SGA decries low student turnout at open meeting

by Beacon Staff • April 16, 2008

SGA Chief Justice Jeff Foster said he'd hoped the meeting would solve a common problem he sees at Emerson.,Following the low turnout at their townhouse-meeting event, SGA: Unplugged, members of the Student Government Association expressed feelings of frustration about the lack of interest displayed by fellow students.

SGA Chief Justice Jeff Foster said he'd hoped the meeting would solve a common problem he sees at Emerson.

"When you hear people complaining around campus, they're never complaining to the right people," the sophomore studio television major said. "I always hear it second hand. This was their opportunity to voice their concerns, but they didn't bother."

SGA: Unplugged was intended to be an open discussion about the activities and procedures that go on in SGA, according to President Scott Fisher. The entire student body was welcome.

The other goal of the meeting was to receive feedback on the Senate's new Frequently Asked Question book, according to senior stage management major and SGA vice president Samantha Baime. Baime, former Beacon photo editor, described the book as "an idiot's guide to SGA."

"People don't realize that we can be reached very easily," Grace Konrad, president of the class of 2009 and an organizational and political communication major said.

The event was attended by only a couple of students who wanted to start up a new organization, according to Fisher, a sophomore visual and media arts major.

It was held in the Little Building on Wednesday and Thursday night. No one attended Wednesday night other than the SGA members.

According to marketing communication senator Amanda Zayas, the idea for the open meeting came about before spring break, but wasn't in the planning stages until after break, and fliers were not put up around campus until the Friday before the meeting took place.

Class of 2011 senator and theatre and communication sciences disorders double major Rachael Bralow, however, created a Facebook event encouraging students to attend about a week before. Thirty-three students said they would go.

Zayas, a junior, said the meeting was an attempt to address complaints that SGA is not available to its public. Foster said an open discussion like this is required to take place every year at Emerson.

Communication, Politics and Law Association is an SGA-funded organization. Their treasurer, Aaron Bacon, a Beacon contributer, offered his own idea to strengthen the connection between SGA and students.

"SGA needs to give student organizations a vote," the sophomore political communication major said. "Right now there's no reason to go to their meetings because they don't let you talk, they just tell you what they think."

All SGA organizations are funded through a yearly budget determined by the Financial Advisory Board, which is made up of the SGA executive treasurer and a small group of selected SGA members.

Once the FAB makes its decision for how much it will give each group at the end of each spring semester, those organizations' only method of obtaining more funds from SGA is by appealing to the entire association. Each organization is allowed to appeal once per semester.

"The people who should've been at that meeting were leaders of organizations, but they have no reason to, because they have no say in how SGA votes," Bacon said.

Class of 2009 senator Alli Bizon addressed SGA's lack of adequate advertising and planning as a possible reason for the absence of students at the meeting.

"What we need to do is fix the communication problem we seem to have with the student body," the communication disorders major said. "But we can't do that without communication."

Some students said they were either unaware of the event, uninterested or too busy to take the time out of their schedules.

"I never saw it advertised," said sophomore broadcast journalism major Claire Johnson. "Even though I probably wouldn't have gone, I think a lot of other people would have if they'd known about it, especially with all the controversy around Hand Me Down Night."

As reported in The Beacon in February, SGA allotted $34,000 to the Hand Me Down Night committee, resulting in the resignations of three SGA members.

Since then, a Facebook group encouraging students to boycott the formal dinner and awards show and an open discussion at an SGA joint session have followed, where students voiced their concerns over the large amount of money being spent on the event.

Film major Megan Moulton felt there was another reason for the unresponsive student body.

"SGA seems the most aggressive during their elections," the sophomore said. "It's the only time they let themselves be heard. And last year, I heard all about how SGA was going to make all these big changes, but I haven't seen any, so I don't have much faith in them," Moulton said.

Nick Vargas, class of 2010 president, did not agree with his fellow SGA members on the reason for the event's low turnout.

"These events are silly. This was supposed to address the student body's general confusion about SGA, but people don't care about SGA in general," the theater major said. "It's a great idea in theory, but it just doesn't work."

Design tech major Bill Hawkins disagreed with Vargas and said if he'd known about the event, he would have attended.

"The only thing we've heard about SGA recently is about Hand Me Down Night, and actually, the counter-campaign has been more convincing," the sophomore said. "I would have liked to ask SGA what they think they're doing with our money."

Vargas also pointed out that SGA's attempts at getting the attention of their fellow students worked better when staking out a table in front of the Little Building dining hall.

He said he hoped to return to that method of getting student input in the future.

"We didn't have a planned speech or anything, it was supposed to be an open forum," Bizon said. "And I know it's on us that we didn't do enough advertising, but personally, it's still disappointing."