Reform Now

By Guest Contributor

In my last column, I discussed three important responsibilities of the SGA on campus: 1) allocating the student activities fee, 2) managing student organizations and 3) serving as a vehicle for students to change institutional policy. It was on the third front, I noted, where there is much room for improvement. I believe recent events have further evinced the need for the student body to discuss how we want to shape our campus.

As recent issues related to social life on campus have demonstrated, there is a general concern amongst the student body that we are not being heard during the college’s official decision-making process. Whether justified or not, such a belief proves corrosive to our community and runs contrary to the principles we stand for as a liberal arts college. In my view, the SGA and Community Council should provide the forums through which student concerns are heard and acted upon by administrators and faculty. Clearly, however, there is at least the perception on campus that these bodies are not adequately fulfilling that function.

One of the problems, I think, is that the structure of the SGA has neither been changed nor reviewed in the past 30 years. The Board of Trustees, cognizant of the need to modify governing structures to meet changing realities, recently convened a working group and completely re-organized the College’s administrative structure. The faculty, seeing the wisdom of that course, is also in the process of reviewing its own governance structure. Likewise, I think the student body would benefit greatly from a similar course of action. To that end, I am forming an SGA Reform Working Group to examine the efficacy of the current structure of student governance on campus. 

While the group is currently comprised of a number of SGA members, it is crucial that the greater student body actively participate in this process. We plan to encourage greater participation by hosting a number of open forums to hear what students think about the way SGA currently operates. For those interested in taking a more active role, though, we encourage you to apply to join the working group. You can do so by filling out the application I sent out in an all-student e-mail earlier this week. 

The working group is intended to address two main issues. First, it will examine the internal effectiveness of the SGA. We will start by determining whether students currently believe that the SGA is a meaningful forum through which to express their ideas. Rather than merely diagnose problems, we will propose specific recommendations about how to make the SGA more responsive to the student body’s ideas and concerns. Second, we will investigate how best to increase the level of communication between students and the administration. As noted earlier, one of the SGA’s main tasks is to serve as a facilitator of that dialogue. As a result, we will examine how the SGA can better represent the student voice to administrators in an institutionalized way. For example, perhaps the SGA should have the power to appoint student representatives to specific administrative and faculty committees, as it currently does for the Board of Trustees Investment Committee. 

Our underlying goal will be to improve student life on campus by addressing the issue of how best we, as students, can voice our opinion to administrators and faculty members before changes are made to College policy. Thanks to its long history and institutional memory, I am inclined to believe that the SGA offers a strong foundation for increased communication and greater transparency. Perhaps, however, it will require serious revisions to fulfill its role as a facilitator successfully. Given the current level of campus interest in issues of transparency and student activism, there is clearly a demand for this type of change on campus. As the Board of Trustees and faculty are currently undergoing a similar process, moreover, we find ourselves in a unique position to address this issue right now. There is currently the need, the will, and the opportunity to make the student body better heard by its government, the administration, and the faculty — we should not let the opportunity slip through our fingers.

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