Needless to say, the fall 2020 semester has made an unprecedented impact on on-campus involvement and engagement. However, how does Slippery Rock’s student governing body, the Student Government Association (SGA), respond to this uncharted territory?

Two years ago, I served as The Rocket’s assistant news editor and covered every SGA formal meeting. Throughout that year, I covered multiple swearing-in ceremonies, including the appointment of seven senators in October 2018.

Every semester I was on staff, I witnessed the impact of open seats on the senate. In fact, this drove us to write a staff editorial in my first semester on staff to address this problem.

Here’s the kicker: that was well before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, student governing bodies across the nation need to work to support students at various degrees of on- and off-campus involvement. And that requires a well-established senate population.

In the last two years, The Rocket’s news staff covered a larger project in the making: a restructuring of the senate. Prior to this year, SGA’s senate was largely based on student residence. In the 30-person senate, there were 15 commuter senators and nine building senators. The final six positions were designated by class with four freshman senators and two graduate senators.

With three of the nine residences halls empty this semester, getting students involved in SGA would have been nightmarish–if not impossible–under the old senate structure.

Thankfully, due to the work of the former restructuring committee (especially Maggie Calvert and Cori Rockefeller, who both chaired this committee), the new senate structure came at just the right time. The senate has increased to 43 senators and includes positions based on academic college, class standing and residence.

As of today, 33 of the 50 total positions on SGA’s senate and executive board have been filled. At least two more senators (Alexander Riccardi and Braydon Brinkler) will be sworn in as senators at the next formal meeting.

In the new senate, there are 16 academic college senators (four for each college), four freshman senators, four graduate senators, two residence hall senators and two commuter senators. Other new positions include a transfer senator, international senator and veteran senator. The senate also now has 12 at-large senators, who will serve as liaisons between different offices on campus and SGA.

It’s no coincidence that the majority of the filled senate seats are representatives of the four academic colleges. Between the 16 positions (four for each college), there are only two openings left, one for the College of Liberal Arts and another for the College of Business. With college students tending to identify more closely with their academic major rather than their residence status, the number of academic senators already shows some signs of success with this model.

At the surface, 15 anticipated vacancies seem alarming. However, from my experience covering SGA, what I find most defining about this semester are the 34 positions already filled, mostly by first-time senators. While it’s too soon to say how this new structure will work, this number of senators already engaged with a new way to represent our campus should not be taken lightly.

However, a valuable aspect of this new structure is the number of seats still left unfulfilled. As of now, the most significant shortages in the senate will be at-large representatives (seven openings), graduate students (three openings) and a veteran student (one opening).

This senate structure lays the framework for better representation, which SRU students need now more than ever during this pandemic. However, this structure is only as effective as how many students join the senate.

I want to encourage the general student body to pay attention to SGA affairs. While SGA, like any other campus organization, is operating under less-than-ideal circumstances, their decisions are still vital to your experience at The Rock. If you want your voice to be heard by SGA, attend the formal meetings and open forums promoted on CORE. You have the right to have your voice heard by those who represent you, especially in the midst of these socially-distant times.

This being said, SGA’s recruitment strategy must stay consistent throughout this year to fill as many of those senate seats as possible. This will require constant advertising and recruitment efforts, which were part of our criticism of SGA in our December 2018 staff editorial. I greatly commend SGA for their social media efforts to fill senate seats for this semester; however, this effort to recruit cannot dissipate.

After all, the work has just begun.

Hannah is a senior secondary English education major and communication minor entering her third year on The Rocket staff and her second year as editor-in-chief. Previously, she served as assistant news editor and covered Student Government Association affairs. After graduation, she hopes to teach English, communications and journalism to high school students. Hannah has won numerous awards for her writing and design work with The Rocket and was named SRU's Student Leader of the Year in 2020. Outside of The Rocket, Hannah is also part of WSRU-TV, Sigma Tau Delta and the Honors College.

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