TAYLOR OGAN ’18
I am not on the Student Government Association (SGA), and have never thought about joining. I am approaching this as an outsider. As my time at Trinity comes to an end, I recently have been thinking about what progress Trinity students have made in the past four years, and I worry. I look to the SGA’s accomplishments, and I worry further. Maybe I just have not been keeping up, but I am realizing I am not alone in failing to see noticeable changes from the SGA. Now, that is not to say the SGA does not do anything, because it does a lot. I worry most about how little voice students have at Trinity, and how little power the administration even grants the SGA. The SGA should be pushing the administration much harder to actually let it do something.
I brought my concerns to some members of the SGA over the past few weeks, and I offered suggestions, many of which they have made in the past week. I suggested the SGA hold weekly office hours, and it did, for a week. Last week, over twenty students expressed their grievances at the open forum, which goes to show many students clearly have been wanting to have an opportunity to talk to the SGA. It was a good wakeup call for the SGA, which seemed to be blindsided by the fact so many students participated.
The SGA seems to be more of a government of students, not a student government. There is an inadequate representation of student opinion on campus, which needs to change, starting with the SGA. While the weekly recap in the Tripod is a great way for the community to stay on top of its progress, there has to be more. Until Sunday night, students largely have not known what the SGA does, because it does not (effectively) tell us. It would be helpful for it to release a simple bulleted list of its accomplishments every week. The SGA has always had transparency issues, which is why it baffles me that it does not publicly release their budget, which almost every other form of contemporary government does. We should know how much money it is giving student clubs, how much the Spring Weekend performers cost (the SGA gives EAC Barnyard their funding) and how much of the students’ tuition was wasted on Action Bronson and B.o.B, how much it spends on SGA formals, what the off-campus shuttle costs per semester, etc.
Far and away, the biggest internal issue with the SGA is that its members seem to be involved for the résumé boost rather than the betterment of the College. This is also a major reason the administration does not take the SGA seriously. Last Sunday, at my suggestion, an ‘optional’ meeting was held directly after the SGA’s weekly hour-long meeting for any members interested in having further conversation about the trajectory and goals of their own government. Twelve of the thirty-one members stayed. Twelve. This past Sunday, another ‘optional’ meeting was held, with sixteen members attending. The fifteen who did not attend either weeks’ meeting clearly do not want to make any actionable change and should be removed.
As it stands, to run for an executive position on the SGA, one needs to have been a part of the SGA for at least one year. This is absurd. This is why SGA candidates often run unopposed. The SGA finally sent its Commons website to the Student Body on Sunday. Sadly, many of the links on the website lead to a blank page. The SGA Constitution does not even have a year on it, and is still in template-form. The last Meeting Minutes were posted over a year ago. The SGA VP of Finance and VP of Communications are not even listed as positions in the Constitution, yet are titled positions this year. The current SGA forgot it had an Instagram and Facebook page until it was reminded last week.
The overarching issue is the minimal amount of power and action the SGA has in the eyes of the administration. On the big issues (budget, admissions changes, new buildings’ functions, etc.), the administration acts with extremely limited student consultation. The administration gives the SGA and other student-run groups the far lower-costing, more minor tasks that it would rather not pay an employee to do, i.e. help run the First-Year Orientation, approve new student clubs, design class t-shirts, manage Spring Weekend, organize Senior Snowball and Senior Week, argue with Chartwells, deal with housing lottery petitions, etc. And as EAC Barnyard has shown in the past two out of three years (Action Bronson and B.o.B), it cannot even effectively do its job. And on the rare occasions the administration does include SGA members in the important meetings, it does not listen to what the students have to say––even the SGA will tell you that.
The SGA should be pushing the administration a lot more than it is, after all, it should be the voice of the students, and students have a lot of concerns that are not being addressed by either the SGA or Trinity’s administration. Why does Trinity not disclose our endowment’s investment holdings? I have heard there are a lot of controversial investments in there, from fossil fuel giants to firearms manufacturers. Why are our endowment’s investment holdings rates of increase so much lower than nearly every other market over the past few years? Why has Trinity still not publicly apologized for the September 2016 balcony collapse? What was the real reason Trinity so hastily purchased the downtown campus at Constitution Plaza?
By the College not disclosing investment holdings, and the SGA not telling us where its money is going, it is only exacerbating the whole transparency problem. The SGA should at least have a permanent seat at the table at the Board of Trustees meetings, the Admission Office’s plans, the Commencement speaker selection, the Committee on Institutional Advancement, the Financial Affairs Committee, the Academic Affairs Committee, and a say in the endowment’s investments. Also, the SGA should help oversee the tour guide “script” in conjunction with the tour guides, not the out-of-touch Admissions Office who sometimes exaggerates aspects of the College and student life.
While the SGA has made some improvements in the past week, these changes should have been realized and made long ago. Now that the SGA seems to be getting on a more productive and structured path, the administration needs to take it more seriously, and give it more power. To the SGA and the administration: if you listened to students more, Trinity would be a much better place. It is difficult for the SGA to accomplish real change when the administration gives it very little power, and when it only meets for an hour a week.