Last year the Student Government Association (SGA) saw the greatest influx of diverse students in its history. Leaders are looking to continue that wave of change with reforms to voting procedures and upcoming elections.
Everything from student fees to services at the Rec Center is impacted by SGA decisions, so it comes as a surprise to Dean of Students John Davenport that many students are reluctant to run in student elections. “Student government is an important part of activism, as important as protest and rallies. And the work is vital to making real change on campus,” said Davenport. “The more diverse opinions and experiences we have in the process, the more inclusive the results become.”
Inclusivity was a key component to last year’s SGA elections. Several members of student affinity groups that held “ex-officio” (or non-voting) positions desired more of a voice. Many came together to explore running for SGA senate seats. Eight members ultimately ran under the umbrella of a Diversity Coalition. All eight were elected.
“Honestly I had no idea SGA even existed,” said Ashley Shannon, a senior broadcast journalism major from Glen Ellyn, Illinois. After her win as Homecoming Queen in 2016, Shannon was approached to join the Diversity Coalition. “Together, we studied the roles and responsibilities of the SGA to see what the expectations of senators and leaders would be.”
Shannon spoke with Beau Grzanich, a three-year veteran of SGA and a senior finance major from Sandwich, Illinois. The two decided to run on a ticket together with Grzanich as president and Shannon as vice president. They won.
“The student government represents more than 20,000 students and every single one of them has different backgrounds and beliefs,” said Grzanich. “It’s very important as a governing body to hear what students are going through. Through input and constructive criticism, we can more accurately view the issues and challenges faced by students.”
The increase in diversity of SGA senators is making an impact, noted Davenport, but it is only a beginning. “Diverse voices have a profound effect on student government. If people want to get out of the routine of ‘business as usual,’ they need to come to the table,” he said.
Next year’s senators may be implementing a new SGA constitution with more inclusive voting rights. Currently, senators are elected from four areas: on-campus, off-campus, student life (RSOs and Athletics), and academics. Senators are now considering changing representation to colleges and schools. “SGA attracts a lot of students from the College of Business and from the Department of Politics and Government,” said Shannon. “We’re hoping these changes will help draw students from other colleges.” The SGA could also create a house of representatives, where groups and organizations could petition to have a vote. The campus community will have a chance to ratify any constitutional changes during the SGA elections in April.
Shannon and Grzanich also hope a fresh wave of students take up the mantle of student government in the April elections. “I want to see more students of diversity on the SGA, and not just race diversity,” said Shannon. “Even in my short time on the SGA, I’ve noticed women are speaking up during SGA meetings now more than ever. I hope more women will be empowered to take part and speak out even more.”
As part of her vice presidential duties, Shannon oversees the Emerging Leaders Program for SGA, which gives students insights and background into student government. “Emerging Leaders is what drew me into SGA years ago,” said Grzanich. “I see the students Ashley works with now, and they are bright and energetic people who I hope take the reins. The most important part of our work is to get the next generation of student leaders active.”
To discover more about SGA and Emerging Leaders, visit the SGA website.