Many students are guilty of complaining about issues affecting them during classes or on campus but rarely do anything about it after arguing futilely with fellow students and professors.
Student participation is lacking at APSU, most notably with our student government. Students should feel comfortable speaking with senators through email or discussing issues directly during the 10-minute allotment for campus community during weekly SGA meetings, held in MUC 307 at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Although enrollment numbers are expected at over 10,000, less than 6 percent of students voted in the Fall 2015 SGA elections.
The vote count for Fall 2015 elections was 538, compared to the count of 782 during the spring and count of 731 during Fall 2014.
A lack of voter turnout illuminates two issues: decreased advertisement by prospective senators and increased apathy in the student body. Voting for representatives in SGA is just as important to a college student with regard to finance and quality of life as voting in a presidential or local election. By not voting, more and more student voices are silenced on campus.
“Senators are there to represent students,” said SGA President Will Roberts.
According to Roberts, there has been no change in student interest in SGA compared to his previous semesters as an executive council member and senator.
SGA conducts many social and academic events on campus throughout the year, including Mudbowl, the Big Event, GHOST, academic integrity week and the voter registration drive.
SGA Executive Secretary Faith Merriweather tweets before weekly meetings and has encouraged senators to talk directly with the students they represent by turning meeting time into a period where senators walk around on campus and speak to students directly.
Roberts said the executive council aims to increase student engagement on campus. Another goal Roberts said he has as president is to increase civic engagements in SGA.
How SGA is implementing this includes the voter registration drive helps Clarksville citizens sign up as voters.
Roberts said SGA is “shooting for 750 participants” for the 2016 Big Event, a day of community service within Clarksville.
Although SGA conducts various successful social and service learning events on campus, student interest is not reciprocated during meetings, which is disheartening due to the diversity of APSU’s students and their concerns.
Lack of student interest in SGA begs the question: Are our student representatives putting out meaningful legislation?
A new bill, Act No. 4, has been introduced to SGA by Jay Alvarez. If passed, the legislation will require senators running for office to attend a mandatory open forum to speak directly to APSU students.
Freshman English major Elizabeth Erwin said she has been involved in DanceFest during her time on campus and is somewhat familiar with SGA.
“I know that there is voting and I knew some of the people that were running,” said Erwin. “I would say SGA could send someone to the APSU 1000 classes so freshmen would be more informed about SGA.”
Erwin said she thinks Act No. 4 would help SGA branch out to the campus community. “I that it is a good idea, but that can go down hill if people ask silly questions, Erwin said.
One factor currently being discussed at weekly meetings is transparency between SGA and students. Sens. Jonathan Johnson and Peter Ponce recently proposed Act No. 2, which would require SGA to be more transparent to students by publishing its monthly financial budget.
This bill was written in response to controversy surrounding SGA’s purchase in September of the Governors head logo which sits on the window of the café. The purchase was $5,700 and was passed without consulting the senate.
“SGA members are the drivers of campus culture,” said junior English major Drew Martin. “I’m a big fan of SGA.” Martin, however, said he feels SGA is lacking in systemic ways, including transparency.
Martin took use of the slot for campus community on Wednesday, Sept. 23. Martin spoke against the purchase of the Governors head logo, which was a decision approved by the executive council without discussion or votes from senators.
“It was something that needed to be said,” Martin said in reference to his discussion of transparency in the meeting during an interview with The All State. Martin is circulation manager at The All State.
“SGA sponsors so many things … But the system needs to be fixed,” said Martin. “The decision should have been conducted democratically.”
Junior business management major Holsten McFinney said he doesn’t know how SGA could further participation on campus. When asked if SGA could make any changes on campus, McFinney said, “Not spending six grand on a useless sticker.”
Freshman political science major Edward Grier said he sees SGA’s influence a lot on campus, including free food and T-shirts.
“As a freshman, I’m not entirely sure about how transparent the student government is,” Grier said. Grier said his biggest concern for SGA making changes on campus involves WiFi.
“I’ve heard a lot of problems with cable and parking as well,” said Grier.
Grier voted in the Fall 2015 SGA election but said he didn’t know the candidates.
“I was not aware of anyone at all. The only person I knew for sure was someone I went to high school with,” Grier said. “I did not know any of the candidate’s platforms. What I did was essentially vote for them based on how professional their hair looked.”
Grier said he is in support of Act No. 4.
“I really hope that gets passed,” said Grier.
Each semester, students pay a $5 fee contributed towards SGA. This fee is the lowest of all other SGAs in Tennessee Board of Regents institutions, such as Middle Tennessee University, according to Dean of Students Greg Singleton.
Singleton said debate and discussion between senators during SGA meetings has increased during Fall 2015.
“Debate is healthy for a senate,” said Singleton.
While debate is a positive factor for SGA and contributes to discussion of important issues on campus, the vote for Act No. 2 was postponed and officially tabled due to “problems with the language.” Tabling is a form of filibustering, or an obstructive manner in a legislature, particularly by speaking at inordinate length. Filibustering is not an efficient practice for a senate.
If the act is passed by SGA, it will bring their financial situation to light. However, the tabling of the bill points to larger issues within SGA that can be compared to blocking and filibustering within the U.S. Senate. Increased transparency would be a positive change for SGA. It would potentially increase student engagement on campus by holding the organization accountable for legislation and sparking an open discussion with students.
“Remember the students,” said Martin. Martin suggested an alternative to the Govs head: have art students on campus create a logo, which could “cost a couple hundred dollars at most.”
SGA is arguably the most fiscally conservative organization on campus. If Act No. 2 is passed, their budget would be published either per semester or quarterly online for students to read.
“There is nothing to hide,” Singleton said in an interview with The All State.
Currently, SGA is in possession of around $300,000 in the current fiscal year to be used for any number of matters on campus.
This is an increase from the 2006 fiscal year budget of $22,000.
Singleton said the purchase of the Govs head contributes to APSU student pride and the branding of campus.
However, what else could this money have gone towards?
Multiple organizations on campus are stretched thin financially to provide for students.
What sort of scholarships or programs could $5,700 buy?
The answers are invaluable.
A change in transparency could lead to more students and faculty members knowing the influence SGA can have on APSU’s campus and inspire them to attend their meetings more often, speaking about issues that affect them. An open conversation about campus concerns would help to increase student participation and could build a stronger tie between students and organizations on campus.
According to Singleton, an explanation for the current student interest level is demographic.
“APSU is a nontraditional campus,” said Singleton.
The average APSU student is 25 years old, full time, military related, receiving grants or scholarships and commuting, according to data from Institutional Research and Effectiveness.
SGA has accommodated student concerns before through parking spots matching the American Disability Service’s standards, hand sanitizers in classrooms during flu season and dietary concerns for meal plans. Overall, SGA should be constantly questioning whether they are speaking for the students of campus or for themselves. How can an open conversation happen if students are not serving to check and balance this system? How can students be involved if they do not feel connected to their SGA senators? An increase in SGA’s transparency, including a published budget, will allow students to get a glimpse into the workings of their representatives and allow SGA to be more open and accountable to the students it serves.
To discuss any issues on campus or comment on pending resolutions, students can give comments via email to any senator (found at www.apsu.edu/sga) or show up to a weekly meeting.