
With the exception of member-exclusive organizations such as Greek Life, sports clubs and Men About Business, every registered club or organization is given a budget of $1,000 per semester, said McNamee.
Organizations can use those funds for events, refreshments, promotions and hospitality for guest speakers, as long as the group functions are open to all students.
Natasha Vega, former president of the Organization of Latin American Students, also known as OLAS, worked with SGA and SAFAC last year to obtain funding for events like Noche de Gala, an annual formal ball, and Sabor Latino, a Latin food tasting.
According to Vega, OLAS was never turned down for funding as long as she made sure to get all the paperwork in on time.
Vega said she found the student leaders in SGA to be more approachable than faculty and staff.
“They are pretty much our voice,” said Vega, a senior social work major. “It’s a lot easier to approach students.”
McNamee said Southern’s SGA has a far better relationship with the administration than other student governments he has met with at conferences.
“We find that it helps because they’re more receptive to our ideas, so they make the policies on campus more beneficial toward students,” said McNamee.
SGA has seats on almost every administrative committee, according to McNamee.
Ron Herron, vice president for student and university affairs, said the relationship between Southern’s administration and its student leaders is among the best he has seen in the multiple institutions he has worked in.
“I think that’s a tribute to the kind of students that come to Southern, the kind of leadership it attracts,” said Herron. “They are very effective.”
Herron said the student government faces many of the same pressures as the university’s administration.
“They also face budget cuts, and the need to make very strategic, tactical decision about how to spend the student activity fee,” said Herron.
One of the issues SGA is working on is the restriction of space for students and organizations that play music outside of the academic quad during class hours, said McNamee.
SGA has been working with the administration, specifically interim President Stanley Battle, to find other locations for programming on campus.
McNamee said the student leaders and administration have talked about allowing students to play music on athletic fields and the space beside Connecticut Hall.
According to McNamee, students can pass any concerns they may have along to SGA by attending
weekly meetings, sending e-mails to representatives or simply stopping by the office on the 2nd floor of the Adanti Student Center.
“They could stick their head in the office and just say, ‘I’m mad about this or I think this needs to change,’ and whoever is in there will just take it down and pass it to the right person,” said McNamee.
The tricky part, said McNamee, is getting students to come out and voice their opinions.
McNamee said SGA representatives have put table tents on tables at the Student Center and Connecticut Hall for students to fill out with concerns they may have.
“We don’t care if it’s formal or informal, as long as we hear their concerns,” said McNamee.