This semester, the college will witness Student Council transformed. Now called the Student Government Organization (SGO), it will be made of two distinct branches: Campus Council (CC) and Student Assembly (SA). Each branch will include multiple positions.
“Student Council, as it stands, is just too small,” Co-President Gabriella Capone ’14 said. “We have students running a lot of things at this school. If we want the system to work better, things need to be rewired, positions need to be created, positions need to be eliminated, positions need to be expanded. … We take on a lot of responsibilities, and … I’m surprised students haven’t ever been angry about how badly student government is structured.”
A campus-wide email from Elections Committee member and Co-President Elena Schlessinger ’15 explained that these new positions will be both slight modifications from previous StuCo positions and completely new positions. Described as analogous to the executive branch that will supervise the entire SGO, the CC will “spearhead small and large-scale projects that are identified as beneficial to the student body by student government members or student suggestions,” the email said. Elections Committee member and Student Senator Razi Shaban ’16 listed the SEPTA Philly Access program, dining service changes and working to increase scanners in dorms as prospective examples of such projects.
The CC includes co-presidents, a student life policy chair, a campus life representative, press chair, a modified secretary, an internal affairs chair, an appointments chair and an environmental impact chair, a new position responsible for representing students’ desires to reduce environmental impact.
“We really want CC to be policy-oriented,” Capone said. “Ideally, people on CC will be seniors in terms of experience and are really going to be working on relationships with administrators. This is really important because right now student government doesn’t have time to develop relationships with a lot of people at the college and take on student grassroots initiatives at the same time. I think that by separating the responsibilities, we’ll be able to do them both better.”
Schlessinger’s email included descriptions of each position’s duties. Each of these positions is available for three-semester terms.
“In order for the new SGO to run smoothly, every member must be on the same schedule,” Shaban said. “StuCo has historically used a staggered elections schedule in which half of the council is elected in the fall and half in the spring. However, since the co-presidents will be working together to appoint students to positions and the council will be most cohesive if everyone is sharing a term and a vision for that term, we are moving away from the staggered schedule.”
Capone explained that after this election, once everyone is on the same term schedule, terms will no longer last three semesters.
The SA will be a new version of the “Student Senate” pilot program and entails two types of positions — dorm senators and class senators. With one dorm senator for each dorm and two class senators per class year, these one-semester positions are responsible for representing their constituents. Additionally, senators must always be involved in one committee or major project.
Capone explained that the longterm objective is for senators to comprise focused-funding committees such as the Student Budget Committee (SBC), the Social Affairs Committee (SAC) and the Forum for Free Speech Committee (FFS). With this goal, students would be elected onto these committees; presently, they are appointed.
“We want representatives to be on these committees, because they’re funding student groups and events,” she said. “We want the funding process to be equitable and representative, and we feel part of the way to do that is to have elected representatives.”
Capone added that she expects senators to create their own sub-committees, based on student needs and feedback, as the positions further develop.
With these revised and new positions, the size of the college’s student government will increase substantially. While StuCo currently has 10 members — with two SBC positions and two SAC positions — the plan is for CC to have 10-12 members — two of which will be the SAC co-director equivalent and one of which will be an SBC representative.
The SA will have 19 senators. Additionally, SGO will have liaisons to campus organizations, such as Greek life, the Intercultural Center (IC), Black Cultural Center (BCC), and the Student-Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC). Each group will appoint their own respective representatives.
“The changes should benefit the school by creating a more thriving, robust student government on campus,” Shaban said. “The increased membership will enable us to tackle larger projects more efficiently and frequently, and it will also provide us a more representative slice of the community that we can use to gauge student opinion about any upcoming change or project.”
Shaban added that the new structure allows for the possibility that a freshman could be a senator, learn more about how SGO works, and work up to a CC position throughout time. This would be a big change, he explained, as in previous years, some students served roles for which they were not well qualified.
Capone and Schlessinger began talking about the possibility revamping the college’ student government during the fall of 2011, although serious discussion did not occur until last semester. The model is based on the structure of other colleges’ student governments, particularly those of Grinnell College and Middlebury College.
While Capone talked directly with someone at Middlebury and engaged in discussions within a Facebook group for student government leaders at other peer institutions, she also benefited from conferring with former president of Grinnell’s student government and Swarthmore Presidential Fellow Gabriel Schechter.
“It’s great to see the final product after all their hard work,” Schechter said. “And I think it’s great that the new model greatly expands the representation of Swarthmore students through the new dorm and class representatives. Enhancing communication between SGO and the student body will surely be beneficial. It will also be interesting to see what new projects are taken up and developed with the new model.”
According to Shaban, administrators and students have responded positively to the announced student government changes. “The feedback is reflective of the fact that these changes were slowly and cautiously developed with the help of several members of our community, not unilaterally,” he said.
Platforms for candidates were emailed out yesterday, with eight students running for CC (two for co-president, one for Student Life Rep, one for Chair of Internal Affairs, one for Enrivonmental Impact Chair and three for Press Chair).
Among the SA positions, three freshmen submitted platforms for class senators, two sophomores and juniors are each running for their respective class senator positions and one senior will run for her class year’s senatorial position. The breakdown for dorm senators is as follows: two for Alice Paul/David Kemp, two for Dana/Hallowell, three for Mary Lyons and will for Willets.
Further details on voting results are scheuled for release in the upcoming week.