Senate Experiences Transition Period After Restructuring

Photo by Carolyn Brown '16 | The SGA Senate meets every Tuesday evening from 7 to 9 p.m.

Photo by Carolyn Brown ’16 | The SGA Senate meets every Tuesday evening from 7 to 9 p.m.

 

Katherine Hazen ’18
News Editor

Last year the Student Government Association (SGA) decided to restructure Senate, the governing body responsible for approving charters of new student organizations, approving bylaws of the SGA committees and sitting on issue-based committees.

Senate was previously organized with the Vice President chairing the body, with each house represented by one Senator per 50 residents.

“Mostly every house on campus had two Senators,” said SGA Vice President Rose Goueth ’16, “Class Vice Presidents also attended, and committee chairs and cabinet members were encouraged to attend and did so every week.”

The initiative to restructure Senate had been on the agenda for two to three years, said Dorie Klein ’17, who was the Senate-elected chair of the SGA committee to restructure the Senate.

“[Restructuring] was an important issue for Student Government Association and for Smith students as a whole because Senate was not effectively using its constitutional powers, nor did it have a positive perception on campus. This was incredibly frustrating as the constitution laid out the Senate to be the body where decisions by the students were made, which is important for a campus that values student engagement as much as Smith does,” said Klein.

Klein added that due to the perception of Senate and its own failures, decisions were being executed in the wrong branches of Student Government.

“Cabinet and [House Presidents’ Association] executed more decision-making power than was provided in the constitution, and these decisions were not coming from the student body, as they should have been. Student Government Association wanted decision-making put back in the proper hands: the hands of the students, and therefore their true representatives: Senators,” Klein said.

“Committee Chairs (Elections and Appointments, Curriculum Sustainability, Social Justice and Equity, Student Life … Organizational Resource Committee) sat on cabinet, making a 17 person cabinet,” said Student Government Association President Meghna Purkayastha ’16. “This was also highly inefficient because it was a large number of people trying to advise Senate.”

The sheer number of Senators was also concerning for many reasons, as Student Government Association Secretary Idia Irele ’16 said.  “People were concerned about the amount of Senators because it made it difficult to accomplish anything.  Also, because every house had to elect two Senators, many students felt pushed into running and then later lost interest.”

Representation itself was the most salient in a laundry list of changes made during restructuring of the Senate. Rather than representing a house, Senators now represent their class and their area of campus.  There are approximately 40 Senators, with two for each class in each area.

“Having campus-wide Senate elections allowed for students to run out of interest or passion as opposed to obligation,” said Irele.

In addition, the SGA moved the standing committee chairs from the Cabinet to the Senate and “added some more representation for transfers, Adas and off-campus students … As said before, we wanted to represent everyone on campus and we believe this model is the first stepping stone towards a structure that will last for many years,” said Goueth.

Goueth emphasized that, given the restructuring occurred quite recently, it is hard to discern the effectiveness of this model.  “We are testing out our new model, and there have been some ups and downs, but more ups for sure. As we all adjust, we really are figuring out how this change not only affects Student Government Association but the whole Smith community.”

Purkayastha said that there is now a conversation on restructuring “as part of the weekly agenda to continue working through necessary changes.”

Klein seemed less optimistic.  “I am not on campus this year, as I am abroad, but judging by the fact that I get emails from Smith asking students, any student, to volunteer to be a Senator, I would venture a guess that our plan for a more engaged, informed and active Senate did not really work,” she said, adding, “No system is immediately successful.”

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