Proceeding With a Purpose
New SGA leadership moves forward from resignation, seeks to implement Gender and Sexual Center
America will undergo a transition of power Friday when President Barack Obama leaves office and President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated.
At Central Michigan University, the Student Government Association has already gone through its own transition of power — albeit on a smaller scale and more unexpectedly.
SGA President Jazmin Biernat replaced former SGA President Ian Elliott in December after Elliott stepped down before his year-long term was finished due to “personal reasons and opportunities.” Elliott did not graduate and is no longer a CMU student. He could not be reached for comment.
Biernat declined to comment on Elliott’s situation or status as a CMU student but said she still reaches out to him for advice as she leads the organization this semester.
“Every year it’s something different,” Biernat said. “There’s new projects, there’s new people, there’s new ideas being represented, new students being represented here on campus and SGA does the work that will represent those students, whoever they may be.”
A president leaving midterm is not a rare occurrence according to SGA adviser Shaun Holtgreive. He has full confidence Biernat will get the job done.
“She’s a very bright, capable young woman,” Holtgreive said. “She brings energy and commitment to the job. She’s going to accomplish more in her short time than most people expect.”
SGA is described by Biernat as “an organization of student representatives on campus that look to address issues that are relevant for everyone.” SGA can work with the Academic Senate and CMU administration to change the academic calendar or propose new ideas to the campus.
Last week the Academic Senate discussed a University Program requirement that would require students to take a course “regarding discrimination against sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion and or ability.” Biernat said that proposal started as legislation from SGA.
In recent years, SGA has passed two pieces of legislation related to veterans, Biernat said. The first would create an orientation session where veterans would learn about resources available to them through the Veteran’s Resource Center. The other involves priority registration for veterans so they can get requirements out of the way in order to take additional classes they need, said Vice President Anna Owens.
While the the two pieces of legislation have not yet been implemented by CMU, Biernat hopes they will be by next year.
SGA tries to meet with CMU President George Ross to discuss concerns. Biernat organizes dinners through the Office of the President where eight students, not all necessarily from SGA, meet with Ross in his home to discuss a certain theme or topic.
Owens dined with the president three times since she joined SGA in 2013.
“(Ross) always wants to listen to (our) concerns and hear about what’s happening on campus,” she said.
Ross said he does talk and meet with group members several times a month.
“Students are my top priority, and SGA members are their representatives,” Ross said in a written statement. “I value SGA members’ commitment to their fellow students, their collaboration and their passion for CMU.”
SGA was originally known as the CMU Student Council from 1920-47, according to the Clarke Historical Library. It has undergone several name changes — the Student Senate and the Student Association — before settling on SGA.
SGA is divided into a legislative branch and an executive branch. The executive branch comprises about 20 people, Owens said, including the executive board of Biernat, Owens and Treasurer Luke Anderson.
There are two houses that make up the legislative branch — the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House features representatives from registered student organizations on campus who seek funding through Student Budget Allocation Committee (SBAC), while the elected senators represent different colleges on campus.
Owens said about 150 students represent the student body of CMU through SGA. The students need a voice and SGA is representing the student body on campus, Owens said.
“Them knowing who we are and having a feeling they can come to us with their concerns is one of our primary goals,” Owens said. “It’s so important that we try to get feedback because what we do will affect them and the goal is it will affect them as much as possible.”
The implementation of a Gender and Sexuality Center on campus is a goal SGA is looking to address this semester, Biernat said. She wants CMU administration to guarantee funding so it can start next year.
As for a location, Biernat said the idea is to combine the proposed idea of a Women’s Center with the LGBTQ+ Center to cut down on resource allocation and overall cost. Biernat declined to give specifics on the cost.
SGA has been working to create the center for the past five years, Biernat said, but she doesn’t know what type of action CMU will take and cannot guarantee it. Biernat will attempt to meet with the Office of the Provost and CMU President George Ross to discuss the center during her term, she said.
“I will do everything in my power that I can do and I encourage others in SGA to do everything they can in order to get it implemented as well,” Biernat said.
enate Leader Emilee Madison said senators junior Evan Wittenbach and sophomore Olivia Cyman are drafting legislation for the Gender and Sexuality Center. She hopes submit to the committees within the next few weeks.
“In the current political climate, it’s very needed right now for our campus and it’s sad that other campuses have it and we don’t," Madison said. "We’re going to push for that, our students want it and we want it.”
While Biernat and Owens handle the legislation aspect of SGA, Anderson deals with the budget. SGA is operating on a budget of $17,066.96 for the spring semester.
