President of SGA Resigns
In a SGA meeting Sunday evening, Bobby Joe Smith ’09 resigned from the position of Student Government Association (SGA) President. Community Council Chair Antoinette Rangel ’09 assumed the position of President until a special election can be held next week, in accordance with the SGA guidelines. Any student will be able to run, but the Cabinet members are likely to remain the same.
Just last week, I wrote: “…it is clear here that Bobby Joe is getting prodded for not producing on any of his campaign promises…. But really, how likely are universal “MiddCards” and the Africana Studies major? Campaign promises are promises to be broken. Smith has got other things on his plate… With the creation of three new committees, there seems to be a “SGA-complex” of tens of students working on what seems like tens of committees with incremental “research” on a mind-boggling number of issues.”
I didn’t understand what Bobby Joe was going for with his far-reaching plans. Smith made clear from his tenure that the role of the SGA is not necessarily to deliver huge concrete changes but rather to channel and amplify the small amount of existing student activism for issues on this campus. As a person who writes on campus issues, I find it particularly hard to get other students to care about the Middlebury community. Rehearsals Cafe is closing: who cares? Choose Responsibility makes national television: who cares? Biomass plant opens: who cares? It is therefore no small feat that the SGA became a mini-think tank for campus issues, while even trying out a few key experiments: MiddBay, break shuttles to the airport, student rallies, and weekly aggregate emails. To get enough students to create three new committees is a big deal. Research and careful planning on a wide variety of the “big issues” is necessary but hard for full-time students.
Is think-tank/campus activism the right model for SGA? I don’t know. But it is a different model for the SGA than in the past. And trying something different is worth a chance until the SGA can finally figure out its niche and purpose at a school where we can bring our complaints directly to administrators who take time to sit down with students. The barrier between administrators and students at this school is actually quite low. At most schools, the SGA is handed a ton of student activity funds which it then uses to program events. Their SGAs throws events. Here at Middlebury, those funds go to student organizations from MCAB to the brand new Quiz Bowl club. If our SGA doesn’t throw events and doesn’t particularly do petitions of protest to the administration, then what does it do? Any new SGA president and future presidents have to answer that question.
Bobby Joe himself echos this sentiment in an email this evening: “I do believe the SGA is not living up to its potential, despite the efforts of a number of its members–I say this less as a criticism and more as a testament to the enormous potential and opportunity of the SGA. The SGA needs to reassert its position on campus, or else a new method needs to be devised as to how to give students the say they deserve in institutional decisions that directly affect them, because ultimately that’s what matters (not the existence of the SGA).”
And Bobby Joe does not lack vision. One could say his words of advice for future SGA-ers are this:
(1) change begins with self–if SGA wants to be respected and take on bigger issues, then it needs to earn that respect through action, and the SGA needs to continuously reassess itself and make the necessary adjustments to take on the big issues; (2) the power of the SGA does not come from its inherent position, but from the participation, energy, and support of the student body, and therefore the SGA needs to do a much better job in involving students, if it is to have the authority it desires–in order to attain those things the SGA has to register in the consciousness of the students and become a more active part of student life; (3) show up–those that show up to meetings and discussions, and take advantage of opportunities as they are presented, are the ones that will end up make the major decisions that will affect this campus.
It is clear there needs to be a new SGA model. Is that likely? No. Too many people’s resumes and egos depend on the current system. But the fundamental restructuring and re-culturing of the SGA needs to start somewhere. The SGA should drop most of its current plans and projects in order to thoroughly reevaluate a plan for a fundamentally different organization next year.
Get input and buy-in from the “student power-players.” These are the students that know Middlebury backward and forward from dorm room to board room: the SNG gang including Dave Dolginow, Ben Wessel, and Chester Harvey, Finance Committee Chair Caroline Woodworth, MCAB President Ali Levy, Campus Editor-in-Chief Brian Fung, etc. These are the students that have the pulse of Middlebury College in their grasp. Buy-in for any new model from their respective organizations is key.
Do students need Senators to represent them? I don’t even know who my senators are. What’s the function of the Cabinet? What is the model for the greatest effective action? Is it non-hierarchical SNG model that is project-based or more structured model?
Bobby Joe Smith’s depature has a left a lot of questions on the table for the SGA, and with basically a fresh semester, it’s not a bad time to step back and rethink our SGA.