The Student Government Association finished updating its bylaws at the beginning of the semester, a project that was initiated in October 2015 to improve the impact of student voices on SGA decisions.
The process of revision began during the fall semester when, following an SGA retreat in October, SGA President Pablo Zevallos ‘16 and Vice President Kyle Taylor ’16 recognized that a main concern within SGA was how to become more responsive to student needs on campus. Looking for a long-term solution to make the organization more effective and committed, Zevallos and Taylor realized that the best step toward such a goal was to update and revise the SGA bylaws.
Working closely with Chris Johnson ‘17, SGA Chair of Charters and Bylaws, Zevallos and Taylor wanted the new bylaws to reflect both updated college policies and also a shift in SGA from what Taylor described as an “old-style bureaucratic” organization to a group that could connect with and be receptive to the entire student body with more efficient and adequate representation.
The first step in the process was to completely retype the bylaws. The original document was so old that it was not compatible with the current versions of word processors and therefore could not be edited digitally. In the rewriting process, SGA made an effort to update the language and make mechanical edits. Language updates included changing the wording of the Diversity Coordinating Board from the outdated “minority” to “diversity” to be more inclusive to the entire Davidson population. Additionally, the Sexual Misconduct Board, which went unmentioned in the original document, was added to reflect the importance of the Sexual Misconduct Policy. SGA senators who violate the policy can be dismissed from their positions.
In an effort to make its committees more effective, SGA restructured them. While under the old bylaws there were nine committees within the SGA, each with three people, several committees were combined to achieve more efficiency. Under the previous structure, because there were so many committees, each committee generally consisted of only the chair, and was relatively ineffective in tackling large projects.
Another reason for restructuring the committees was to line up SGA’s committees with those of the trustees, as SGA has several liaisons to the trustee committees.
Johnson explained that the following were eliminated or combined with remaining committees: the Athletic Policy Committee; the Building, Grounds, and Sustainability Committee; the External Affairs Committee; and the Finance and Budgeting Committee. SGA decided to keep the Academic Policy Committee, Dinner at Davidson Committee, Auxiliary Services Committee, and Charters and Bylaws Committee. Additionally, the Student Life Committee was placed under the control of the Vice President.
Perhaps the most obvious changes to the bylaws are those regarding the SGA elections. Category I elections (those for first-year students) were pushed back from the fourth week of the semester to the sixth week to allow students to get to know candidates better before voting. Category II elections (those for officer positions) were pushed back from the fourth week of the semester to the fifth week to accomodate people coming back from abroad before voting.
Category V elections (those for representatives from each Patterson Court Organization) were eliminated, with the agreement of these organizations. In the previous bylaws, every eating house, fraternity, and sorority held a representative in SGA, making SGA too big and not as effective. To offset the loss of senators from Category V elections, five senators will be elected in the spring from each class. Additionally, the five Diversity Coordinating Board senator positions (those elected from different qualified clubs on campus) remain.
The point of the election revisions was to address the issue of commitment within SGA. With fewer members who must be more committed, Johnson hopes that SGA will be able to “increase efficiency and accountability,” as well as “reduce the current problem of absenteeism.” The ultimate goal, he said, is to “better serve.”
Taylor, too, expressed his support for the updates. He emphasized the importance of making the SGA accessible to the student body, fostering a “better relationship,” and providing opportunities for the general population to take initiative, claiming that with these changes, “any student can lead a big project on campus.”
Zevallos is pleased with the new bylaws as a whole. “With these new bylaws, we have created a mandate for ourselves to take on at least three meaningful projects each year while trimming the bureaucratic excess that inhibited such undertakings,” he said. “Our new structure for representation also better reflects the needs of our student bodies, and the according changes to the elections calendar helps get the body started on much-needed work up to a full month earlier than before.”
Zevallos is certain that future SGA administrations will be able to function better because of the changes. “Although the current administration will not enjoy the benefits of these changes, we are hopeful that future administrations can leverage the increase in flexibility and operational capacity created by this restructuring into tangible, meaningful change for the student body.”