Despite a small audience, the SGA and Graduate Student Assembly presented concerns on their dwindling presence on campus, as well as possible solutions, in a joint-address last night.
Since the start of the year, the two organizations have emphasized their main focus: governance. Last week at the Commission of Student Affairs meeting, they both expressed their concerns regarding the current system to pass legislation.
At that meeting, SGA and GSA reviewed the current governing structure and the usual 12-week time frame it takes to pass legislation. Dustin Dorph, president of SGA, voiced this concern again at the joint address Monday night, however this time he went on to explain the internal challenges that they are facing as an organization.
“Currently, there’s an identity crisis. As an organization, we’re stuck between 'Are we a program organization?' or 'Are we a governing organization?'” Dorph said.
Recently, SGA and GSA have been focusing on events, said Dorph. For instance, SGA coordinated Relay for Life and the Big Event, but these two events soon broke off as independent identities because of their size. In addition, GSA would put on wine socials throughout the semester. These socials dwindled down as leadership within the organization changed and the aim towards governance prevailed.
“It’s not that we don’t want wine socials, but we don’t want it to be our focus. At the end of the day, we are professional graduate students. We have to put this image out there. We have to focus on this besides doing events and socials,” said Shaimaa Abdallah, president of GSA.
Dorph supported that thought, agreeing that focusing on large events took away from the student voice.
“It took a lot of focus away from governing, a lot of focus away from gaging student opinion and being able to effectively do that for students,” Dorph said.
The identity crisis faced by these two organizations has also lent itself to the apathetic culture among students.
Last year, the voter turnout stood at 8 percent. The lack of interest among the student body proved itself at the joint address with a non-SGA or GSA student attendance of three.
SGA is tackling this issue by attempting to be more accessible and visible to the student body. This is being accomplished through several branches of the organization.
They have renovated their website, connected on Facebook and Twitter, created a Pinterest board, Youtube channel and promotional video.
SGA is changing how the internal structure functions to engage more students.
At the joint address, SGA Speaker of the Senate Luke Hodge expressed his excitement on increased representation in the House and Senate. This year is the first in his three-year tenure that every seat has been filled.
Additionally, sessions of the House and Senate now take place together to increase effectiveness and efficiency. They also require that representatives speak to the dean of the college they are representing, so they are aware of what SGA is doing and also contribute.
“We’re trying to be incredibly active, pass legislation, get out there, feel for student opinion and learn what the students want,” Lodge said.
To make the representation process easier for student organizations, the judicial branch is focusing on reviewing documents to assure that they are clear, according to Luster Schonberger, SGA Chief of Justice.
Despite obstacles, the SGA and GSA are confident they can make a difference in the governing structures currently in place.
“We’re here, we want to work for you, and we’re dedicated to improving student life here at Virginia Tech,” Dorph said.