The Student Government Association (SGA) held their yearly Fall Forum on Tuesday to discuss prospective projects and discuss how to encourage political engagement among students.
The forum was open to the student body and drew about 10 non-SGA members.
The Civic Engagement Committee started off by proposing a collaboration with the University and TurboVote, an online program designed to help students more easily submit absentee ballots. The program sends students email reminders informing them of upcoming elections.
The Committee also discussed the growth of the Civic Discourse and Academic Freedom Initiative, which would increase the frequency of events on campus about current politics.
Executive President Noh Mebrahtu explained that currently there is a lack of informed conversation on politics in the U.S.
“This issue is national, but it stems locally, from college campuses,” Mebrahtu said. “We are going to be the leaders of the future.”
The initiative also involves working with the University to refine its protest guidelines, titled the Interim Student Guidelines for the Protection of Public Expression. Students had criticized the guidelines upon their release in April as a violation of free speech.
The initiative is also designed to increase collaboration between different political student groups and better engage the student body in discussion on current events. Individual groups will host events pursuing this goal, and SGA hopes to facilitate some of these discussions.
SGA also aims to pair with the Andrew Goodman Foundation, an organization dedicated to increasing student involvement in democracy.
Freshman class president Sam Schatmeyer explained that the Andrew Goodman Foundation will complement the Turbovote program.
“[The Foundation] provides outside funds and resources to help people register to vote,” Schatmeyer said. “They provide funding, posters and markers to help preach the gospel of whatever social issue is relevant to your campus. In Baltimore, you can go anywhere with that.”
SGA also discussed plans on constructing a new student union or gathering space for student groups and clubs. The Student Services Committee had endorsed these plans in previous years and has proposed demolishing the Mattin Center and replacing it with house rooms for large clubs and organizations.
At last week’s meeting, Executive Vice President AJ Tsang had given a presentation on the student union. He proposed a fundraiser where students could buy bricks for 99 cents each and sign them. The SGA would then deliver the signed bricks to Garland Hall.
“The driving force behind creating this space for students is really to improve mental health,” Tsang said.
The University has already looked into the cost of a potential studnt union and concluded that construction will cost at least $120 million. The University has also done traffic analysis, measuring which footpaths are most traveled by students, indicating where it would be most convenient for the student union’s location. The Mattin Center is one of the spaces that draws the most student passersby.
In an email to The News-Letter, Tsang wrote that the SGA plans on accumulating funding, support and resources from the Board of Trustees, the Parents’ Fund, the Alumni Association and young alumni.
“The brick protest is just the first step,” Tsang wrote. “That’s mainly to create public awareness among the administrative players necessary to green-lighting the project.”
Construction plans also include the creation of amphitheaters and social gathering spaces. Previous utilities of the Mattin Center, including its dance studios, would be preserved. If the University executes these plans, the construction will take at least two years, with demolition of the Mattin Center commencing in 2021.
Classes that currently take place in the Mattin Center would be relocated to other buildings.
Smaller roundtable discussions at the forum included a civic engagement table that focused on how to improve civic engagement through faculty-student collaboration. According to Tsang, the roundtable included a professor and a former president of the non-partisan student group IDEAL.
“From this discussion, members of SGA, IDEAL and the Faculty Assembly agreed to kickstart a joint faculty-student civic engagement effort next semester that will bring together panels of faculty and students to chart common efforts on civic engagement,” Tsang wrote.