SGA Looking Forward to Productive Spring

Hi Seahawks!

As promised, I would like to follow up on my last article in the Point News, which covered the numerous accomplishments of the Student Government Association (SGA) in the first semester, in order to outline the goals Vice President Becky White and I have for this semester, our last at St. Mary’s.

Budget season is upon us and the financial pressures on our school are many. Tuition increases loom as our school struggles to keep pace with rising costs and the desire to deliver a strong academic program and residential experience, among other priorities. Given that tuition increases put additional stress on current students and threaten to discourage students from applying to this incredible institution, advocating for the College in Annapolis is a top priority. I have reached out to the University System of Maryland (USM) Student Council Chairman Zach Cohen to help create a groundbreaking joint venture between the USM and SMCM aimed at raising the profile of student voices in the discussion of affordability of higher education. Thanks to a great deal of work on his part, students from all Maryland public colleges and universities will descend on Annapolis on February 28th to urge the General Assembly to ensure the affordability of higher education into the future. Students will participate in a rally featuring high-profile political leaders and addresses from a few student leaders including myself. St. Mary’s students will then meet with key legislators who will ultimately decide whether we receive a tuition buy-down and support to go ahead with critical capital projects like the demolition and reconstruction of Anne Arundel.

The SGA is also working to make sure students have transportation to the February 22nd Board of Trustees meeting in Annapolis should they wish to voice their opinions regarding the proposed tuition increase for the next fiscal year. I have complete faith in Student Trustee Alex Walls’s ability to represent the students to the Board and I know it will only assist him in conveying the student position on tuition increases if more students travel to directly voice their thoughts. The Board of Trustees is genuinely interested in hearing students’ voices so I wholeheartedly encourage anyone interested to contact Student Trustee Walls or myself if you are interested in speaking.

Moving away from budget issues, Vice President White and I will make greater strides with regards to sustainability. We plan on exploring the scaling up and redesign of the reusable to-go box program and are looking to restructure the Green St. Mary’s Revolving Loan Fund (GSMRF) to better empower students to develop and launch energy-saving projects for the campus as part of our commitment to be carbon neutral by 2020. We also would like to re-engage the campus in dialogue over wireless printing. We are confident that a transition to a wireless printing system would address student printing concerns that have been repeatedly articulated through annual surveys completed by the Office of Residence Life and the Office of Information Technology in such a way that saves students money, expands access to printing across campus including at night, and saves ink and paper at the same time – a win-win-win! We fell short in conveying the urgency for and ease with which such reform can be accomplished and we will make a better case to students this semester.
In addition to sustainability, diversity issues are core to this administration’s efforts. We will advocate for the creation of a full-time Diversity Officer position to help coordinate diversity initiatives across offices. In doing so, we also endeavor to signal to potential applicants that we truly care about having a student body that reflects Maryland’s diverse population and that also attracts students from across the country and world to our beautiful school. Additionally, we will explore the possibility of creating more gender-neutral bathroom spaces on-campus given existing infrastructure as well as seek to pass a resolution aiming to incorporate gender-neutral bathrooms in all future campus construction plans.

Lastly, the SGA will be working to generate proposals to amend the SGA’s constitution, a document that has remained unedited since 2007 despite several failed attempts. Many operational realities of the SGA have changed and it is time for the constitution to reflect them. The Vice President and I will ensure that a thorough, transparent review of the constitution takes place and that each amendment is considered individually by the Senate instead of attempting to push a raft of reforms through the Senate en masse. The amendments that clear the Senate’s review will be put to the students alongside elections for President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Director of Campus Programming and the referendum on Meatless Mondays. We must see turnout above 1/3 of eligible voters for the amendments to be adopted. We are aiming to launch these elections on April 1st, as early as constitutionally possible, so that newly elected officials will have a month to shadow current SGA officers in their roles to facilitate a smooth transition into next school year’s administration.

There are certainly many other student issues that require attention and I promise to do my very best to learn about and act on them. I know I speak for Becky and myself when I say we are immensely grateful for the opportunity to serve this College. We hope to make the student body proud and empowered by all that we can accomplish together this semester.

SGA Victors: Weiss/Benjes, Smith, Harvey

Marlena Weiss and Ken Benjes. (Photo by Jackson Webb)
Marlena Weiss and Ken Benjes. (Photo by Jackson Webb)
On Monday, Apr. 19, the results of the Student Government Association (SGA) executive board elections were announced. The 2010-2011 SGA president and vice-president will be juniors Marlena Weiss and Ken Benjes, the treasurer will be junior Matt Smith, and the director of campus programming will be junior Jessica Harvey.

“I was extremely excited when I saw the email from Louis [Ritzinger, SGA Parliamentarian],” said Weiss. “The first thing I did was call my mom, since she had been contacting me throughout the weekend… And then I texted Ken.”

