Student Government Organization president Gilbert Orbea ’19 and vice-president Kat Capossela ’21 have spearheaded a charge this semester to push back against the widespread campus perception that SGO is ineffective. On October 28, Capossela introduced a new attendance policy, which states that accumulating five absences from delegation-wide mandatory meetings is grounds for impeachment, barring extenuating circumstances, with two tardies constituting an absence. On Sunday, December 2, six out of 34 members of SGO — two of whom were part of the 10-student executive board — were eligible for impeachment under this provision, of which three were formally impeached. This means they have missed more than half of all general meetings held this semester.
The delegation members who were eligible for impeachment on Sunday include Internal Affairs chair Joshua Siegel ’20, Environmental Committee chair Austin Yanez ’21, at-large senator Yash Kewalramani ’20, and class senators Doug Leonard ’19, Cam Wiley ’19, and Vanessa Meng ’20. The executive board voted to impeach Yanez, Wiley and Meng at the Dec. 2 executive board meeting, a decision which the members can appeal by Sunday. If they choose to appeal, they will speak to the board about why they feel they should not be impeached and a second vote will take place. Otherwise, they will be removed from office.
Wiley has stated plans to appeal.
“I’ve been tallied for five absences this semester; however, two of my absences are excused due to illness, and I will provide medical documentation to support that. Therefore, I don’t expect that my impeachment will be upheld on Sunday,” Wiley said. “I simply think the most conservative reading of the constitution would agree that medical illness is an extenuating circumstance.”
The members of SGO were sent an email after their fourth absences warning them of the consequences. Meng and Yanez have not stated plans to appeal and could not be reached for comment.
Though the attendance commitment expected of the Senate has more than doubled that in previous years — Orbea and Capossela hold meetings lasting an hour and 15 minutes every week, whereas last year meetings were hour-long and biweekly — Orbea feels that the policy is a fair expectation for the senators who ran for office before these changes were made.
“It’s really unfortunate because I’ve been in SGO four years, and they’ve never impeached anybody, and impeachment kind of sounds like they did something bad, but it’s not that. It’s just [that] attendance matters in SGO,” Orbea said. “And this is the first year we’ve ever seriously enforced attendance and punctuality . . . But we have to objectively enforce what we signed onto when we went on the retreat in early September and we said, ‘This is the expectation.’ We all signed up for this. Nobody was forced to run.”
However, despite Kewalramani and Leonard’s five absences each, the executive board did not vote with the two-thirds majority that would have authorized the impeachment. Leonard has spearheaded discussions with the administration about the college’s Alcohol and Other Drugs policy in the student life committee along with Kewalramani and Zach Lytle ’21, according to Capossela. Lytle and Leonard recently met with Dean of Students Jim Terhune to discuss student concerns with increased enforcement of the policy and trust in Public Safety; the committee will also meet with other deans and administrators in the Office of Student Engagement on Dec. 7, according to committee chair Kanhav Thakur ’20.
According to Capossela’s comments, this committee work is likely the reason that the two were not impeached.
Nevertheless, representatives like class senator Margaret Cohen ’19 and at-large senator Zach Lytle ’21 feel that attending general meetings are a critical part of serving on SGO.
“I think the concern is [that] you actually need to be showing up and being active to actually be effective,” Lytle said. “The focus here is, if someone’s not doing their job, to get someone else in who will do what needs to be done.”
Cohen specifically mentioned the connections that representatives can make with administrators at meetings. Capossela and Orbea have arranged for more staff members to speak at the general meetings this semester than have come to SGO meetings in past years, including Dean of Students Jim Terhune, Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90, Director of Institutional Research Robin Shores.
“You understand how to collaborate with those administrators and how we’re working in tandem with them so that we can best represent the student body and be able to facilitate transparency between the administration and the students,” Cohen said. “If you’re not in those meetings learning about what the administration is doing, then it’s not possible to be that facilitator of transparency.”
In contrast, some senators, such as Diversity Committee Chair Ken’delle Durkson ’20, voiced concerns at the Dec. 2 meeting that attendance may not be a complete measure of engagement.
“Ken’delle made a good point that you can come to every meeting and not do a single thing,” at-large senator Patrick McAnally ’21 said. “You could come sit at this meeting, do nothing and then say, ‘Hey, I was a good SGO senator,’ but what did you really do? Did you work for the people that voted you into office? No. So what purpose are you actually serving?”
The constitution does not address attendance at committee meetings or state guidelines for how often committees should meet. The constitution, however, does reserve the right for the executive board to “remove any member that does not carry out their duties as outlined in this Constitution.” McAnally feels that SGO members are failing to progress because they are not making use of their resources as SGO members.
“When you look at some of the problems at the college, I feel like the majority of the students would say, ‘Hey, that needs to be changed,’ and it would be vastly beneficial to everyone, but people just aren’t working on them,” he said. “I don’t think people see results from any initiatives. We’ve done ‘this, this and this’ this year but I don’t see any big changes that’s really positively impacting a lot of people on campus, which is sad to admit, but hopefully that will change.”
Multiple representatives mentioned the history of SGO as a corrupt and ineffective organization, with low voter turnout and uncontested elections as reasons why senators may not have taken their duties seriously.
“The people who applied for SGO last year might have viewed it as a joke, honestly,” Capossela said. “That sucks to say, and I think that’s why we’re seeing such a high turnover rate — because they ran to just put this on their resume, and we’re not a joke anymore. We were never a joke but we’re especially not going to put up with that this year.”
Despite these concerns, Capossela is optimistic that newer members of SGO share a commitment to increasing the organization’s impact on campus.
“We’ve inherited this very flawed institution. . . . .It just sucks that a lot of our time was spent fixing our own constitution, but if that’s what we need to do to make sure that our people are held accountable [and that] the people next year are held accountable, then that’s what we need to do,” she said. “My biggest priority is just making this institution very strong, so that no matter who’s leading it, we still can be the best we can be.”
During the Dec. 2 general meeting, the delegation discussed the constitutional amendments that Capossela had drafted for filling the spots of impeached members. They voted to allow first-year students to run in special elections for executive board positions. Though it is likely that a special election will be held early next semester, the group has yet to decide which positions will be voted on by the entire student body and which will be voted on by the delegation in a closed election.