by Tommy Delp | published Feb. 2nd, 2021
Often, we focus on the ‘government’ part of Student Government (SG). And yes, SG is organized similarly to other bodies of government.
That being said, what if we looked at what the ‘student’ part of the name emphasizes? What role do students actually play within SG, and what can they do for the rest of us?
Organization and Structure
SG’s executive branch is headed by its president and vice president, both of which are elected by the student body on a shared ticket. Along with those roles, there is also an elected senate.
The Senate is made up of students that represent certain groups, mostly colleges, but there are also senators for greek life, graduate students and more.
After all of these positions are filled through SG’s spring election, the president then appoints the rest of the executive branch, also known as the cabinet, which are then approved by the Senate. Cabinet members often have specific roles in the SG administration, such as managing financial resources or events and outreach.
While SG’s main job is to advocate for students, they are not the only group standing between the student body and whatever campus changes we want to see. They make up a smaller part of the university's shared governance model.
Nicole Boulais is the associate vice president of Student Affairs and one of SG’s two administrative advisers.
“Student Government is one of the three representative bodies within the shared governance model of the university ... All three fall under the umbrella of the University Council,” she said of how SG fits into the greater system.
“Student Government is one of the three representative bodies within the shared governance model of the university."
SG along with the other two representative bodies — Academic Senate and Staff Council — have equal say in what policies the university passes. The former is headed by faculty members, and the latter is headed by staff.
These three groups each have 11 seats within the University Council, which is headed by President Munson. He has final say on anything brought to the council.
“In almost all cases though, the decision made out of shared governance is the direction the university goes,” Boulais said.
The process to get to this point begins with PawPrints, and has to go through SG’s entire legislative process.
The PawPrints Process
If you're interested in how PawPrints are created and spread, check out Reporter's "PawPrints: A Step in the Right Direction." Various petitions, serious or otherwise, are constantly making their way around social media. By the time a petition hits its 200 signature threshold though, the process has only just begun.
Victoria Barbessi is a fourth year Computer Science major and SG’s director of Student Relations.
“It is my job to work with committee chairs and the Director of Operations to make sure that every single PawPrints that reaches threshold gets charged and responded to,” Barbessi stated.
The process starts with Barbessi bringing the petition to the Senate and discussing it. From there, it is charged to one of SG’s committees or an individual member.
Along the way, a student’s petition often goes through more than just SG. Other parts of the university’s shared governance structure can be involved depending on the content of the petition. SG may also partner with the professional body or office that made the university’s current policy on the topic.
“We, as Student Government, can’t change policy on our own. We write up guidelines or proposals which are then brought forward to different governing bodies,” Barbessi says of the process.
“We, as Student Government, can’t change policy on our own. ”
Finally, the response is presented to the Senate, and everyone in SG is given the opportunity to chime in. It is then voted on; if the vote passes, the response is posted. Otherwise, it is taken back to the drawing board, and the process begins again.
Often, the response doesn’t end up being exactly what students hoped for. SG faces the challenge of acknowledging when they’ve hit a wall, while also still making it clear that they’ve done all they can.
“It’s not that Student Government isn’t advocating for you. It’s just that sometimes ‘no’ is the honest answer,” Boulais said.
Right now, SG members like Barbessi are working to increase the transparency associated with PawPrints petitions.
“We want to find a way to answer PawPrints with the entire response. What is the process we went through, and what are the next steps?” Barbessi said.
While most people prefer to indirectly interact with SG through PawPrints, there are also plenty of ways to get directly involved, even without holding an official position.
The Student Element
As with most systems, SG is full of complexities and difficulties that we may not recognize unless we ourselves stand behind the curtain.
“We welcome students to come to Senate [meetings]. It’s a good way for them to hear what we’re told. Those things aren’t secret,” Barbessi said.
Along with providing greater clarity, coming to an SG meeting may just emphasize to students the amount of work that’s being done to represent them.
All the members of SG have their own lives outside of the student body’s PawPrints petitions. They too struggle with balancing classes and their extracurricular roles.
Not only that, but SG is a learning experience for those involved. It’s where many get their first tastes of leadership.
This also ends up being the main difference between SG and the other governing bodies involved in the university’s shared governance model.
Boulais states, “Organizationally, Student Government is the same as Staff Council or Academic Senate. The difference is that students are students, and it’s often the first time that they’ve been in these kinds of situations.”
SG is meant to be a unifying force to get our voices heard, but a system like that often only works if the voices stay informed.
Looking for a place to start?
“If you want to get to know Student Government, Student Affairs is a great committee [to join]," Barbessi said. "They cover everything under the sun."