By Kelly Garcia, Part-Time Staff Writer
Graphic by Klaire Brezinski
On January 5, 2017, the Student Government Association at DePaul University met for an annual constitutional review session, behind closed doors, to propose some controversial amendments. One of the amendments proposed denying students who are not in SGA’s general body from running for President or Vice President. The amendment caused a quarrel among members and shed light on the continuing ideological divide within the group.
It wasn’t the first to do so.
It is no news that SGA has been under scrutiny for being a ‘mystery’ organization despite allegedly being advertised as the voice for all students. This past January, The DePaulia released an article criticizing the group for its exclusivity — raising many eyebrows in the community.
I was recently elected to be in SGA as Senator for The Theatre School. Upon joining I have noticed a group of excellent student leaders working on repairing DePaul’s image to be an inclusive and diverse community — an image shattered by recent events.
SGA’s mission at DePaul University is to commit to providing and advocating the student voice. Modeled after the Executive Branch, SGA includes the President, Vice President, Treasurer, Executive Vice President (EVP) for Student Affairs, EVP for Academic Affairs, and EVP of Operations. It then includes the senate which comprises of representatives from each undergraduate college, graduate college, year, and additional bodies. From there, liaisons are appointed for any recognized organization or student population on campus that wishes to have a liaison to SGA.
However, there are currently six vacant senator positions. The constitution requires senators for The College of Law, The Music School, The School of New Learning, College of Education, graduate students, and transfer students — all of which we have none.
At the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, the senator position for The Theatre School was also vacant. After learning about the organization and gaining interest in the position, I contacted Ric Popp (President) and found out that the only material I would need to provide in order to be elected was an email to SGA including my resume and cover letter — something quite insubstantial for a position representing almost 400 students who had no say in it. The vacancy was not brought to the attention of TTS, making me the only applicant for the position.
As I’ve begun to see things from the inside, I have picked up knowledge on SGA’s intended initiatives which range from educational affordability to civic engagement. SGA strives to be the leading mediator between students, faculty, and staff members while taking charge on key issues that affect our students at a local and national level.
But many students say they’ve done otherwise.
When I spoke to members of the class of 2020 at the start of Winter Quarter, regarding their knowledge of SGA, the gap between the student leaders and the students became very clear.
“Do you know who your student body president is?”
“No”, was the collective response.
It comes as no surprise then that the majority of students don’t know some basic facts about the organization. For example, the Executive Board and Senators get paid a quarterly stipend to represent students and act on their demands. Not only is this information not readily accessible but it also comes as a surprise considering the scrutiny they’ve been under for doing a mediocre job.
When Honors Student Government President, Tom Rietz, demanded SGA be more transparent at a meeting last week, not only did it spark an argument between the board and Tom, but he was also told to, “Show up to meetings more often before making such a statement.”
A bit ironic for a student organization that does not regularly publicize their general body meetings.
To be aware of student politics on campus, information must be accurate and easy to find. As a member of SGA myself, I see a disconnect between the work we do as an organization and the students we represent.
However, it is not an easy task for a University of 24,000 students.
At The Theatre School, things are a bit different.
For a tight-knit community of fewer than 400 students, TTS SGA acts as a liaison between TTS students, faculty, and staff. Starting this school year, there were two representatives of each department of every year as opposed to one. As a result, it has become an easier task for representatives to reach out and connect with the students in their department.
Students can also identify their student body president. In some cases, even their representatives.
“I even know some of the members on the board of TTS SGA. I mean, in general, I feel more involved because of something so simple as a mass email sent out to all of us, including us, on information regarding elections”, said first-year sound designer, Agata Pacia.
“I had a say in who gets to represent me.”
But just like every other organization, there are doubts on its efficiency.
In most recent general body meetings, representative and even board member attendance have been low. There is no mention of proposed initiatives by each representative or a follow-up on behalf of their constituents.
“I think we’re still developing and growing as an organization in regards to membership. Especially when we have newly-elected members and figuring out ways to broadly disseminate that information, which I think is something we’re growing on”, said TTS SGA President Ben Gates-Utter. “It is my hope that first-year representatives share that information that they’ve been elected with to their constituents. But I know that’s a dual-hand in expectation in that the board at large needs to provide the senators with an outreach platform in addition to the representatives having their own initiatives on contacting their constituents.”
All in all, student politics, while serving with great purpose, has its flaws. At the minimum, we are students pursuing a college degree to match our potential, values, and interests. Our main focus is our GPA, not SGA.
But student politics should at one point, in some way, become a priority. When we leave college, our personal agendas don’t shrivel — they grow. We have bills to pay, families to feed, and ourselves to take care of. If our lovely chaos of a nation has taught us anything, it’s that we must stay informed on what happens around our campus for the sake of our shared freedoms.