SGA: For the students, made up of students

Left to right, SGA secretary and sophomore Madhurane Muthukumaraswany, president and senior Audrey Meakin, and junior Liam Manning..

In the last year, many changes have occurred on Norwich’s campus, from new buildings to new policies. While some of these are credited to the commandants or Norwich administration, there are other groups and organizations that are also working towards positive change for the students and the university.

One of the changes that was made in the 2018-2019 academic year was to appeal a proposal to tighten Norwich’s honors requirements. This action was, in part, due to an increasingly active role being taken by the Norwich University Student Government Association (SGA).

According to Prof. Mike Kelley, the faculty advisor for the SGA, the changes to honors requirements was the “perfect” opportunity for the governing bodies at Norwich to work together to find a solution in a matter that was important to both sectors.

The SGA had been hearing complaints from the current seniors and juniors about a proposal on what qualifies as “cum laude” Latin honors. Norwich SGA for 2018-2019 was under the leadership of Executive Branch President Audrey Meakin and Senate Chairman TJ Carley. With their collaboration they were able to execute changes in the Latin honors designations on behalf of their fellow students.

The honors issue involved a plan to change the grade requirements, which would have impacted a large number of upperclass juniors and seniors.
“Juniors and graduating seniors had worked really hard to get an honor that will go on their resume and on their diploma,” said senior Audrey Meakin, a 22-year-old from Marblehead, Mass. “The way it was implemented was so you could work three years to get cum laude with a 3.0 GPA (grade point average), but then it was changed 3.4 and there was no time consideration or grandfather clause. This is where SGA stepped in.”

To begin the change process, the SGA drafted a memorandum supporting the change, but suggesting that this change be applied to the underclassmen who had more time to adjust their GPA’s. Meakin and Carley both signed the document, and then brought the memorandum and 1200 signatures from Norwich students to the faculty senate.

The senate, which is made up of professors, deans, and staff members, viewed it and voted favorably on the memorandum. Once that process happened, it was sent to the provost office, where it was signed and then sent to Norwich President Richard Schneider.

“He signed off on it. We came to the compromise that juniors and seniors would be grandfathered into the old standards, freshmen and sophomores would fall under the new ones.” Meakin said. “Hundreds of graduating seniors and soon to be seniors are getting the honors that they deserve.”
The process of intervening on the honors issue had other benefits between the governing bodies here on campus. Meakin said that it “forged an alliance between us and the faculty senate” as well as adding “legitimacy to us as an association too.”

Prof. Kelley said the SGA has an important role on campus. “SGA is the official voice for the undergraduate, and the masters in architecture program students who reside and take their classes here in Northfield,” he said, adding that this does not include the graduate students.
Kelley notes that a “governance principle” was a focus that President Schneider worked on all throughout his presidency, making sure that both the students and the faculty could have their own piece of shared governance.

While this “alliance” between the SGA and the faculty senate is important for the future of the SGA, this was not the only connection the SGA was able to make this year.

To honor the passing of a Norwich student, SGA worked with the Counseling and Wellness Center to create the first ever Mental Health Week. The week had different activities and events that not only highlighted mental health and its prevalence in students’ lives, but encouraged students to seek counseling when they faced issues.

“One of the absolute successes of this year, to me, was Mental Health Week, and SGA had a huge role in that,” Kelley noted.
SGA President Elect Olivia Bloom, a 20-year-old junior neuroscience major, from Chestertown, Md., said that the connections that are being built this year are just the start.

“My main goal is to maximize the relationship between the student government and the student body to ensure that respect and professionalism remains on the entire campus,” Bloom said. “To create a culture that is more adaptable is the purpose, foundation, and structure of SGA, as well as eliminating any assumptions or false ideas that SGA may have created over the past few years.”

Bloom’s goal is one that SGA has been working on for a “long time,” according to Meakin.

“Getting people to want to be involved, getting people like Olivia to understand our mission and our purpose and how we operate, because it’s not a super public thing,” Meakin said. “(SGA) attends a lot of meetings that students don’t know about. All the work these students do to make sure we have a voice and to understand what our education system means.”

One example of these meetings that SGA attends are with staff from Sodexo, which operates Norwich’s food services.
“SGA has a Sodexo liaison that I meet with monthly to talk about what’s going on and new things that are up-and-coming,” said Lisa Kennedy, the
Norwich Sodexo operations manager. “SGA has also been invited to attend dining committee meetings, to which everyone that has held the Sodexo liaison position has attended.”

These meetings are open to the entire student body, both residential and commuter, and are held to discuss what is working with Sodexo, what hasn’t worked, and what people would like to see in the future. While students can leave “comment cards” on the bulletin posted, there are only a handful of students who participate in that.

“We have been directing some of the comment cards to SGA, for example the hours of operation. The hours of operation for dining are governed by Norwich,” Kennedy said. “SGA can be a voice of the students to say that students are asking for this to change.”
Kennedy is happy to direct these cards to SGA. She says that they have a “great relationship” and there has never been “a president or a body” that she couldn’t work with.

While these outside connections are critical to the success, Kelley believes that SGA 2018-2019 will leave a bigger internal legacy, one that will need to be worked on in the future as well.

“The executive branch and the legislative branch worked well together this year, we mutually supported each other,” Kelley said. “Each year they get stronger and stronger, and build on the shoulders of the previous year.”

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