SGA goes digital in wake of coronavirus closure
Members of Central Michigan University's Student Government Association passed new legislation over the internet, likely for the first time in the organization's history, Monday, March 16 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Representatives used the Engage Central website to pass a resolution in favor of replacing many paper towel dispensers with hand dryers, authored by Sen. Sarah Bidgood, and another to provide compostable and metal silverware in the Down Under Food Court, authored by sustainability committee chair Kalli Walz.
With campus largely closed to normal student activity and guidelines against large gatherings tightening daily, SGA is grappling with getting its last wave of business done – including the election of next year's president, vice president and other offices – without meeting in person.
"You don't really know how to prepare for this situation," SGA President Jake Hendricks said. "Everyone is discouraged by the whole event, but everyone seems to be unifying together. We're all in it as a team."
For Hendricks and Vice President Lyndi Rose, the semester's remaining weeks are their last at CMU and the conclusion of their two years in office. At least four of SGA's Monday meetings were canceled following CMU's switch to online classes, separating it from the student body it represents. If the switch lengthens, the year-end showcase presentation will be canceled, and the inauguration of next year's administration will be postponed.
"It really sucks," Rose said. "For the last whole month in office, I'm not even going to be able to do my actual job. It's really rough. I don't know how to put it other than (I'm) devastated."
At SGA's last meeting before spring break, three new pieces of legislation were introduced. Walz's silverware resolution had been introduced Feb. 18. Two remaining resolutions will be voted on next week and at least three resolutions left to be introduced will be deliberated next semester.
SGA will continue to advocate for legislation passed this year at monthly meetings with President Bob Davies, which may soon occur more frequently, Rose said Sunday. SGA's monthly dinners with CMU President Bob Davies, another opportunity for advocacy, are also set to continue this semester.
It's the three campaigns for SGA's highest offices, launched just over two weeks ago, which have been disrupted further. The election of its next administration can't be delayed like legislation can... One way or another, SGA's elected seats must be occupied when it reconvenes in the fall.
The vote was already going to be held online from March 30 until April 3, but connecting with students, hearing their concerns and earning their votes will have to occur almost entirely through social media. A debate between the candidates scheduled for SGA's March 23 meeting will be live-streamed instead.
"(Candidates) need to be pushing those digital platforms," Elections Director Gregory Morgan said. "Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram – it's all vital."
"This is a huge disruption," said Josh Moody, senate leader and vice-presidential candidate. "It's a weird dynamic to campaign from afar. I don't know how they did it in the 1800s, but we'll figure it out."
Sen. Brandon McDonald, who also chairs the academic affairs committee, is running for president alongside Moody. Their platform is divided into four pillars:
- Sustain - Encouraging CMU to develop an environmentally sustainable campus. A resolution authored by McDonald and Walz and passed by SGA in February supports turning the site formerly occupied by Barnes Hall into a green study space.
- Unite - Increasing outreach to Greek Life, athletics and involvements in the campus community to foster a sense of school spirit.
- Promote - Supporting registered student organizations and driving recruitment. Last year, SGA had an RSO growth and development committee to serve this function. That committee was replaced this year by the outreach committee.
- Connect - Helping students find students similar to them and resources relevant to them.
Their campaign has earned at least seven endorsements, including from Colleges Against Cancer, Public-Spirited Scholars in Residence and two sorority vice presidents. Moody said partnering with Greek Life on sexual aggression awareness efforts would be a major goal of his vice presidency.
McDonald and Moody both said CMU's response to the coronavirus touches on a core concern of their campaign: transparency.
"I'm not so sure the student voice is being heard by administration in any of this development," Moody said. "Our platform is about connecting with administration, and unifying student voices is a big part of that. I think coronavirus shed some light on that disunity and lack of communication and connection."
"There's too many questions, too many changing things," McDonald said. "However, they're putting (in) more of an effort, I think, than they have in the past."
SGA Press Secretary Kaitlyn Prebelich and Membership Director Brett John Houle have teamed up for grabs at president and vice president, respectfully. In March, the campaign was endorsed by Special Events Chair Boluwatife Ogungboye, who is running for treasurer alongside them. Since then, the team has been endorsed by numerous SGA members.
"Obviously (the virus) changes a lot," Houle said. "We're lucky to live in an amazing time where we have access to social media. Shifting our campaign will be challenging. We have a lot of meetings scheduled now over WebEx or Facetime."
Despite the lack of face-to-face communication with students, Prebelich and Houle said they're prepared to engage digitally. Prebelich said they discussed sending out anonymous polls to assess major issues in the student body.
"We believe by empowering students and engaging them in student government, we will create a more equitable campus," Prebelich said. "We recognize that SGA is not representing all students. There needs to be more voices at the table to make sure the university is working best for the students."
As active members of SGA, Prebelich and Houle said they will put the concerns of students before their race to executive positions in the midst of the coronavirus.
"Even with a relatively new president and a lot of new administrators, the university is doing a great job of handling it," Prebelich said. "However, as student representatives, we're working really hard to find any holes that they have."
The team has begun crafting new positions within SGA to accommodate underrepresented groups, according to Prebelich.
Trenton junior Lauryn Gibas will be running for president with Freeland freshman Lauren Hendersen, as vice president. The duo has also turned to digital platforms to gain a following. Gibas said they just created a Facebook page in response to online-only classes.
In addition, Gibas plans to remain on campus and try engaging with students in residence halls and off-campus housing.
"I wish this wasn't happening, but at least it gives me more time to sit and focus on campaigning," Gibas said. "I just wish I could use that time to talk to more people face-to-face."
The Gibas/Hendersen campaign centers around immediacy and plans to tackle long-term goals, like food insecurity. Gibas said partnering with Swipe Out Hunger, a national non-profit that conceptualized the "meal-swipe drive," will help them eliminate student hunger.
Gibas and Hendersen are developing a plan for an app to help keep students organized.
"The app would be something for students to reference every day," Gibas said. "It will help them get around campus, check their FLEX balance, see spending history. Everything just in one place."
Gibas is the president of Turning Point USA at CMU and Hendersen is a member of the Leadership Institute.
Gibas and Hendersen's campaign can be found on Instagram.
"Just because something like this happens doesn't mean we give up," Morgan, the elections director, said. "This virus has forced me to think quicker on my feet and the candidates to come up with strategic ways of campaigning. If something like this is to ever happen again, we'll be ready."