Final Field Project: SGA Inclusivity

FrigginSushi's picture

Something that I personally had been grappling with since I became a Dorm President in my sophomore year (officially becoming a part of the sga assembly), is how SGA promotes itself as an inclusive group on campus to focus on democratical partcipation within the college. SGA has always had a tension between allowing students to explore what self governance mean to them (for example, getting students to want to come to plenary) vs pushing the idea of self governance on to the students (for example, closing the dining halls and library during plenary).

Personally, I've found that the majority of people who become involved with SGA are consistent, meaning the same people run for different SGA positions and the same people become elected, every year. Something that we talk about in our group today was the fact that SGA meeting and the assembly (who are supposed to come to the SGA meetings) are not representative of the campus (ethnicially, socio-economically, etc.) to the point where any people from particular affinity groups or other area of campus feel they are not welcomed to SGA meeting and that they are forced to come to plenary out of guilt.

Our idea for this project would be to have some outlet to practice multicultural education with students on campus to dscuss the following (but not limited to) questions:

  • Considering the latest campaign efforts ("I am SGA. I am Empowered"), what aspects of our identity (individually and as a group within/outside of SGA) contribute to ourselves feeling "empowered"?
  • How do we acknowledge difference between people (within SGA and outside of SGA) and how do we unite in this difference?
  • How can we make SGA more inclusive to people of diverse backgrounds (eg. Sisterhood, BaCaSo, Interenational Students)?
  • How do we make this space a safe space for people to express their opinions?

We've run into the issue of who would participate in this; who would be willing to talk about this and who we'd like to ask to talk about this. How would we present these ideas? What format would this take? Here are some ideas.

Regarding getting the SGA assembly to become involved in the project:

  • SGA Meeting Take-Over: Asking for about 20 (preferably more) minutes in the agenda for one of the meetings on Sundays to dicuss these questions. Possibly breaking the assembly into group, starting a dialogue, etc.

Regarding getting students or group who feel uncomfortable at SGA to become involved in the project:

  • Sending a survey through Res-co (through the Dorms): What format would the survey take and what questions would also be something to think about...
  • Going to affinity group meetings: For example, going to a Sisterhood meeting and dicussing. This would be very tedious andthere are many groups on campus so it would be hard.
  • Hosting workshops to invite students to discuss: Might run into the issue of population representation.

Any feed back would be great. If you are interested in participating in this, please comment!

Comments

jayah's picture

Hey guys! So I had a meeting

Hey guys!

So I had a meeting with the Sisterhood Affinity group today. The group had representatives from each class year present at the meeting. Here are their thoughts…

 

First, I had them write down their initial thoughts on SGA. Here are some responses:

    “SGA is a relatively small group of students that are elected by a relatively small part of the student body. SGA addresses issues that these students feel are important.”

    “I think SGA is put in a difficult position on campus and people don’t participate enough.”

    “I think the idea of SGA is nice, but its not very effective if you don’t hold a position or aren’t heavily involved. Particularly for clubs/groups, aside from providing funding, they’re very off-putting.”

    “SGA picks who they want to help and excludes who they don’t want.”

    “Needs more representation of minorities.”

    “The way I feel about SGA in relation to Sisterhood is the same way Kanye felt about George Bush.”

    “SGA seems distant to me, mainly because I don’t attend any meetings, but also in relation to how they seem to treat Sisterhood.”

    “Not enough information given upon entering Bryn Mawr.”

    “SGA- not truly representative; a source of power for some people.”

    “SGA has like no power. They also aren’t equal in funding (by group)”

    “Be more sensitive about budgeting needs.”

    SGA makes it difficult for Sisterhood to get funding because there is a misunderstanding of what an open v. closed group is.”

 

Below are the questions asked, and the responses of various students (all black students):

 

Do you feel SGA acknowledges difference between people and do they unite in this difference?

Do you feel like SGA acknowledges the people of color & do they unite to make sure people of color feel included in SGA?

