By Cecilia Cress and Olivia Montes
The 2021-2022 Student Government Association began hosting in-person Senate meetings every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in the Norman James Theatre of William Smith Hall beginning Sept. 14.
The SGA Senate is a student-led body that works alongside the Executive and Honor Boards at Washington College. The main purpose of the Senate is to balance the power between these two bodies while upholding the goals of SGA, which include granting support to the community, giving a voice to and being inclusive of all WC students, celebrating diversity and diverse perspectives, and communicating news and events on campus to students.
Any first-year student who expresses interest in the Senate can join during the early fall semester. Joining requires 15 or more signatures from students who trust that individual can make positive contributions as an active member of the Senate.
Applications for SGA Senate ended on Monday, Sept. 13, with a record number of over 100 Senators. Which, according to senior and SGA president Kat DeSantis, is “the biggest group … seen in over five years.”
The size is expected to decrease as more academic and extracurricular responsibilities begin to pile up as the semester goes on, but SGA remains optimistic for the future.
“Senate is a great opportunity to impact change at the College, support clubs and student organizations, and get to know students from across campus,” DeSantis said. “All eight Senate committees are already hard at work preparing for upcoming events and answering student concerns.”
To ensure new Senators feel both comfortable and prepared for each meeting, as well as being informed on the responsibilities associated with the position, senior and Speaker of the Senate Josh Gastineau, along with DeSantis as well as sophomore and Parliamentarian and Chair of the Review Board Natalie Wisnoski, have organized and will run a “Senate Education Boot Camp,” which will involve informing new additions as to how this branch is organized and how it works.
“We are trying to educate senators about how student government works, what their responsibilities are, and the amount of power they really hold in the student body as a whole,” Gastineau said. “[Senators] hold a lot of power, and they make a lot of decisions that happen on campus. It’s really the Senate that watches [legislation] and then either approves or denies them, and they’re the ones that help us make these decisions, and I want them to realize that they have that power to do this and have a voice on campus.”
Other goals SGA hopes to accomplish this year include “advocating for student safety, supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and improving residential living on campus,” according to DeSantis. This involves reinforcing relationships with Buildings & Grounds and Public Safety and maintaining effective and efficient transparency between themselves and the student body.
However, according to Gastineau, priorities can shift and change throughout the year in accordance with what is happening on campus.
“I really want people to get involved and be active on campus,” Gastineau said. “I think that’s what makes the College so amazing, [and] ideally I want to see people come out to … wake up again, and realize that this campus can be awesome if we all come together and start to [take action].”
Members of SGA encourage all students to actively advocate for their wants, needs, and concerns on campus, as SGA is the open channel meant to promote that kind of communication.
“We [at SGA] are really trying to make the Senate an open environment for all students to come and express how they feel, and we are there to facilitate that,” Wisnoski said. “Being on campus this year and seeing all the students come out, especially the freshman class, it really warms my heart [that] they get to be involved in the student body.”
Additional ways students can get involved on campus include applying to become an Honor Board Panelist, serving in the SGA’s judicial branch, or attending SGA Senate weekly meetings scheduled throughout the semester.
For the class of 2025, the incoming freshman class officer elections also present, according to DeSantis, an opportunity “to get involved in a leadership role and make a larger impact on the College,” according to DeSantis. Students and class officers together can make this impact through reaching out to communicate with Board members, Senators, and each other for ideas and suggestions concerning how to make the most of the WC student experience.
“With all these people, we get many different points of view, and I think they can really contribute to the conversations we want to have,” Wisnoski said. “I [also] really want them to be open with anything they need, and that we can really accomplish anything as long as we work together and listen to our peers.”