“I was talking to a friend outside Schaefer before class and noticed that I was suddenly getting a lot of texts, which turned out to be congratulations texts,” Benjes said about his finding out about the election results.

Weiss said that initially, she was “somewhat intimidated by the process” because unlike this year, the past couple of SGA presidential tickets have run uncontested. However, Weiss said, “I think that winning a contested election will make us better at our jobs since we have more of a promise to fulfill.

“I am extremely honored and excited that our campus chose us for these important positions,” she said. “My goal for the 2010-2011 year is to follow up on all the ideas I put forth in my platform and always be on the lookout for ways to make St. Mary’s even better than it already is. I plan on staying on campus this summer and will be devoting a large amount of time to SGA and preparing for the upcoming year. I wholeheartedly look forward to working with Ken to lead the campus.”

“As I said in my platform, I plan to fight terrorism on campus,” Benjes added.

Current SGA president senior Justin Perry said that he thought that Weiss and Benjes would do an “amazing job.”

Of Weiss, Perry said that it “sounds like she’s going to continue to place an emphasis on sustainability” and added that her “progressive policies on sexual health,” such as the gender-neutral housing proposal which she spearheaded would have a broad impact on the campus.

“She’s been very involved in the past,” he said.

Perry said that he felt that Benjes would be “incredibly strong” at building openness between between the SGA executive board and the senate. “It feels very divided sometimes,” he said.

Perry also commented on Matt Smith’s election to the office of treasurer. He said that “Matt has been a very vocal leader in the senate for responsible spending,” noting Smith’s role as a “senate leader” this year.

“And he’s awesome,” Perry added.

Junior Colleen O’Neil, the head of the presidential ticket that ran against Benjes and Weiss, said that although she did not win the election, she would still remain active in campus life.

“Of course I am discouraged that my running mate, Hillary [Powell], and I did not win the election but I do think that Marlena and Ken are fully capable of leading our school,” said O’Neil. “I wish them nothing but the best and am excited to see where else in the school I can be involved and invoke change. I love St. Mary’s and its student body and was excited about being SGA president for the sole purpose of giving back and making a lasting change at SMCM.

“I will still be involved and fulfill this purpose in some other manner,” she added.

Gender-Neutral Housing a Campus Possibility

The College is taking the first steps towards implementing a new housing policy which would allow students of different genders to room together throughout North Campus. SGA Secretary and junior Marlena Weiss will introduce the gender-neutral housing legislation to the SGA on April 15, and is using the issue as a part of her platform in her bid for SGA President.

“Our current philosophy supports students moving developmentally through various types of housing which increases decision-making and responsibility throughout their four years,” said Kelly Smolinsky, Assistant Director of Residence Life. “Therefore, it’s probably more in line with our philosophy and student development theory to give upper-class students this choice.”

“I feel like with the dorms it’s more of a complicated issue. And it’s just you and your roommate and you don’t really know the rest of the hall,” said Weiss.

Weiss got the idea from a friend who attends Wheaton College in Illinois, where gender-neutral housing was recently implemented. Weiss went to talk with Residence Life about the possibility of altering College housing policy and, so far, everyone has been receptive to the idea.

“I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally, I like the idea of the increased flexibility for students, and I think that it moves the institution toward a greater recognition of the diversity in our student population, since it involves less labeling and more treating students like adults who can make informed choices,” said Smolinsky.

“St. Mary’s has set a precedent of giving its students a lot of privileges and I think this is something we can deal with,” said Weiss.

If gender-neutral housing were implemented, students would still have the option of same-sex housing.

“My understanding is that what we want to do is provide students more options,” said senior Justin Perry, SGA President. “That’s our big goal. A lot of people support gender-neutral housing that don’t want to actually participate in it. We want to provide more options and open up more opportunities for students to have a learning environment of their choice.”

Many of the College’s peer institutions already have gender-neutral housing policies in place. “[At the SGA meeting] I’ll be showing them the research that I’ve done about policies at other schools,” said Smolinsky. “So far, I’ve found about 35 other institutions that have some form of gender-neutral housing.”

Student opinion has been mixed but mostly positive. Students in general seemed supportive of the potential policy, though most said they did not want to actually live in gender-neutral housing.

“The first thing everyone always says is that boyfriends and girlfriends can live together and they’re going to break up and it’s going to be terrible. I think it’s a very heteronormative way of thinking,” said Weiss. In addition, according to the 2009-2010 “To the Point” handbook, cohabitation is prohibited.

“I kind of have two feelings,” said Perry. “I think that people in a relationship don’t necessarily desire to live with each other. I know plenty of couples who don’t live in the same houses… I also know that in the apartments and the townhouses it’s entirely possible for students to live with their partner if they chose to do so. If in the “real world” you choose to move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend, it requires an investigation into the strength of the relationship.”