Anderson is tasked with the allocation of the budget. He said the money is allocated to SGA by CMU through the Campus Programming Fund.
“Part of my job is looking at who spent the most money in which ways and who spent it the best, and try and analyze how we could be using it the best way for the next year,” Anderson said. “(Legislation and money) go hand-in-hand. One is no more important than the other, but without one you can’t really have the other.”
SGA started the academic year with a $25,000 budget to work with, which was about a $2,000 increase from the 2015-16 academic year.
The group meets from 7-9 p.m. on Mondays in the Bovee University Center Auditorium. Meetings typically start with committee meetings, where House and Senate members split up to join a committee they select at the start of the semester.
Committees include Governmental Affairs, Diversity, Academic Affairs, Spirits and Traditions, RSO Growth and Development, Student Services and Sustainability.
From 8-9 p.m., the House and Senate meet separately to discuss the agenda.
Madison leads the senators, while junior Cody Van Buren is the House Leader. He was re-elected for his second term on Jan. 9 and is charged with giving out information to over 100 RSO representatives seeking money from SBAC for conferences and events for RSOs.
Representatives are not allowed to miss more than four meetings a semester or risk losing SBAC funding. Senators are allowed two excused absences or be faced with a removal from the Senate pending a two-thirds vote.
Legislation is generally passed through either the committees or through the Senate, Owens said. The House and Senate then vote on the proposal separately. If it is approved, Biernat will sign it before it is sent to the Academic Senate or a respective department. Biernat said the destination of the legislation varies.
While Biernat said the majority of legislation is sent to the Academic Senate, Biernat said there’s often a lack of communication after legislation is implemented. There’s no alert or notification and nobody specifically reaches out to SGA to go through the details, she said.
Biernat said some of the blame for miscommunication falls upon SGA. There are leadership changes each semester, which mean projects and ideas are dropped and there’s a lack of communication between the leadership in SGA, she said.
“I think there should be (more) communication between Academic Senate and SGA — not from the students that are in Academic Senate — but from the actual teachers and administration members on Academic Senate that (we) may have worked with a for a piece of legislation that SGA passed and the passing on to the specific office it affects,” Biernat said.
Communicating to the Community
Students involved with SGA feel they have a good relationship with the administration, but as a whole, Biernat believes the student body doesn’t know who SGA is.
“They have no idea the work SGA does or the way they can get involved,” she said. “The general student who’s not involved I think really has no knowledge on SGA as a whole.”
The goal of SGA under her presidency is to increase outreach, Biernat said. On Facebook, the group promotes events and posts while maintaining a strong presence on other social media platforms such as Twitter.
Students should care because SGA can help change, fix and improve almost everything they love about CMU, Biernat said.
“I think students should know what student government is and they should be able to come to us with issues they have and either work with us or bring us those issues for us to work on in general,” she said.
Madison remembers when Chuck Mahone, former Student Government Association president, spoke to her about SGA at Leadership Safari her freshman year.
Madison couldn't figure out how to join SGA. When she figured it out last year, she had a class during the meeting time.
In the fall, Madison joined and was elected as a senator. On Jan. 9, she was voted on by her peers as the Senate Leader, tasked with mentoring 21 senators.
Madison didn't know where to turn her freshman year. Now, students are turning to her. The senior hopes students on campus turn to SGA to voice their concerns about Central Michigan University.
“It’s not about what your career aspirations are," Madison said of SGA members. "It’s about if you care about the students and you have things that you are passionate about here at CMU that you want to change.”
For All Students
Biernat doesn't want to become a politician. Rather, she wants to work for a nonprofit. Owens and Madison have ambitions to enter politics while Anderson joined as a representative.
Their paths have crossed to be SGA leaders and leaders for students.
"I think (our leadership) is very goal-oriented and that’s a great thing to see because our top priority is moving the organization forward rather than staying the same or having different goals," Anderson said.
This semester, Biernat's last as president, SGA is expanding its Pro-Bono Legal Clinic to include lawyers from the area as opposed to just professors with a law degree.
While Mahone delivered the first-ever State of the Student address last year, Biernat said another will take place in March with a format to be determined.
With Biernat graduating at semester’s end, Owens, Anderson, Van Buren and Madison have enjoyed their time thus far at SGA and hope to continue. Madison said students should want to become involved - no matter in what capacity.
“We aren’t very accessible to students and we want to be," Madison said of SGA. "Finding ways to reach out to RSOs and get those students who are sort of falling through the cracks so they can learn about SGA, you can come to the meetings and say, 'This is important to me — I want this to happen.'"
Staff Reporters Johnathan Hogan and Sarah Clinkscales contributed to this article.