SGA; Hidden In Plain Sight
Northeastern University supports almost 25,000 undergrad and post-grad students. Handling a university of this size is no doubt a daunting and challenging task for those who are employed full time in administrative roles. What is surprising, whoever, is the group of students who quietly work behind the scenes of behalf of their peers in the Student Government Association (SGA). The Executive Cabinet is made up of Student Body President, five Vice Presidents overseeing various boards, and a Comptroller who deals with funding student organizations, as well as appointed positions Chief of Staff and Executive Director of Communications. SGA’s general body consists of over 80 senators on behalf of their individual colleges.
“We are not here to represent the administration to students, we’re here to represent students to the administration,” said Student Body President Elliot Horen. Even though SGA openly markets themselves as a resource for students, often times there is still a lack of clarity to how students can get involved and how they can make an impact. Outside of the Executive Cabinet, SGA is made entirely up of general student senators.
In recent years, there has been unrest at Northeastern over student’s representation as senators. Senators often represent their colleges, but there is little control over how many senators per college. One letter in the Huntington News explained how D’Amore-McKim had 10 senators, while College of Arts, Media, & Design had one, which could theoretically mean SGA didn’t holistically represent the university at large. The letter went on to say how there also were very few senators from a marginalized background. However, SGA does not force anyone to be a member, and they can only be as diverse as the students who are interested to be involved.
To solve this, SGA is working on targeted student organization outreach, which, according to the Huntington News, is “designed to give underrepresented groups a voice.” This also was the goal in SGA’s new monthly initiatives.
“Every month we have our own monthly initiative, and I participate in that whenever I can to increase awareness of SGA,” said Vice President for Student Involvement Nick Haberli. “One of the first projects I did in SGA was an outreach program, reaching out to other freshman at the time, essentially spreading the good word. It involved working and speaking in front of groups of people to, maybe not join SGA, but to just be involved, and to understand who they can talk to if they needed to get fixes.”
Once a problem is identified, SGA works to rectify the problems through outreach and groups dedicated to the issue. This can be seen in Bailey Uitz’s experience with SGA.
“I joined because I was always involved in SGA in high school, so I thought it would be a good place for me on campus,” said the middler physical therapy major. “I joined a University Health and Counseling Services working group this semester to try and make improvements to our health services, since as a future health care professional that’s something I am really passionate about, and I know that it is also something many people feel needs a lot of improvement.”
Because of this group, UHCS has extended hours twice a week to accommodate those who are on co-op, and has more appointments available with less wait time. These changes were implemented within a semester, thanks to the work of Uitz and the SGA working group. These changes were based on student surveys to see who is utilizing the services, how often, and to see where UHCS could potentially improve. According to the Huntington News, roughly 71 percent of surveyed students have needed to see a doctor, but decided against going to UHCS. Statistics like these are what the working group aims to change.
“On mental health, we continued to hear reports from students that the services they are receiving are just not timely or high quality, so we’ve been working for the past year with Dr. Klein, the director of UHCS to improve that,” said Horen. “We are in partnership with Students Against Institutional Discrimination and partners with Active Minds, and I think our success happens when we are able to bring together students groups around a common goal.”
Since SGA is an influential group hidden in plain sight, there are those who are aware of what SGA does on campus, and the potential that lies in the organization. Senior computer engineering major Rachel Rudolph was a member of SGA early on in her college career. Although it’s been a few years since she was an active participant, she still advocates for the power of SGA.
“I think it’s really important for all students at large to at least sit in on one SGA meeting to see the hard work that our peers are doing for our benefit. It is very difficult to understand the reasons behind certain changes or initiatives without being present to hear the discussion and progression,” said Rudolph. “Each student here is given an opportunity to voice their opinions or implement change, and SGA is the avenue to do this. I think if I could change one thing about my experience in SGA, it would be to become more involved in the committees or initiatives. I think SGA should hold their members more accountable in speaking up or getting involved, because I wish I had done that myself.”
SGA is active on campus advocating for their current initiatives, although there involvement may not be visible. One of their two major projects this semester was Northeastern Votes, enrolling students to vote in the election. Northeastern Votes was an initiative involving 16 campus organizations including SGA, who had a goal of “80 by 20” according to a Huntington News article. The goal was to register 80 percent of the students on campus to vote by 2020. Before the national and state elections on November 8th, the initiative registered over 1,000 students to vote.