It is election season – that time of year when candidates seek the votes of their perspective constituents. On the campus of John Brown University, however, the candidates for the Student Government Association blend in well.
Wearing everyday clothes, they wander their classes or the cafeteria on a quest for the signatures needed to put them on the ballot. Often, they run unopposed. Of the 20 available senator positions, only about half are currently filled.
For many students, the work of SGA officers and senators remains something of a mystery. An example is freshman Maggie Willis. She never really hears anyone talk about SGA, she said, and doesn’t really know much about it. She added that may be because she has not been here very long yet.
But from what she has seen, she continued, “SGA doesn’t seem to be as big of a deal as they are advocating themselves to be.”
Senior Hannah Cook, student body president, said that while being typical students is what gives SGA members a unique role it is also their biggest weakness.
“We are just students too,” she said. That is what qualifies them to do their job, but is what can also hinder them from doing as much as they would like because of time constraints.
Cook said SGA members’ biggest strength is their participation in Board of Trustee meetings and other campus administration committees. As president, Cook gives a report to the whole board twice each year.
“We are often the only actual students the trustees ever come in contact with,” Cook said. Because of this, the trustees do ask the SGA members for input. Cook continued that this part of SGA officers’ jobs affects students in real ways they probably do not realize.
Willis said that role made perfect sense, although she had not known about it before. She continued that she wondered what type of things they told the board, and also how SGA members could communicate back to the students what occurs in the meetings.
“If the SGA would publish a report about the meetings, or really anything they’re doing, it’d make it easier to understand and keep up with what they’re doing for JBU,” Willis said.
Cook said she had never thought of telling the students about what happened in the board meetings. Some of the information is confidential, and other things are more detailed than students would probably not be interested in, she added.
Steve Beers, vice president of student development, said SGA members provide a constant reminder for the board and the cabinet about who their policies affect. The University’s administration takes the liaison position of SGA with the board seriously.
By working within the administrative system, Beers said, SGA can coordinate with school officials to make real changes. He gave as an example the fact that it was SGA representatives eight or nine years ago who helped students get Good Friday off of school.
“Students would complain about having classes that day in March or April. But by then it was too late to do anything about it, and they would forget about it until the next year. SGA members were of significant assistance in working with committees and petitioning that this be changed.”
Danielle Keller, coordinator of student activities, is the school appointed advisor for SGA. She said one of the challenges for SGA is communicating what they are accomplishing back to the students. They could do better at marketing themselves to the student body, she said. This is sometimes hard because they do not want to come across as bragging.
It is important for there to be two-way exchange between students and SGA. Keller added that the SGA senate meetings are open to the student body, a fact many do not know. If students want to present to the senate they need to be placed on the agenda, but they are always free to attend and listen.
Cook agreed. Students often talk about SGA to one another, she said, but typically they do not talk to the SGA members. “We want people to come directly to us,” she concluded.