“I understand that however open-minded we want to be about this kind of thing, in practice it would probably be kind of difficult or awkward,” said sophomore Johanna Galat, co-president of FUSE. “But I think if more people started doing it would become less awkward–it’s not that it’s inherently uncomfortable, it’s just not something we’re used to. I absolutely think we could get used to it.”

Students Vote for SGA Exec Board, MAT Amendment

This past week, St. Mary’s students voted for a new SGA executive board and a new constitutional amendment to allow MAT student participate in the SGA.

The elections for the SGA executive board were held from Apr. 14-17, during which 306 students voted via their Blackboard accounts. Three days after polls closed it was announced via email that juniors Justin Perry and Elisabeth Neu, junior Kaitlin Hines, and senior Olusola Ogundele were elected as the new President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Director of Campus Programming, respectively.

Voting on the Masters in Arts and Teaching (MAT) Student Inclusion amendment also occurred during this time, but did not receive enough overall votes to pass or fail. According to SGA Parliamentarian Adam Matthai, the referendum ballot will be offered for students who didn’t vote from Apr. 25-28, and the results will be known by Apr. 29.

The MAT Student Inclusion amendment would integrate MAT students into the SGA by giving them the same inclusive rights as those given to other degree-seeking students. According to current SGA President Sunny Schnitzer, she decided to sponsor the bill after realizing that MAT students are currently not considered members of the SGA. Schnitzer said, “[SGA advisor Kelly Schroeder and I] discussed how it was really absurd that someone who is going to be on campus, who’s very invested in it, and has a lot of experience and time here, couldn’t technically participate in [the SGA].”

Schnitzer’s position was further galvanized when she realized that despite their lack of representation MAT students still pay the same student activity fees as undergraduates. According to Schnitzer, passing the bill will, “make it very very clear that all degree-seeking students, including MAT students, are members of the SGA.”

Schnitzer said support from the SGA was strong and the vote was unanimous to put the issue to referendum. This support, however, is not enough to pass the amendment. According to Matthai, any amendment to the SGA constitution must be voted on in the form of a referendum by at least a third of the student population; a simple majority of the voters decides the result.

Even if this amendment does pass, however, Schnitzer said that she was not sure where MAT SGA involvement goes from there. Schnitzer pointed out that no one really knows how much involvement MAT students want in the SGA, and whether they are going to have their own senator or be subsumed into the commuter constituency.

More clear-cut results came from the executive board election itself. With the exception of Director of Campus Programming, which had no formal candidate, all SGA positions were uncontested, a fact that likely affected voter turn-out for the MAT amendment as well. Both Neu and Hines have previous SGA experience; Perry, although lacking a prior SGA title, has co-sponsored multiple bills and is the current Editor-in-Chief of The Point News.

According to Vice President-elect Lisa Neu, both her and Perry’s main goal will be to increase administration-student communication. Neu said, “To me, the issue is not that students don’t know what is happening on campus, and that we should therefore send them more all-student emails… I believe the issue is that outlets for student feedback such as the SGA are not used to their full potential, and that is a problem for everyone.”

Schnitzer agreed with the sentiment and said that the SGA President and Vice President must serve as liasons between the student body and the administration, and must be approachable and attuned to student needs. Schnitzer is confident that her successors, and in fact everyone elected to the executive board, will embody these traits. She said, “I think [Perry and Neu] are big proponents of student well-being and student opinion.” She added, “I love [the candidates]. I’m so excited!”

SGA Vote Breakdown

pres-vp1treasurermat-amendment

Sunny Encourages Students to Enjoy St. Mary’s

Hello Seahawks,

As studying and paper writing starts to consume our lives I hope that we will all take a few minutes to go outside and enjoy the spring/summer weather. In particular I hope that each senior gets one more chance to do those things at St. Mary’s that we so love to do.

Go kayaking, sailing, have brunch outside, watch a St. Mary’s sunset, or watch a St. Mary’s sunrise. Also go to those few remaining sports games, play a round of Frisbee golf, or take a walk to the point. Interact with your community by having coffee with the most difficult professor that you’ve had, starting a conversation with a staff member, hosting a barbeque, or by introducing yourself to someone that you pass everyday but whose name you don’t know. While you’re doing that take a few minutes to reflect on all of the wonderful events that have happened on campus this year or for some of us over the past four years. I hope that when we look back at the past year (or four) we have positive memories. Just like Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home,” and for so many of us St. Mary’s is home.

Finally, I want to express my excitement and anticipation for all of the student leaders that have been selected to represent you for next year. I am sure that each of the club leaders and SGA representatives will bring wonderful new things to campus. In particular I am very proud that our next Student Government will be run by non-other than the Editor-in-Chief of the Point News, Justin Perry (SGA President) and two time former senator, Lisa Neu (SGA Vice President). I am positive that these two will do great, great things for St. Mary’s. In addition Kait Hines and Sola Ogundele are going to shine as SGA Treasurer and SGA Director of Programming, respectively.

Best of luck next year and have a great summer!!
Sunny