(image credit: Rosa Valente)

A crowd gathered inside the Penmen Room Tuesday, April 16 as the Student Government Association (SGA) held its final meeting to vote on changes to its constitution and induct the new Student Government for next semester.

Seats were brought in to accommodate the 40+ students who represented several clubs ranging from the Culinary Student Association to the Student Veterans of America.

The reason behind this gathering was to discuss and protest changes to the SGA Constitution that would affect the funds and resources available to clubs through the SGA.

One of these changes was the definition of what constitutes a club conference. A conference, according to the new policy, is an academic event at a set location with a formal agenda and an established schedule. Conference propositions will be reviewed by the newly renamed Finance Committee to assess if it fits within the new policy.

This change in policy caused concern for many clubs. They worried that they would no longer be able to attend conferences and trips they have been able to attend every year, as they might not fit the policy’s conference definition.

This concern was expressed again following another policy change that would limit funding allotted for conference spending from $15,000 to $8,000 dollars.

While SGA stated the change was necessary to allow more clubs to attend conferences and that the new amount would be sufficient according to statistics from the past two years, students remained skeptical.

Concerns were also raised regarding member recruitment and retention as clubs may no longer be able to afford to send general members to conferences.

Despite the decrease in available funds, SGA assured there is a clause in the constitution for the use of emergency funds that can be immediately approved in the event of a storm or other emergency event. These funds will either be immediately available or reimbursed depending on the situation at hand.

However, because of the clubs’ concerns about the amount of money available for two conferences in a year, a conflict broke out among the senators over what an appropriate amount would be. The funding policy would later be amended to $10,000 for each club to use for two conferences in one year. This amendment was approved by SGA President Sina Tupouniua (’20) following a tie vote. The onlooking crowd greeted Tupouniua’s decision with deafening applause.

Though the clubs most affected by the policy change will be the groups sending the largest number of students on conferences, student attendees will also be limited to 12, the maximum number of students able to attend a conference with a single chaperone, according to the Office of Student Involvement’s policies.

While the per-person funding allotted for conferences will only allow for seven to 10 members of a club to attend a conference, the restriction placed on student attendees is intended to decrease spending on adviser participation.

This policy was additionally amended to state that any additional advisers for a conference must find other sources of funding.

Additionally, the SGA discussed a policy that stated conferences beyond a 75 miles radius of the campus that begin before 9:00 a.m. and end after 9:00 p.m. will receive hotel funding.

After much discussion, this policy was amended to state that approved conferences starting later than 9:00 am or end before 9:00 pm will not receive hotel funding within a 60-mile radius

These policies and their amendments were approved by SGA after a brief vote and were added to their constitution.

While the SGA was successful in making the changes they set out to make at the beginning of the semester, students expressed their disapproval regarding both the constitutional amendments and how the meeting itself was conducted.

Many students felt that the SGA failed to advocate for and communicate with students by only allowing a limited amount of questions from students during the meeting.

When asked to comment on her concerns, student and Women’s Center Staff Member Sabrina Disorbo (’21) said, “The biggest concern I have about SGA is that they do not interact with the student body, nor do they care about the opinions of students. I did not know the dates of senate meetings or that they were open to the general public. Such information should be available to the student body… Furthermore, those who did come to the meeting and had questions were often ignored, causing many to feel frustrated. Many students resorted to speaking without raising their hands and were instantly silenced and scolded…I was horrified by the way the meeting was conducted, as it seemed the Senate was unprepared for a discussion. There is no structure to keep the meeting in order.”

SGA members stated the purpose of the meeting was for last minute adjustments and voting and while they desire open and clear communication with the student body, external comments at this time complicate the process and prolong the meeting. Previous Senate meetings would have been a better setting for an open discussion.

Newly inducted SGA President Charlotte Webb later stated, “The concerns about not gathering enough student feedback regarding the new policies are valid. It was one of our goals, but in the midst of all the changes, we were unable to fully meet it. This will be one of my top priorities as president for the upcoming year.”