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SMC SGA president, VP speak out on divisive topics, encourage respect for all students’ viewpoints

| Friday, December 11, 2015

In the beginning of their term as student body president and vice president, seniors Kaitlyn Baker and Maddie Kohler set goals to collaborate with Notre Dame, increase campus safety and be transparent, and now at the end of the semester Baker said new initiatives have propelled those goals forward.

This year, Baker said campus safety has been one of Student Government Association’s (SGA) main initiatives this semester.

She said there has been a minor setback with updating the app in the Apple App Store, but they hope it will be ready to download for the spring semester.

Another initiative Baker and Kohler campaigned for was collaboration among the tri-campus community.

Baker said they meet monthly with Notre Dame’s student government. It can be difficult, she said, because Notre Dame’s student government functions very differently from Saint Mary’s.

On the subject of working with their respective administrations (or boards of trustees), Baker said the student governments of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s differ greatly.

Members of the SGA leadership get to meet with the Board of Trustees every time they come to campus to update the Board on campus happenings and issues, whereas Notre Dame student government only gets to bring one issue as a formal proposal to their Board of Trustees each year.

Kohler said one new initiative, the “Big Belle, Little Belle” program ­chaired by the First Year Concerns committee, pairs a juniors with first-year students.

More first-year students signed up than juniors, Kohler said, so SGA reached out to seniors to mentor the newest students. The program allows older students to mentor the newest Belles and provide the sense of the sisterhood the College prides itself on.

SGA expects this program to become a Saint Mary’s tradition, Baker said, which allows the “big” and “little” pair to spend time together doing a variety of activities throughout the year.

Food Week was also a huge success this year, Kohler said, with themed dinners each night and a food truck arriving on campus at the end of the week.

Students were able to purchase meal tickets in the dining hall and get their dinner from a food truck for another option.

The SGA Finance Committee, led by vice president of finance senior Shannon Golden, has changed this year, Baker said. The committee is now made up of the class senators, two from each class, including one senator at large from the graduate program.

“This committee of senators reviews all requests for SGA funding and can decide to approve or deny [requests.]” Baker said. “We worked with [2014-2015 SGA president] McKenna [Schuster] and [vice president] Sam [Moorhead] at the end of their term last year to rewrite the finance outlaws because they were severely outdated.”

From this budget, the “big” boards including Student Activities Board (SAB), Student Diversity Board (SDB), Residence Hall Association (RHA) and SGA are allotted a percentage of the total budget that comes from student fees included in tuition.

“As of right now, Senate meets on a need basis,” Baker said. “They met in the beginning of the year to approve the budgets and they will meet again before the semester ends.”

Instead of promoting to SMCard that last year’s administration started, Baker said SGA has invested in ID scanners to track attendance at events.

Students scan their IDs at events, which electronically tracks the number of students attending.

Baker said the scanner helps with planning and improving events, more than incentivizing attendance like past SMCards.

“With the scanner, we can look at what are the events students are going to and allows to prioritize where funds should go,” she said.

Since much of SGA funds comes from the student fees, Baker said, the scanners provide data on successful events and events that may need more planning.

In response to the Planned Parenthood controversy in November, Baker released a statement about the importance of heeding all student voices.

“I also believe that there are two sides to every story, and in most cases, even more than two sides,” Baker said in her statement. “It is important for us as young women to be well-educated and then given the freedom to think critically about what we have learned, form our own opinions and stand up for what we believe is right.”

Baker said her statement was about respect on campus and confronting controversial topics as a community.

“As a student leader, [students] needed to respond,” she said. “[Planned Parenthood] was a big topic for several weeks. To not say anything about it would have been ignorant if we’re supposed to be the voice of the students and advocate for students.

“Anytime there’s a controversial topic, people are opinionated. But the most important thing was reiterate that we’re all still Belles and should have respect for the community.”

Last week, SGA and SDB hosted a student dialogue event, closed to faculty, staff and the media.

The idea for the student dialogue followed campus controversy about Planned Parenthood, but also in light of the harassment junior Maranda Pennington faced when a homophobic slur was written on her whiteboard.

“We broadened the event to be an opportunity to discuss all of the types of controversy that have been occurring and how we can move forward, make changes and be better as a community,” Baker said.

Students had the opportunity to voice their opinions, she said, but at the end of the event, all students in the room recognized the importance of their fellow Belles.

Kohler said SGA hopes the event was a learning opportunity for students who attended.

“We [closed] the event knowing that we are still one community [and] it’s okay that we are at a Catholic institution and have different beliefs,” she said.

Each year the College focuses on one of the four core values: faith/spirituality, justice, community and learning. This year, Kohler said, the College has chosen community. In response, SGA has been encouraging committee chairs to think about this year’s core value when planning their events.

The student dialogue was an example of SGA’s dedication to community, she said.

“We are trying to engage the community and keep all students in the know,” Kohler said.

Correction: The Kohler-Baker administration grade that ran in the Student Government Insider on Dec. 11 said, “Baker and Kohler have worked to be transparent, but have failed to do so in the SGA financial restructuring.” The financial policy was restructured by the Schuster-Moorhead administration in the 2014-2015 academic year. The Observer regrets this error.

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About Haleigh Ehmsen

A senior at Saint Mary's, Haleigh is majoring in Communication Studies and English Literature & Writing. She serves as the Saint Mary's editor and enjoys coffee, guacamole and good books.

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