Ignore the myths: Joining SGA vital to school success

By Merav Kaufman

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Whereas, the University of Massachusetts SGA plays a pivotal role in student affairs, and, whereas, many students are unaware of the organization’s inner workings, or what the acronym even stands for, be it enacted that I write this article.

The awkwardly formal language in the previous paragraph should provide you with a sense of the Student Government Association’s weekly Senate meetings, which are, due to their strict adherence to Robert’s Rules of Order, awkwardly formal.

The structure of the paragraph actually mimics the structure of a motion, a proposed action plan or resolution written by a senator that serves as the foundation of any Senate initiative. Come Monday night, each main motion is read by the Speaker of the House, presented by its sponsor, debated, possibly amended and called before the Senate can vote. All those in favor of passing the motion signify their opinion with an “aye,” while all those opposed signify their opinion with a “nay.”

Sounds awfully tedious, right? It is. However, with a full semester of SGA Senate behind me, I assure you that Senate is a productive, fulfilling and enjoyable experience despite its awkward formalities.

My decision to run for Senate back in September was, admittedly, uninformed. Over my years at UMass, I had actually come to believe several myths surrounding Senate and the SGA that I have since realized are erroneous.

Myth No. 1: The SGA has little influence on the University administration’s decisions.

Spoiler alert: Did you know that starting next fall, the time blocks of class schedules will change in an effort to reduce class size, resulting in more 75-minute blocks on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and pushing 8 a.m. classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays to 8:30 a.m.? Or, that the newly-renovated Blue Wall will serve food on china plates to reduce waste?

No? I, too, was unaware of these things until I joined Senate, where connections with administrators are surprisingly strong. At the start of each weekly Senate meeting (which, by the way, is open to all students), administrators often take the opportunity to present and seek the Senate’s input on certain decisions before they are implemented. In addition, the SGA President and Vice President, who meet regularly with administrators, often appoint members of the Senate and Cabinet as student representatives to various faculty committees and councils.

Myth No. 2: It is difficult for individual Senators to contribute and make their voices heard.

Granted, the tedium of Robert’s Rules and the large size of Campus Center room 163 can sometimes deter a senator from frequently participating in Senate meetings. However, senators have ample opportunity to make contributions within smaller, less formal settings. Each senator is assigned to one of five committees: Ways and Means, Finance, Student & Academic Affairs, Administrative Affairs or Diversity & Student Engagement. The majority of the Senate’s work, including but not limited to budget allocation to RSOs, campaign and event planning and updating the SGA bylaws, actually takes place within these committees.

Myth No. 3: The Senate is dominated by male Political Science majors.

This myth is not completely unfounded. Until recent years, a vast majority of Senate seats were filled by men, but the female-to-male ratio has increased significantly thanks to initiatives such as the Women’s Caucus. Moreover, a diversity of majors is represented in the current Senate and by no means does one need a strong background or interest in politics to be a valuable member.

Myth No. 4: Elections are a popularity contest.

Good news: we’re not in high school anymore. And that means that you do not need to bribe people with free candy, be super attractive or even make a speech to win an election. All you need to do to get on the ballot is obtain 25 signatures from students in your residential area. While Senate seats are more competitive to land in certain districts, in other districts they are not. I was elected as a Commuter Senator on a mere 64 votes, 0.3 percent of the student population.

Of course, the ability of some Senators to win seats on so few votes is a testament to the low levels of interest among the student body in running for Senate, as well as the low student voter participation rate, which was a meager 16 percent last September. This statistic is unfortunate, because the SGA is a great organization that would only be strengthened if more students were actively engaged in its efforts.

Whereas, those students who have read this article now have a better sense of the vast power and potential of the Student Government Association to enhance student life, be it enacted that they take a more active interest in the organization by voting in future elections, stopping by the SGA office and following the SGA Facebook page. Be it further enacted that those who are interested in running for Senate next fall do so without hesitation. Be it further enacted that students contact me or another SGA member with any further questions.

All those in favor, signify with an “aye.”

“Nay” is not an option.

Merav Kaufman is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]