By Sarah Tewksbury, Staff Writer
The USM Student Government Association (SGA) is determined to hit the ground running and work hard in the coming months of the 2017 semester, though not without challenges. The enthusiasm among the members of the SGA is met with low interest among nonparticipating undergraduate students. Even more, most students who have no ties to the SGA have no knowledge of what the function of the group is—and generally do not care.
Some students on the Portland campus went said they felt that the students who care enough to participate in the SGA should be trusted to do their jobs well and without question. However, without the participation of outsiders, who are not affiliated with the SGA, students allow for a complete allocation of power to a small group of students.
The Student Senate, the Student Body President, the Student Body Vice President and the student cabinet comprise the SGA, whose purpose is to act as a board of representatives for the students of USM and advocate for student issues and interests. Commuters, residents and at-large students sit on the SGA, and currently, there are vacant senate seats that still need to be filled.
In November 2016, scandal rocked the student senate when a student wrote offensive anti-Islamic graffiti on surfaces in the office. Though the student was not a member of the group, some Student Senators did not react appropriately to the incident and were eventually asked to resign. An emotionally charged meeting followed the incident and cast the SGA in a negative light.
Due to the graffiti incident and the attempt to cover it up by some of the Senators, the question of the SGA’s transparency has been raised. Students and faculty have questioned the openness of the organization and whether or not the SGA engages in practices that exclude members of the USM community. Last minute changes to the location and time of meetings, for instance, in the fall semester made people skeptical about how much non-SGA student participation is truly wanted by current members of the SGA.
In an attempt to make more students aware of meeting times, at the beginning of the 2017 semester, the SGA published a list of meeting dates, times and locations on both its USM affiliated website and Facebook page, USM Student Government.
Another question that has been raised is the availability of information from and access to students affiliated with the SGA. Most of this confusion comes from non-SGA students not being aware of where to find information they are looking for. Not only is information about what the SGA is currently working on readily available on its Facebook page, but also each Student Senator is required to have office hours each week, in an attempt to promote better relations with non-SGA students.
On top of that, Student Body President Muhammad “Humza” Khan is working to ensure that there is a free and steady flow of information to students. Through Facebook and Twitter, Khan communicates about upcoming events and updates. Partnering with WMPG and Gorham Community Cable Access Television Channel, Khan produces bi-weekly updates, called Cabinet’s Corner, on his work as Student Body President and the work of the SGA. Archives and up-to-date recordings can be found easily on both SoundCloud and YouTube.
Though the social media accounts for the SGA are kept up to date and meant to aid the SGA in maintaining transparency, the USM website for the SGA does not provide current information. Documents related to the SGA, such as its constitution, can be found on the website. However, the list of members is outdated and inaccurate. The Google Drive that houses minutes from SGA meetings and documents are also outdated, as minutes can be found for meetings as current as September 2016, but none after that.
At the Student Senate’s first meeting of 2017, held on Jan. 20, where attendance from individuals outside of the SGA was nonexistent, The tight group of SGA students worked together to discuss the business of the day and future meetings. Among the issues discussed, the first was the business of interviewing and voting on the admittance of two new senators, Dylan Reynolds and Hamdi Ahmed.
Advocating for her acceptance to the student senate, Ahmed said she wants to be able to “encourage respect among all students, regardless of their backgrounds.” Though she was hopeful for the future, she did bring up why she had not applied to the Senate before: because of a fear of underrepresentation and lack of inclusion among previous Senators.
During the dialogue, current Senator Fatuma Awale spoke to Ahmed’s concerns, saying that just because Ahmed felt comfortable to join the group now “that does not mean that those negative parts of the senate are completely gone.”
Among other issues brought up at the meeting was the Board of Student Organization’s (BSO) participation in the SGA. According to the SGA’s constitution, BSO members are required to appear at student senate meetings. However, they have not been fulfilling that requirement.
During the meeting, Student Body Vice President Madison Raymond commented, “The BSO has failed to show up to a majority of meetings. If they fail to continue to appear, we should consider changing the structure of the constitution because they are technically under us.”
The SGA has a lot of ground to cover to change the USM community’s perception of the organization o, but the members of the organization are prepared to work to dismantle that negative perception and to become more inclusive. Though they encourage other students to attend the meetings and have an active participation in the group, it will be up to students to decide what outside involvement looks like.