 

  • No SGA is extremely white this year.
  • Groups are thought of as clubs. i.e. Sister Circle (SGA only gave 100$ for this because it sounded to them like it was just for Sisterhood and not the greater Bryn Mawr Community.)
  • Representative council isn’t truly a representative of the whole school. Many voices are not heard. Same people get elected. Same people vote on things. White and Asian groups represented, not blacks. (which plays a role in unequal funding)
  • Black students don’t run for things b/c they don’t feel represented in SGA. They are willing to run though.
  • We do not get funded equally with other groups. Representatives who are on the SGA board. (SAW and ASA) budgeting inequalities. Don’t fix systematic problems like budgeting. SGA, in a way, separates the people of color, having them fight each other for funding. Not equal.

 

What does it mean to participate in SGA?

  • Plenary (vote on decisions)
  • SGA meetings (listening to other people make decisions, watch other people vote on things. (Whom are the SGA representatives talking to in order to make these votes? Are they representing the whole Bryn Mawr community? They certainly are not incorporating the voices of Sisterhood.)
  • Language written in ways you have to be immersed in the Constitution. Don’t really understand. Not a lot of reiteration or transparency or inclusion for everyone who attend the meetings.
  • Only reason we are a part of SGA is because we are paying dues. Otherwise, it excludes the community.
  • Running for positions

 

Who do you think doesn’t participate in SGA and why not?

  • SGA is a popularity contest? Its about who knows the most people? Not about who is going to represent everyone. Stopped people from running because you have to know a lot of people to get your message out.
  • What does SGA actually do?
  • SGA Makes decisions concerning funding, but these decisions do not go to plenary for everyone to have a voice. These “little” decisions greatly affect groups like Sisterhood!
  •  Everyone doesn’t have a voice. (Don’t represent everyone)
  • No merits. Doesn’t make sense. Think on behalf of themselves.

 

Is there enough transparency in SGA? Do you feel like you are “in the know” about SGA? Do you know what’s going on with SGA? Do you know the point of it?

  • Doesn’t know much about SGA. Don’t do enough to promote what they do. As a Freshman, you hear a lot about SGA but not really included.
  • It’s a scapegoat; falculty makes us go through SGA to things done, but things do not get done. I.e. BMC creates committees. Perry House committee. No action after the voice. (“Don’t blame SGA, there’s little committees under it.”)
  • What are April appointments? I get there’s a board, but what do they do?
  • Condense minutes into main points. Students are not going to read a whole conversation. Get to the point. What was done, what will get done?
  •  Plenary is for little problems (We vote for gender specific words, but what about issues that like changing in funding. We want a voice too!)

 

How can we make SGA more inclusive to people of diverse backgrounds (eg. Sisterhood, BaCaSo, International Students)? How do we make this space a safe space for people to express their opinions?

  • Accessibility. Jargon not clear to everyone. Familiarity with language.
  • Equal funding amongst groups
  • Making it known what April elections are
  • Don’t know what we are voting for
  • Customs week, it should be booklet telling freshman what SGA is
  • Everyone should know about candidate’s forum. More outreach please!
  • Make effort to show up to events or meetings and talk to people in affinity groups to hear their problems. There may be many commonalities amongst affinity groups. See how you can incorporate their voices in things that SGA votes on. After all, SGA should be perceptive to who actually comes to SGA meetings. (not many people of color)
  • Needs to be something other than emails… flyers all over. Make events more visible.

 

 

Common themes:

Budgeting

Not diverse

Popularity contest


If you have any questions on anything, just ask. I can further explain the notes that I gathered from this intense conversation!!

laik012's picture

Response

I really enjoyed the discussion last Thursday. I believe the importance of SGA and I have also noticed myself that the majority of people who become involved with SGA are consistent.

I mentioned the other day how I do not appreicate when SGA is trying to market and promote themself hopelessly. In some ways, there are times that SGA reminds me of a multinational cooperation based on their marketing and punitive actions. Perhaps the best thing to do is question how and why are students not partipating?  iInstead of marketing and talking about the benefits of SGA, I believe that SGA should view this on an individual basis. That is to say, could it be that students coming from different backgrounds and cultures have different priorities and therefore SGA is not one of them? Perhaps a student do not value any type of governing system coming from a highly corrupted country? I don't mean to defend any students. I just think that it is time for students who feel marginalized to be allowed to speak. Blaming people for not going to plenary only creates enemies and grudge. 

