Why SGA?

By Guest Contributor

Shortly after the administration announced its controversial change to the tailgating policy, many students asked me why I, as the President of the SGA, had no knowledge of the impending change. Their concern highlights a question I imagine many of you have pondered at one point or another while at Middlebury: Why do we have SGA and Community Council? The fact that most students do not have a clear answer to that question highlights a major problem. Given my role in the SGA, I feel compelled to offer you an answer to at least the first part of that question. 

In my view, the SGA fulfills three crucial roles on campus. First, it is responsible for managing and spending the Student Activities Fee (SAF) in a way that makes our non-academic lives here a little better. Second, it oversees all of the student organizations on campus. Third, it is supposed to be, in the words of the College Handbook, “the vehicle through which students can participate in the formulation of institutional policy.”

With respect to the first two roles, we actually do a good job. Most student organizations are funded well and run effectively, but of course there is always room for improvement. Ensuring that this continues to happen takes a significant amount of work by the members of both the SGA Finance Committee and the SGA Constitution Committee. In addition, the SGA operates a number of services for which it rarely receives credit. These include the free daily newspapers in the dining halls, the break bus program, and MiddCourses. 

It is on the third count, I believe, where we have more work to do. Frankly, the SGA needs to serve as a better conduit between the student body and the administration. We currently fail to communicate sufficiently with both parties. First, let’s tackle the SGA’s relationship with the student body. Only a handful of students know what SGA does, and fewer still view it as the best way to “participate in the formulation of institutional policy.” The SGA tends to attract students primarily interested in changing policy, while MCAB and other student organizations tend to attract those interested in event planning and publicity. As a result, we as a group often fail to adequately communicate what it is we are doing. Having been in the SGA for two years now, I am personally guilty of not communicating my work well enough. Given recent events, though, it is clear we need to better publicize our work. To that end, we have taken a number of steps this year to better communicate with you. These initiatives include creating a new website, updating the SGA bulletin boards in McCullough, establishing a Director of Publicity position in my Cabinet, and setting up weekly office hours for each of our elected members. Hopefully, these small initial steps will serve as a solid foundation for a better level of communication between the SGA and the student body.

In terms of our relationship with the administration, most of our influence currently takes the form of me and other elected SGA members meeting with administrators to express students’ ideas and concerns. Although this system fosters trust, it lacks transparency and limits the flow of information. A better approach would be for the SGA to secure greater student representation on administrative and faculty committees. In this manner, we can more consistently convey our ideas during the early stages of the policy-making process. We may not get a vote, but we should get a voice. Progress in this area would increase the amount and transparency of communication between students, administrators, and faculty.

You may still be asking, why should SGA in particular do these things? Why not leave individual groups of students to push for change? We are, after all, a fairly small campus with easy access to administrators. I would respond that much of the value of the SGA stems from its institutional presence. The question is not one of existence, but one of strength. It is in the best interest of the student body to have a consistent advocate voicing the student body’s ideas to administrators. As a source of institutional memory, the SGA can protect the progress we make each year. Although change may come more slowly than we would like and perhaps not at all on some issues, a more effective SGA could, at the very least, secure us a consistent voice at the table.

From reforming the trustees’ governance structure to hiring a new president, change is in the air at Middlebury. I have tried to articulate how the SGA needs to change as well as the ways in which it can enhance student life on campus. Regardless of whether you find my argument convincing, it is important that you make your voice heard on this issue. I look forward to hearing your ideas, and would be happy to discuss them with you in person or over e-mail. You can reach me at [email protected]

TAYLOR CUSTER ’15 is the SGA President and is from West Brookfield, Mass.