Many students have questions about what the Student Government Organization does, and this year the organization hopes to better define their role on campus. To do so, the student group plans to invite the community into their meetings, revamp their constitution, and use their budget more efficiently.
Led by co-presidents Josie Hung ’18 and David Pipkin ’18, SGO consists of two branches according to their website: the Executive Board, which makes choices regarding student initiatives and campus policy; and Student Senate, which reviews such decisions and offers support and ideas for other SGO initiatives.
This fall, the group has dedicated their meetings to identifying how they can be the best voice between students and administration — a mission that hasn’t always been solidified in the past. Roman Shemakov ’20, Chair of Student Budgeting Committee, believes the group has the potential to improve its efficiency.
“We are trying to figure out what SGO has been doing, is doing, and should be doing,” Shemakov said. “We imagine [taking] a more concrete and collaborative route where student government does not just exist but is genuinely a body that can hear concerns, respond to those concerns, and make an institutional impact.”
One method, according to Hung, is to make SGO more accessible to the student body. She believes that if SGO becomes a more transparent body, students will feel more comfortable voicing their thoughts and, in turn, will allow the organization to better represent them.
One idea involves opening select SGO meetings up to the public and locating them in a convenient place like Sharples. Another includes planning regular town hall style meetings to give community members a platform to voice their thoughts. In the past, SGO held numerous study breaks that several members of SGO agree weren’t as effective as they could have been.
As of now, many underclassmen are unsure of SGO’s presence on campus.
“A lot of freshman don’t even know we have a student government,” Vinay Keefe ’21 said.
Alec White ’21 knew of SGO’s existence, but not of its impact.
“I knew we had a student government but I hadn’t heard how to get involved with it or what they have been doing this year so far,” White said.
Pipkin also looks to reevalute SGO’s usage of its funds. According to him, the group used up almost half of their $18,000 to $24,000 annual budget on food during the numerous study breaks in the past years that he’s been involved with SGO.
“Money isn’t just for cupcakes,” he said. “We don’t want to buy more than what we need or just burn out our budget at the end of the year; we want to use our money to provide services and amenities that are not yet available on campus.”
To make better use of their budget, the group is discussing a variety of options ranging from funding student initiatives to donating the remaining funds to the Dean’s Discretionary Fund, Pipkin said. The goal, according to Pipkin, is to fill in the gap when things start lagging behind on campus.
Some of their most recent initiatives included prompting the administration to provide free SEPTA passes into Philidelphia for students; establishing the Health and Wellness Committee; and funding Free Pads for Undergrads, which provides free sanitary products in all bathrooms.
But even some of those initiatives aren’t complete yet, Pipkin said. Not all the bathrooms have sanitary napkin baskets, and there is a limit to how many SEPTA passes are distributed every semester. Part of this year’s mission will be to expand both of those initiatives by turning to the budget for help.
“We should walk before we should run,” Pipkin said. “Part of progress is ensuring what you already have is sufficient and functioning, so we will build on what is already here first.”
In addition to new projects, SGO is hoping to clear up organizational details. Both presidents and Shemakov added that many parts of the current constitution aren’t fleshed out. There are gaps in information and not enough detail, so the group is tweaking the document to be clearer and more concise.
To do so, Shemakov explained, the group plans to split the constitution into three different documents: bylaws — easily amendable policies such as how to file a motion and where and when the group convenes; rules of conduct — rules regarding budgeting, committees, and vacancies, which are amendable with two-thirds of entire SGO approval; and the constitution — more permanent rules that include how to hold an election and what it takes to pass a referendum. The constitution used to be amendable with two-thirds of Executive Board approval and soon will require the majority of the entire student body to change. The details of the new vote have yet to be decided.
However, SGO’s capacity for change is limited by the fact that it is run by students who are only around for four years.
“It’s important to remember that we are here for a very short time, and there are a very limited amount of things we can do,” Shemakov said. “Our goal has been establishing precedents, rules, and institutional barriers that make the process of student government more efficient.”
Jason Jin ’19, chair of student outreach, is most excited to bring new features to the SGO website, such as a Facebook feed that updates the happenings of the administration and SGO, and an interactive calendar that includes upcoming SGO events.
Hung looks forward to collaboration across different committees and hopes to address the lack of diversity in the arts department by beginning a dialogue between the chairs of the Visual and Performing Arts Committee and Diversity Committees.
Pipkin added that fostering collaboration now is going to make SGO as an organization more functional in the future.
“From time to time, the right hand [of the organization] doesn’t know what the left is doing,” he said. “By building cross-collaboration, you’re building institutional memory; being able to know not just your interest level but someone else’s can make you a better leader.”
According to Pipkin, some of these discussions will come to fruition in late October, when the new round of senators have settled into their roles.