By Joanna Sperapani
Elm Staff Writer
On Oct. 18, the Student Government Association (SGA) Senate voted on the 2016-2017 Platform with a new list of goals to conquer in the upcoming semester. The platform consists of 10 main articles, and will dictate the path that the SGA will take in the upcoming months.
The mission to make a platform was inspired by the discovery of an older version created by a previous Washington College SGA. “We found a document from 2004-2005 which was a platform on campus issues… We used that format plus our preamble: ‘We are the elected and appointed student representatives for the student body and it’s our job to take care of student problems and concerns,” President Audrey Utchen said.
“It was a good way to get the SGA back on track. In previous years, SGA didn’t have a real mission and was distant from student needs, and within the past two years it was focused on student needs five or 10 years from now. The platform is a good starting point and trajectory,” Financial Controller Alex Smith said.
Despite the lack of one in recent years, many SGA members believe that this specific platform could be the start of a yearly tradition. Parliamentarian Elisabeth Engle said, “The platform is important to have this semester, and in my opinion, every term, so that we can express the most current and important issues concerning the WC student body today. It is necessary to keep these platforms up-to-date because of our growing and diverse population.”
There is a hope among SGA members that the new platform will restore trust among the students after issues within the organization were made public earlier in the semester. “I definitely believe this will strengthen our relationship with the student body and will show that our main objective is to serve the students and to be as transparent and productive as we possibly can be,” new Vice President Melat Kiros said.
Speaker of the Senate Benjamin Fizer spoke on this as well. “I think we got too involved in the administration. We hear complaints, but they kind of just get funneled up to the administration, instead of having a list of them and saying this is what we all want done. We moved away from what we should have been doing, I think we should be engaging the student body with the issues that they’re facing. If it’s some tiny little fix, that’s great, but I felt like that’s all we were doing last year. We didn’t really have stuff like let’s fix the problems with the meal plan or let’s make a commuter space.”
One example of a previous SGA initiative is the new campus kitchen in the Goose Nest, which was decided upon in fall 2015, and recently opened to student use. “The kitchen’s awesome… Now people can go in; it’s great and everything works. The idea is, say a club wants to host something like a quesadilla night, they can use the kitchen and fundraise, plus the Goose Nest and the Egg are right there. Clubs and students can sign up with an online form, and as long as you clean it up, you don’t get charged a $25 clean-up fee,” Smith said. It was his idea to organize the kitchen building and equipment through SGA funds.
The first article represents student concerns about improving campus accessibility for disabled students. “That is an important article. [Pat Elliott, director of student services and campus properties] is working with [Jerry Roderick, director of Public Safety] to figure out how to make that happen. Jerry is really proud to announce that Hodson is getting the push buttons to open the doors, and they will be going in this week,” Utchen said.
The next article addresses issues with the Dining Hall. In Senate, several students expressed concerns over food for students with dietary needs, as well as questions about changes to meal exchange, such as having one swipe per meal rather than a $5 value, or accessing meal exchange at Java George and Sophie’s Cafe.
Article three revolves around the improvement of the popular Bike Share program. “We have 50-60 students signed up, way more than we have ever had in the past, which is great to have. That being said, now we have a high demand and have to re-vamp Bike Share. [Katie Walker, secretary of the environment] is really excited to improve eco-friendly transportation on campus,” Utchen said.
“Articles Four and Five go together; Four is improving International Exchange Student Immersion programs, and Five is having a greater SGA presence at orientation. Both are really instrumental in aiding students’ acclimation to campus,” Utchen said.
The sixth article is aimed at improving the safety, security, and well-being of the student body. “That covers public safety, to the blue lights on campus, to health and counseling, and safety as a whole,” Utchen said. This is already being addressed, as in response to student concerns about faulty blue lights, Roderick has assured the SGA that they are checked every two weeks.
Article seven addresses the needs of commuter and nontraditional students through the establishment of a lounge specifically for them. “I’ve talked with President Bair on this, Dean Sarah Feyerherm, and Jerry; they’re all really excited about this article, as commuter and nontraditional students are an integral part of our community. They’re really excited to get a space of their own, and the ball is already rolling,” Utchen said.
Smith said, “I had a great meeting today, and I am so excited. The commuter lounge is happening, it could actually happen this semester. It’s going to happen, in the next four months or over the summer… We think we have a design that we would like to see, but obviously we’ll have an outside architect come in. Since the SGA has the money in its reserves, we want to spend the money and we have the ability to do it now. Why wait? If we can get this approved, there’s no reason we can’t start next semester.”
Although on-campus students might not see the need for this lounge, commuter students have been asking for their own space for a long time, Fizer said. “They need a place where they can go put their stuff down and relax. They can’t always rely on other students; it’s unfair to them… It’s like how we have common rooms in our dorms,” he said.
Echoing this idea, Smith clarified that “Commuters will be the only people who have access to it… I think it’s really important, I’m pushing for it and I see the justification for it. ”
Not only will it be secure, the lounge will also aim to be relaxed space for the students. “We’ll probably put TVs, lockers, and couches in there to make it as comfortable as possible for commuters,” said Utchen.
Article eight concerns adopting environmental standards whenever equipment is replaced or purchased. The SGA wants to put this policy in place for the future, to set a precedent for eco-friendly action on campus.
Article nine pertains to very vocal student concerns about changes or exceptions to the solicitation rule. “This has affected a lot of students, and so we’re really looking into this. Dean Feyerherm is really responsive to this, and she wants us to have all our traditions,” said Utchen.
The tenth and final article aims to improve student locker rooms. Secretary of Social Life Victoria Cline is involved in this movement, which plans to create a more comfortable and clean space for the 30 percent of the student body who are athletes.
Although most of the platform were chosen with the idea that the articles could be accomplished within the current SGA term, some aspects will simply be established this semester as an opportunity for future work. “Some things can’t happen in six months, but the conversations need to start now,” said Utchen.
“We want to keep the goals reachable so that we can see immediate results. We do have long-term plans, but making sure that this first platform of many can have objectives that are completed within our terms makes the rest of the goals more reachable. It will be a stepping stone for our successors in both the executive board and the senate,” said Engle.
Many SGA members hope that the establishment of the platform will aid the future elected officials. “By the end of next semester, we will already have had elections and a new administration will be in charge. We want to hit the ground running now so that we can set a precedent for future administrations to have an idea of what to do next,” said Kiros, who hopes that the establishment of the platform will aid the future elected officials. When the platform is finalized, it will be available on the SGA website.
By Joanna Sperapani