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How can SGA represent students if they are not holding Senate meetings?

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD | October 3, 2019

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This Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Student Government Association (SGA) met for the first time in three weeks. This marked only the third meeting of the academic year. The previous two meetings, scheduled for Sept. 17 and 24, were cancelled.

When asked why the usual meetings had been suspended, Executive Vice President Dean Chien wrote in an email to The News-Letter: “We are a policy driven body and that means that if there is a bill or resolution on the floor or some guest presentation, we will meet, if not then there’s really no need to meet.” He added, “That being said, we are not going to be in the business of not meeting.”

We are glad that SGA plans on having regular sessions. That being said, we find it hard to believe that they had nothing to discuss these past few weeks. How is it that our representatives have no bills or resolutions? The University is in the midst of many critical changes. Dozens of student organizations are in massive debt. The University is in the process of implementing a controversial police force. Art groups on campus need more support. There are plenty of topics warranting at least a weekly check-in.

Even if we disregard the new issues that have cropped up in the past few months, SGA seems to be doing less than it has in previous years. In recent years, SGA made commendable efforts to promote student engagement and wellness. In February 2018, Anthony Boutros, the sophomore class president at the time, helped implement TurboVote, an online voter registration service. In March of 2018, SGA members organized buses to take students to the March for Our Lives protest in D.C. In February 2019, they partnered with student group Wings to provide menstrual products on campus and increase awareness of menstrual health.

However, SGA’s momentum is now falling flat. The D.C. Climate Strike, which many Hopkins students attended, occurred only two weeks ago. SGA did not provide transportation. Free menstrual products are nowhere to be seen on campus. And over the past month, SGA suspended meetings because they did not have legislation on the floor. 

We understand that SGA has limited power over the administration. We do not necessarily expect to get free bus rides to every protest in D.C. We do not expect SGA to singlehandedly meet all student demands. What does concern us is SGA’s lack of effort. In addition to focusing on realistic initiatives to effect long-term change, having regular meetings seems like the first step to maintaining progress on pre-existing efforts.

While discussing the lack of recent meetings, Chien wrote, “There is a lot going on and from a legislation standpoint, we have a lot coming down the pipeline.” 

Still, this does not excuse their lack of meetings. SGA should put in the effort to meet every week. If they are at a loss for what to do, they could work to engage with the student body and see what issues and initiatives the students want them to focus on. Its members must have ideas on what Hopkins can do better. 

We are also troubled by a notable decrease in SGA’s transparency and accessibility to students this year. SGA’s website remains confusing, with dead ends on several links. The “Who We Are” page lists students in the wrong years, as well as some who have graduated. The minutes of the few meetings that have been assembled this semester have not been publicly uploaded onto SGA’s website. The most recent publicly uploaded meeting minutes are from February 19 — over six months ago. How can we hold our representatives accountable if we do not know who they are or what they do?

In previous years, members expressed intentions to have livestreams for Senate Meetings every week to encourage more student engagement and increase knowledge of SGA proceedings. However, as far as we are aware, SGA is no longer working on issuing livestreams. If SGA is hard-pressed to think of something to discuss during Senate Meetings, why not start with transparency? We need an updated and accurate website, complete with minutes — if not livestreams — for each week. If SGA wants to see more student engagement, they must first make it easier for students to get engaged.

That being said, we acknowledge that SGA is continuing to make important efforts. In the beginning of the semester, SGA elected new leadership for our new black student caucus. The continuation of the O-Week activism fair, which SGA organized for the first time last year, is promising. Plans to hold another Wellness Week in November are also admirable. Just this week, SGA listened to a new proposal regarding the creation of a Hopkins Town Hall, in which students, faculty and community members can discuss grievances, new ideas or initiatives at regular meeting times. The idea is at an incredibly early stage, but it is a promising one and we are hopeful that it will be a platform for more robust student and community engagement.

Still, SGA must aspire to do more. We are frustrated by the lack of legislation passing through our student government at such a critical time. We fear that missing two meetings in a row is not a strong start to the year. We are frustrated that SGA is not being transparent with the student body. 

We understand that it has only been a month into the school year. But even for that short time frame, SGA has not done enough. As students, we deserve more from our student government. 

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