The Student Government Association sees a change in Presidents for the first time in two years.
Courtney Abt, a graduate student studying criminal justice, recently won the SGA presidency by just 11 votes above DaVonte Hair.
She will make a great president, and she really seemed to care about the issues of the students. I had interviewed her recently and seemed very prepared for the job.
But there’s a couple things I want her to know. I want her to know what I’m looking for when it comes to transparency, organization and their relationship with student media.
As a student journalist, we are assigned a beat. A beat is one area or topic that a journalist will cover like crime, school, businesses or government. Student journalists cover different groups or organizations on campus, such as SGA. This helps us prepare for our career and give us the skill to work our beats and write stories.
My beat was SGA for the semester. I had the responsibility to go to their meetings to take notes on what they were up to that week. Then, I had to create a couple articles out of that. I had to talk to all the SGA members, including the president.
As soon as I talked to the SGA president, I felt like a burden. Not to say that was intentional, but it was a pretty strong feeling. Our first meeting we had was right after the weekly SGA meeting one Wednesday evening. Me, him and the vice president talked about how SGA works, their budget and new legislations coming up.
They seemed prepared for me, but it felt very rushed. The attitude seemed to be, “OK, let’s show her these papers and head out.” This feeling continued on throughout the entirety of my beat.
I wondered could this reflect how they speak to other students who are asking them questions? I think we deserve a president who will listen to us and give respectable attention, since they represent us.
Most of the time, the SGA president didn’t want to meet in person and never talked on the phone.
Sometimes I couldn’t make their meetings to catch him after, so I would need to see him outside of those meetings. He couldn’t do that often.
There was, however, a day I was able to catch him after a weekly meeting for the second time. He and another SGA member, who happened to be Abt, agreed to give me an interview. We all sat down and I explained I needed to speak with him first, then I would get to her questions.
When I asked him the first question, which was a very basic one, he turned to Abt and said, “You wanna get this one?” Which to me, seemed like he just felt like the interview was not worth his time. I had to explain again that I needed him to answer the questions first, otherwise I couldn’t use him as a much-needed source.
Like I said, most of the time we couldn’t meet in person. Which I understand, as I’m busy too. But I prefer a phone interview at that point instead of an email interview. Phone interviews are better to do as a journalist, and email is usually a last resort.
What he had me do is type my questions on a Google Doc form and he answered them that way. This happened multiple times. No, I shouldn’t have agreed to it but at that point I felt like such a burden; I didn’t want to feel worse or get a bad grade.
And no, I wasn’t doing “bad” or “slanderous” stories. I was doing general coverage about their organization. In fact, I was trying to help them get the word out about actions SGA were making at the time.
I even wrote an article about how they recently had many open seats in the group, and they were looking for applicants. This was a story to help them get interested members to apply.
Another issue was the organization. I met with one of their advisers who made it clear to me that they needed to fix the way they store documents, especially meeting minutes.
It took the adviser about 30 minutes to find what I was asking for and even then, it seemed very hard to find and not efficient.
Executive members of SGA, like the president, are paid positions. The president is there to represent the students. They are there to listen to the students and help them out. They implement new legislation that benefits students in many ways.
Even if they didn’t get paid, they still need to respect students as much as possible and abide by the laws of transparency. They represent SGA as a whole, so if the president is hard to work with, that can make the entire group seem unrespectable.
What I hope for Abt and many SGA presidents to come, is better transparency, more open with the press and improved organization.