With classes moved online and campus buildings closed, Student Government Association President Abuk Jiel and Vice President Carter Larson haven’t had a traditional beginning to their administration. Although SGA currently convenes over Zoom conferencing and all their legislation is done remotely, Jiel and Larson continue to make big plans for USD.
The pandemic began affecting Jiel and Larson’s administration before their term officially started. Their swearing-in was postponed as spring break was extended, during which time they began preparing to function remotely for the remainder of the semester. The following week, Jiel and Larson were sworn in over Zoom conferencing.
Jiel said the transition to Zoom has thrown a wrench in the administration’s plans and the distance from campus complicates communication with senators and constituents alike.
“We’re not able to be on campus and bounce ideas off of each other,” Jiel said. “We don’t have that constant state of being around students and hearing their concerns and what they think of SGA.”
Despite the difficulties in conducting SGA meetings remotely, Jiel said Zoom allows students to work together regardless of how far away they are.
“Personally, with the cards we’ve been dealt, we’ve been doing a great job transitioning and conducting the budget process over Zoom,” Jiel said. “It’s definitely been hard, but we’ve gotten through it.”
On top of a shift to remote meetings, SGA has also welcomed several new senators to its ranks. Jiel said having so many new senators might be seen as a shortcoming, but with new senators comes new and better ideas. Larson said new senators don’t have prior experience to color their attitude toward the legislative process.
“All the new senators come in with different ideas and opinions,” Larson said. “They come in with a clean and open mind without having opinions from previous terms.”
SGA also has a full senate, which Jiel and Larson said is a good indication SGA is reaching out to students and students are dedicated and willing to work.
So far, the administration has begun looking at redesigning the USD Involved website. Jiel and Larson ran on student outreach as part of their campaign and the two think making the website more user-friendly will facilitate student involvement on campus.
“When you’re a student coming in your freshman year, sophomore year, or you’re a transfer student, you’re kind of lost,” Jiel said. “You think ‘how do I fit into this? Where’s the things that might interest me that aren’t necessarily in my major?’ (We want to) make sure students are able to access USD Involved more easily.”
The newly passed Senate Bill 1, a bill which allows SGA to host “Organizational Development Workshops,” also enhances SGA’s impact on campus, Jiel said. Originally, SGA planned to have on-campus and community leadership attend Campus Leaders Mixers to instruct students on how to continue leadership in their professional lives. The bill allows SGA freedom to host events which reach students not in leadership positions.
“We’re looking to make sure students know what we have on campus and for them to get the most out of their experience while on campus,” Larson said.
Over the summer, Jiel and Larson plan to meet with state representatives to connect the interests of USD and state government. They will also make plans concerning the function of SGA in the event campus remains closed for the fall semester.
Whether or not students return to campus in the fall, Jiel and Larson said they plan to stress the importance of student organization outreach. Larson said the administration has considered hosting a second student organization fair so as to reach more students, especially transfer students.
“There’s so many organizations on campus students may not know about, we feel rather than just having a beginning-of-the-year fair for freshmen, (we might host another fair) a couple of weeks into the year or in the second semester so it’s easier for transfer students and students that aren’t just freshmen to get involved,” Larson said.
Larson said such action would also help organizations recover from lack of recruitment during the spring 2020 semester.
“We understand that morale might be low for some organizations because a lot of them try to find new members throughout the spring, so we’ll be really pushing outreach,” Larson said.
Jiel said though the beginning of the administration has been rough, SGA will work hard to serve the students of USD.
“Our advisor, Kim Grieve, said SGA starts off pretty slowly, and we’ve seen that, but we also have had legislation pass and over Zoom, I think that’s a great start to our term,” Jiel said. “I definitely feel like if we are back in the fall, we’re going to be able to pick up where we left off.”