FrigginSushi's picture

I think what's very important

I think what's very important to question is not how SGA can become inclusive, but why is it exclusive in the first place. I definitely feel this should be another question added to the dicussion questions.

I also understand that a lot of people have very heated feelings about this topic and I appreciate you opening up and sharing. Thanks.

BlueBird's picture

Thoughts on Promotion

Hi Laik012,

I have been thinking about alot about what you said, epsecially in terms of the way students may see government. Would the fact that students see government as corrupt be a reason to remove self-governance? Is participating in self-governance feeling like participating in the corruption or is it possible that if we reached out effectively, we could think about how participating in government on campus can be a forum to think about changing the system and learning to be empowered to speak one's voice in other settings. I am not sure if Bryn Mawr is providing this forum to all students who may want it and how we can. I guess I am looking for action, but lost about how.

Additionally, at the Big Cheese forum yesterday, the director of admission talked about a question relating to the honor code and self-governance on the 2019 application. I am wondering what peoples' thoughts are about this, especially given that the ideas of government may look different to different people.

jccohen's picture

who is SGA

FrigginSushi and others connected with this group,

Great idea to do an action connected with democratic participation on campus - that could certainly be seen as an aspect of "multicultural education," and you're also construing it to highlight intersections of identities and participation.

 In terms of who to bring into these dialogues and how: Taking some time during an SGA meeting seems like an important move symbolically and actually, and I wonder - if you knew ahead of time when this would happen - whether in itself it might seem intriguing, an "event" that folks would come out for. 

A couple of other thoughts:  How about focusing some of your energy on engaging freshwomen in your dialogues?  One way to do this might be to connect with a couple of folks in the first-year Posse (and/or their mentors), or maybe you all know a few freshwomen who would get engaged with this.  For a few reasons this could be an effective strategy...  And another thought would be to ask Marissa Golden in Poly Sci if you might have a few minutes of a class for a dialogue or maybe just invite one of her classes to participate outside class... (and you can tell her I suggested that you talk with her), since I know she teaches about related issues (on a beyond campus scale).

I think this is doable if you stay focused, strategize in a couple of directions, split the labor... and feel free to get back to me about ways I can support your group!

FrigginSushi's picture

On the topic of first year focus

I talked a bit to Emma about this and it might be that focusing on first years could give us a skewed outlook. I know that first years have only experienced SGA failing (two incomplete plenaries in a row), so maybe they'd have like... extreme opinions? Not saying that this is necessarily wrong to have, but it could affect what our finding would be. They also have a bit less experience with SGA as a whole. I don't want to exclude their voices obviously. I'm just not sure about paying specific attention to them over other groups.

I wouldn't mind contacting Marissa Golden to start a dialogue with her as well.

Here's more things that I've thought of:

Regarding getting the SGA assembly to become involved in the project:

  • SGA Meeting Take-Over: Asking for about 20 (preferably more) minutes in the agenda for one of the meetings on Sundays to discuss these questions. Possibly breaking the assembly into group, starting a dialogue, etc.
    • Update: Date of SGA meeting Take Over will be April 13th at 7PM for 20mins
      • Explain our project (1 minute)
      • Count off into groups of 6 (2-3minutes)
      • Discussion questions, we will walk around to the groups (15minutes)
        • Send questions to SGA a week before (April 6th)
      • Gather papers, inform them of a summary of our findings (1minute)
    • Advertise a week in advance via activities emails and Resco emails!
      • This is so we are getting the students and assembly separate from affinity groups (or at least as separate as we can get it)

Regarding getting students or group who feel uncomfortable at SGA to become involved in the project:

  • Going to affinity group meetings: For example, going to a Sisterhood meeting and discussing. This would be very tedious and there are many groups on campus so it would be hard.
    • Email the affinity groups + Rainbow alliance, Zami, GenderQuest
    • Lead that discussion in a similar way to the SGA meeting
  • Lead a discussion for Marissa Golden (Poly Sci)’s class
    • Email
jccohen's picture

yes, i see your point

about first years.  And I like the directions you're heading here...  Let me know if you'd like to discuss this further as you move forward.  Ultimately I think it's a promising and important direction for the campus.

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