I’m an ‘SGA lifer.’
That’s what I called myself when I was asked when I joined the University of Massachusetts Student Government Association during a New Students Orientation presentation I gave about the SGA.
The term ‘lifer’ is an interesting one. It probably more aptly describes a prison inmate’s relationship to his sentence.
However, hyperbole or not, my knee-jerk response to this serious question provoked me to reflect on my time in the SGA and on the role it has played in shaping my college career.
I have also seen the impact the SGA has on students every day, and the SGA body has an impact on students – whether they realize it or not.
As we find ourselves in the middle of SGA election season once again, I want to caution against the traditional groan of annoyance and cynicism.
I suppose the impact student government can have on its constituents became most apparent to me in my first year. I was a House Council president in Webster-Dickinson (now antiquated terminology apparently), and finding that on that level of student government, it was about programming and bringing services and events to the buildings’ residents.
Students could find some educational purpose through a programmed culture night, or simply playing Super Smash Bros. competitively until someone chewed you out for using items to win. House Council members were making life more enjoyable through the services they offered regardless of their simplicity. I learned valuable lessons like how to connect with constituents to find out what they needed or wanted, and at its core, my nights planning fun activities for residents instilled in me the value of giving back to your community.
Having had enjoyed my work on the House Council, I ran and was elected as Orchard Hill area governor the following year. Once again, programming played a primary part in defining my role as governor and my co-workers’ roles. Programming enabled us to continue the traditional Bowl Weekend festival and put on other small events for the area.
However, there was an element of advocacy missing from my work in residential area government. I wanted to take advocacy on issues that concerned students to a larger level. I began to see how decisions made by the administration could affect students, and how student leaders had the ability to respond and recommend changes.
My journey into a new form of student empowerment continued in the student senate. We saw the firing of the Peer Mentors, myself included in that group, and the imminent smoking ban as violations of student trust, and the senate, with support from many students, fought for administrative reversals. SGA plays a large role in these fights.
Even though I could not see the SGA’s role clearly as a freshman, my role in the SGA enabled me to start understanding the complexities of student voice on campus. My job involved the SGA’s Finance Committee, where we helped RSOs successfully arrange and finance events and tournaments with emergency grants and other resources.
I am fully aware of the constant refrain that the SGA does nothing; that it consists of just a bunch of preening prats who are looking to stack their resumes with words and titles. Yet, if there is anything I’ve learned from my “lifer” status within SGA, it is that there is work being done by many individuals with a truly dedicated purpose in mind and at heart.
That underlying purpose is that there is a chance some good might be done for students.
This brings me back to the lesson of giving back to your community. If you find yourself wondering what you can do for your peers, or how you can try to shape this campus, I encourage you to get involved with the SGA.
It is truly rewarding to fight your way through the ignorant rhetoric that seeks to shape the public perception of the SGA. The first moment you realize you have played a part in some student service, be it advocating for more bike racks on campus, answering a student’s question on how they can start an organization or educating students on their legal rights, you feel validated in your pursuit of “political” office and are motivated to press forward.
I appreciate self-deprecation – it’s my favorite form of humor. That’s why I enjoy calling myself an SGA “lifer.” It’s comical that I have devoted almost four years of my life to the progression of an organization which many people deem as useless.
But I take pride in it, knowing I have played some part in the betterment of the life of at least one student on campus. Because that is what it’s all about really – making change, educating students and showing that there are actually individuals who truly believe in the phrase “Students First.”
Garrett Gowen is the vice president of the SGA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.