On Tuesday, Feb. 18, representatives from the Student Government Association (SGA) and Campus Council (CC) met in the Lowry Pit to discuss the possibility of dissolving and creating a new joint student governing body. Members of the Oversight Committee, comprised of both members of SGA and CC, presented their changes to the proposed constitution of this new body after student feedback from the prior week’s panel. The forum last Tuesday allowed students to ask questions and provide feedback on the latest draft of the constitution.
The discussion was led by Co-Chair of the Oversight Committee Matt Mayes ’20, who opened the meeting by providing updates from the Feb. 11 panel. According to Mayes, he and Treasurer of SGA Isaac Weiss ’20 had expanded their outreach efforts to student groups and other members of the student government for feedback. Per their suggestions, Charter Committee has been added back to this new draft of the constitution, transferring some responsibilities from the Student Activities office to this governing body. The Oversight Committee has also created a mission statement for the body with feedback from administration.
Once Mayes gave updates on the latest draft of the constitution, students were able to raise their questions and concerns. One Student asked if this new governing body would have the same power as CC to recommend policy changes to the Scot’s Key and other governing documents. Mayes affirmed that the new body should have this power and would be acknowledged in the Scot’s Key if the vote to create the new governing body is approved by the Board of Trustees.
Other students expressed concerns that allowing first-year students to run for office in their first semester was too early in their time at Wooster. This proposed change is in contrast to the current system of having First-Year Governance Council (FYGC), where students are selected via application rather than election and learn about student government from members of SGA.
One student, Shankar Bhat ’22, worried that this restructuring could eliminate potential first-year candidates. “Many students who may not have held leadership in high school will develop leadership skills throughout their first year, gaining confidence as they go,” said Bhat. “If elections are in fall semester, we will only have students who are a small subset of potential leaders on campus.”
Members on the panel, however felt that restructuring student government to include first-years in the election process during their first semester would be a positive change. At-large SGA Senator Marco Roccato ’20 said that it would be valuable to include first year students in the proposed governing body. He felt that his time on FYGC was impactful and that first-year students are most connected to the issues students face when first arriving at the College. Because FYGC does not have the same leverage as SGA and CC, he felt that it would be crucial to include first-year voices in decision-making under a new student governing organization. Former Chair of FYGC Nick Shereikis ’20 echoed Roccato’s sentiment. Shereikis did not feel that FYGC adequately addressed first-year student concerns. Additionally, he did not see much turnover, and saw that many students who served on FYGC then ran for SGA or CC the next yea.r
Members on the panel floated several compromises to ease concerns about first-year students running for student government in the fall semester. Chair of CC Halen Gifford ’21 suggested that the election could be held after fall break so students would have some time to reflect and decide if running for office would be the right decision for them. An audience member proposed the idea that elec- tions could happen after the drop date for classes so students would have time to find their academic footing before expanding their extracurricular commitments. Current members of SGA and CC could also visit First- Year Seminars (FYS) to give students more information about running for office so they would have some guidance in the process.
Throughout discussions of compromises, Mayes mentioned the fact that there would be a rigorous onboarding process for all students joining the governing body for the first time. Panelists expressed that this onboarding process would aid first-year students in their transition onto student government, but also allow for greater inclusion of first- time candidates of all class years. Offering training for the governing organization would make it more accessible to any student without prior experience. The current proposal calls for interested students to sign up for student government on Scot Spirit Day. Then, they would attend a number of workshops to understand the basics of school structure, the powers of the governing body and how to draft policy. This onboarding process would give students a greater idea of how the governing body works and some skills to work on student government, even with little to no relevant experience. The bylaws would man- date these onboarding sessions for students to be eligible to run for the new governing body.
The last half of the panel was spent discussing the structure of the new governing body. Mayes informed the audience that there would be diversity chairs similar to those of CC based on the current branches of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI). These new seats are intended to represent identities of students rather than organizations, hopefully centralizing resources, guidelines and constituencies for diversity representatives.
“I’m excited about the first generation/low income representative seat, because it’s not really been included in the past,” said Emmy Todd ’22, a member of the Oversight Committee. Though this shift would lead to the loss of the service and civic engagement and selective organization seats, one audience member suggested that representatives may have service requirements to ac- count for this change. The new by- laws would require each representative to complete three service hours doing activities such as tabling, running shuttles, working at ScotLends and completing other initiatives. The new chief of staff would be responsible for enforcing this policy.
Another audience member was concerned that the proposed size of the new student governing body was too large at 25 members. Some worried that a larger student governing body may lead to decreased accountability. However, Mayes felt that shrinking the organization would not improve efficiency. The proposed body would have seven standing committees, each with three to four members, so a large number of student representatives would make this workload more manageable. To increase accountability, Amber Rush ’22 suggested solutions such as a website for constituents to anonymously submit complaints about their representatives. Most of the panelists agreed that even though a smaller governing body would be ideal for efficiency, the proposed number of seats would allow for a fairer workload among members.
The Oversight Committee took the recommendations from students at the Feb. 18 panel into consideration and drafted another version of the constitution for the following week. “I am really excited about the constitution and especially the bylaws because those are where the specifics are that the student body will care about,” said Todd.
Weiss echoed Todd’s sentiment. “I think that the continued effort of the Oversight Committee to hear from students and make important changes to our governing documents is something to be proud of,” he said. “Very rarely do we see members of SGA or CC reach out to student leaders and make actionable chang- es based upon those conversations. These bylaws and constitution are an important first step in building a governing body that represents all students equitably.”
A final panel was hosted on Feb. 25 to get student input before SGA and CC moved to vote on whether or not to enact the new body.