SMC elects, appoints new senate members
By REBECCA O'NEIL | Wednesday, September 18, 2013
While the United States celebrated the 226th anniversary of its Constitution on Sept. 17, Saint Mary’s students worked on amending theirs.
Kat Sullivan, Saint Mary’s student body president, said the Student Government Association (SGA) is set to modify the student senate this year in the interest of transparency.
Sullivan said the senate will include nine senators, who will represent each student class, and the Belles Connect scholars, which is a group of students otherwise underrepresented for socioeconomic reasons.
“There are two members from each class either elected or appointed and one Belles Connect representative that will sit on the Senate and vote,” Sullivan said.
The Saint Mary’s senate, which has been in existence for only one year, is responsible for making sure SGA spending reflects students’ needs. Maddy Martin, vice president of SGA, said the senate decides how best to allot the budget.
“The goal of the senate is to be cost-effective and beneficial to SMC as a whole,” said Martin. “The senate is the single voting body in student government. They act as sort of a checks and balances for the rest of the interest groups on campus.”
On Tuesday, SGA announced the newly elected freshman and senior senators. Mary Clair Burchett will represent the first years, while Chelsea Fordon and Hannah Mudd will vote on behalf of the seniors.
The second freshman seat currently remains vacant, and no one ran for the sophomore and junior class positions this year.
Sullivan said the freshman seat will be filled by appointment after a formal application process that is open to interested first years.
Junior class president Nicole O’Toole said she attributes the absence of senators from these classes to a lack of understanding of the relatively new student government body.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of interest, it’s just the second year of this program,” O’Toole said. “No one knew what it meant to be a senator.”
Sullivan said she believes uncertainty about the restructuring of the senate is discouraging students from participating in it.
“People are still unsure about how the structure works. A lot of girls expect it to be like last year,” Sullivan said. “We’ve reformatted it but we’re still improving and adjusting.”
Stephanie Bridges, the director of Student Involvement and Multicultural Services (SIMS), advised the boards of the classes lacking senators to appoint someone from within their board, Martin said. Bridges’ familiarity with the administration’s guidelines makes her a perfect guide during the upcoming year’s ‘trial run,’ Sullivan said.
Martin said she and Sullivan rely on Bridges when it comes to questions of the College’s policies.
“Stephanie acts as an advisor,” Martin said. “Kat and I will go to her for anything and with everything because she is aware of policies and procedures of the college.”
Sullivan said the appointment of senators to fill the empty positions will hopefully be carried out at the first senate meeting.
“Since no one ran in the senator elections for the classes of 2015 and 2016, Maddy and I have reached out to the 2015 and 2016 Class Boards. They will appoint senators within their Class Board,” Sullivan said. “We will have a motion to include the appointed senators at the first senate meeting. If this is approved by all voting members, then we will move forward.”
Sullivan said once the leadership roles are filled, senators should continue to reach out to the student body to engage their peers in the senate’s work. The meetings themselves are organized in a town hall-like fashion to encourage inclusiveness, she said.
“We want the Senate to be more approachable so they can contribute to issues more closely related to the concerns of the students,” Sullivan said. “We want to communicate with everyone very openly, we want to be as transparent on campus as possible.”
She said, overall, communication between the student government and the body it represents should extend both ways.
“We want students to be more aware of what each board does,” Sullivan said. “Even the all school formal – RHA [Residence Hall Association] is responsible for its production but people think SGA hosts that.”
Echoing this sentiment, Martin said SGA leaders want students to recognize the purpose of student government.
“Collectively we want people to understand the role of SGA,” Martin said.
Sullivan said her executive, non-voting role involves ensuring people carry out their designated responsibilities. She said this aspect of her job as SGA president essential during the current time of transition and shifting responsibilities.
She also said the responsibilities of all members of student government are greater relative to their counterparts at other schools due to the size of Saint Mary’s.
“Because our school is so small, we have a lot more responsibility compared to other students,” Sullivan said.
Martin said senate members have opportunities to work with high-level administrators at the College.
“Administrators trust us,” Martin said. “I find it so cool that members of our Senate are on boards that hear the intimate details of the highest level of the College’s administration.”
Sullivan said the senate has many responsibilities around campus beyond simply allocating funds.
“There are so many different aspects that the [senate] focuses on throughout campus, like the Sophia program which specializes in academics,” Sullivan said. “The new constitution even addresses changes within a senate, so if this happens again how we will handle it.”
Sullivan said that for those interested in pursuing a senate position in the future, the role requires a minimum of two hours a week between the senate meeting and class board meetings.
“We added more non-voting members in addition to the executive members already sitting on the senate. The purpose of the senate is to have an outside body [to] voice student needs.”
To read the student constitution online, visit the SGA Portal on Orgsync.