Senators of the Student Government Association may be in position to act as the representative voice of the student body, but some student were angered by Tuesday night’s meeting to find their own voices cut short by SGA proceedings.
“I just wanted to be heard,” said graduate student Lydia Graslie.
Graslie was among the largest student gallery in recent memory, with more than 60 people in attendance, as discussion focused on a proposed bill, to reserve four senate seats for “traditionally marginalized” on-campus organizations.
If Senate Bill 62, which was referred to a committee, passes through the University of South Dakota SGA, the legislation would save four seats within the student senate for representatives pooled from the 10 designated “traditionally marginalized” student groups, said Alexis Oskolkoff, the senator who proposed the bill.
These organizations are required to be open to students of all racial backgrounds.
“We always say we encourage diversity and we embrace inclusive excellence, but this is the first time we actually opened up to this subject,” Oskolkoff said.
During discussion, Executive Director of the South Dakota Board of Regents Student Federation Dennis Smith was allotted nine minutes to speak, as nine SGA members deferred their time to him — audience members were otherwise given 30 seconds for individual appeals. Smith said he spoke directly with members of the South Dakota Board of Regents before the meeting, and according to Smith, the SGA will face major legal troubles if the bill is passed.
The discussion led to an exchange on issues such as reverse racism and questions on the SGA’s relationships with student organizations. Reactions ranged from shouts to tears.
With approval from SGA President Erik Muckey, senior Tyler Tordsen, another senator, opened the proposal of a task force for work on the bill, which he said will be a more effective way to tackle the issue.
“My proposal is to appoint a workgroup consisting of roughly nine individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives to help come together and present a recommendation to SGA on what steps should be made to create a more inclusive senate body,” Tordsen said.
Muckey said he approved of the task force during the meeting, and Tordsen said he wants the group assembled so work can begin over the winter break.
“Having that task force that Tyler is hoping to bring forward is important, simply because it’s not just looking at physical representation, but looking at how the culture of SGA addresses it in terms of accessibility,” Muckey said.
According to Senate Bill 62, the “traditionally marginalized” groups will nominate one member of their organizations for an at-large interview with the SGA senate, which will select four new senators to serve regular-length terms.
The bill intends to create a four-year trial period where the SGA will assess its efforts to expand diversity awareness among student organizations and point of views within the senate through the added seats, Oskolkoff said.
“Because there was so much opposition to it, I wanted to have it in discussion,” she said. “That way we had more of a chance that I could hear everyone’s questions and concerns regarding the bill before I had my first reading.”
According to Tordsen, the plan for the group is to have nine individuals — four senate members, four non-senate members (students, faculty, etc.) and one SGA executive.
He said this group will create more effective conversation with the best chance of creating successful and fair legislation, something Muckey said he hopes will come from the group.
“One of the things we still need to address is the internal culture of SGA in terms of how it’s welcoming to traditionally marginalized identities,” Muckey said. “Making sure that all students feel welcome and included in the conversation and being able to access student government is the real discussion now.”