A month and a half into Ally Feiner and Katie Brust’s terms as Student Government Association President and Vice President, respectively, Feiner said the past few weeks have gone well.
Currently, SGA is in the middle of budget season. In general, many student organizations weren’t able to achieve past utilization rates due to the pandemic, which Feiner said the body is cautiously taking into account as it works through new allocations.
“We will look at how much you use but we’re not going to judge you by it,” Feiner said. “So if you’re still showing initiative and trying to put on events here on campus for the students, then it won’t harm you. But if you just use COVID as an excuse and say ‘oh well we aren’t able to have anything because of COVID,’ that might hinder your ability to get the full budget that you asked for.”
Feiner has also been meeting with Provost Kurt Hackemer to discuss the university’s post-pandemic attendance policy. Nothing has been decided yet, but Feiner said she thinks it would be a good idea to allow students to use Zoom in the event that they get sick or have to miss an in-person meeting, though only if they notify the professor beforehand.
“That way, it’s not a cop-out, students aren’t able to just go on Zoom all the time… I think that has been a large part of how our mental health as a campus community overall has declined,” Feiner said. “It really does affect your productivity and your mental health and overall happiness, so I really am hoping that we’re able to find a middle ground in what those attendance policies will look like.”
As the semester ends, Feiner and Brust are working with senators, both old and new, to generate ideas for new legislation. Brust said it’s been fun to see the new senators come and interact with the elected senators.
“I think we have huge potential to make a lot of change on campus for the better, so I’m excited to see that,” Brust said. “Our exec team is working really well together. I think we have a strong team there, and so hopefully we’ll be able to create a really nice harmony between senate and the exec team.”
Part of SGA’s work outside of its weekly meetings includes a site retreat, team bonding and legislation workshops. These activities, Brust said, help remind senators that they all serve USD students despite any disagreements they might have.
“Senators will disagree on topics and that’s completely fine, that’s what they’re supposed to do, because they have a very large assortment of constituents on campus that they’re supposed to represent,” Brust said. “Even though you disagree on the floor, you can still be friends off the floor.”
Over the summer, Feiner and Brust will be working on initiatives they plan to enact in the fall. Some of their work will include efforts to set up a therapy program for students unable to attend the Cook House, looking into reducing printing quotas for the purpose of sustainability and the publicizing of the Student Emergency Grant.
Feiner said not a lot of students know about the Student Emergency Grant, which can cover certain student expenses including housing, medical costs and childcare, though she thinks many students would use it.
“We want to make sure that any student who needs it is able to access it, and I think students not knowing about it is a huge issue right now,” Feiner said. “Making sure that it’s out there and students are aware of it and are able to utilize it will definitely be helpful.”
The two also hope to establish a scholarship for international students. Feiner said it’s important to ensure that USD gives international students the opportunity to succeed on campus, and that the scholarship would be an incentive to make the campus more diverse.
Feiner said she and Brust haven’t decided whether to make the scholarship amount smaller and available to all international students or larger and available to a limited number of these students.
“When international students come, they do have to prove that they’re able to… come to America and have the funds to cover it, but that shouldn’t mean that they’re not able to get scholarships,” Feiner said.
“It’s a bit of a lofty goal, but I think it’s something that we can accomplish, or at least lay the framework for future administrations,” Brust said.
Planning will also begin for the Unity Bash, which Brust said is an upcoming event that will see SGA partner with the Vermillion Chamber and Development company’s Thursday’s on the Platz to bring diversity- and culture-focused activities to Vermillion.
Brust said students will be able to provide ideas and feedback to SGA over the summer through the anonymous feedback link on the organization’s Facebook page.
When SGA returns to campus in the fall, Feiner said the body plans to return to pre-COVID-19 operations, which will see senators back in the Freedom Forum in the Al Neuharth Media Center and without masks. She said the overall atmosphere of the senate will improve as senators will have microphones directly in front of them, which will allow them to provide comments more easily than at their meetings in the MUC ballroom.
“It’s also really helpful to be able to see other senators and their reactions–body language says a lot about people–and so I think being able to be closer to people and understand how other senators are feeling and what their passions about the bill are will be very useful in the future,” Feiner said.
Despite all the challenges the pandemic has posed for SGA, Feiner said some good has come out of the situation.
“I think it’s shown us where our weakness in the university has been, but not in a bad way. I think it just showed us these holes that we can totally fix or make sure that we’re as efficient as possible for future Coyotes,” Feiner said.