BY JARED THOMPSON – NEWS EDITOR
At the meeting of the Student Government Association on April 27th, the body took up discussion and unanimously passed a new initiative aimed at increasing the representation of certain populations of Centre students within the Student Government Association.
The proposal, brought by Senior Senator Lola Fakunle, Secretary of Administration Kirby Fitzpatrick, and Secretary of Finance Harrison Kirby, would amend the SGA constitution to create 6 new seats within the House of Representatives. These “Correspondent Seats” would be set aside for members of specific campus organizations which are perceived to be currently underrepresented on SGA. In the initial proposal, these seats would belong to 3 campus organizations (Diversity Student Union, International Students Association, and Centre Pride Alliance) as well as 3 scholarship programs (Posse Scholars, New Horizons Scholars, and Grissom Scholars). While these seats are initially reserved for the aforementioned organizations, Fakunle noted that the amendment contains provisions for these seats to be re-evaluated by a committee chaired by the SGA President every three years, allowing diversity within SGA to be re-assessed and the Correspondent Seats to be re-allocated as necessary.
For a member of an organization to run for a Correspondent Seat, the organizations would first hold an internal nomination process to offer up three candidates. These candidates would then be placed on the ballot alongside other SGA Representatives and could be voted on by the entirety of the student body—with the top vote-getter from each organization actually assuming the seat.
The meeting itself was extremely well attended, as the location was moved to Vahlkamp Theater instead of the usual Olin lecture hall to accommodate the sheer number of attendees. In attendance were SGA representatives, members from scholarship programs, members of the Danville community, and a myriad of other interested parties—resulting in a level of attendance that was noted to be the highest in recent memory. In addition, individual campus organizations sent out emails on their list servers to rally attendance by their members, with Centre Republican President and SGA Sophomore Representative Cyrus Dutton encouraging “every member” of Centre Republicans to show up to the meeting “even if [your opinion] may be dissenting to mine” in an email entitled “A Call to Action.”
Once debate got underway, it was largely driven by members of the Centre Community who wished to make their voices heard and their opinions known. Senior Alyssa Christopher remarked that, despite her wide-ranging campus involvement, her Posse Scholarship had never validated her place on campus—but instead had made her feel further ostracized at times. Freshman Shanze Arshad took specific note of where individuals chose to sit within the debate hall, noting that the divide between the predominantly white SGA members that filled the first few rows and the Centre community “shows how silenced the rest [of the community] felt with regards to representation on SGA.” Arshad also noted that “this initiative [is] a pathway for the people in the back to come to the front. It’s hard enough being part of a marginalized group…how can we expected to be a part of SGA, to debate at a table that has never been welcoming to those who are different.”
However, other members of the body were not entirely convinced that the proposal would accomplish the issues it sought to remedy. Junior Representative Ben Coates noted his concern that the amendment would not solve a separate but related issue of over-representation of certain campus groups on SGA, using the campus turn of phrase “Tritaucracy” to point out the perceived control of key SGA positions by members of Delta Delta Delta sorority and Phi Kappa Tau fraternity. In addition, Freshman Representative Alex Grove motioned to table the amendment to the following year, noting his support for the spirit of the proposal but citing his concern that certain sections of the amended language made the Correspondent Seats vulnerable to elimination—his motion was ultimately defeated following discussion.
Following the vote, members of SGA expressed a variety of emotions. Outgoing SGA President Sarah Hutchinson is “proud that there is an interest in issues surrounding diversity on campus.” For Fakunle, the hard-fought victory left her feeling “exhausted and invigorated.” After four years of careful observation of the Student Government Association, Fakunle felt like she and her colleagues were able to “[call] into question systems that have benefited us in terms of campus leadership” by bringing more individuals into a meaningful conversation.
Last night’s vote is ultimately not the end of the road for the proposal, however. The amendment moves on for a campus-wide referendum tentatively scheduled to be held alongside Fall SGA Elections in September 2017. If the amendment gains the support of a majority of the student body, it moves on for full ratification by the Centre College Board of Trustees at their October meeting. This would see full-fledged Correspondent Representatives take their seats in February 2018.