Editor’s note: To avoid a conflict of interest, Daily News Opinion Editor Grayson Joslin and Daily News Social Media Editor have both recused themselves from the analysis of RISE; Joslin was a senator for SGA, while Ground was press secretary for the Elections Board for the 2022 election.
Editor's note: This story has been updated.
Every year, The Daily News assigns a grade to the outgoing Student Government Association (SGA) executive slate based on how effective it was in accomplishing its goals, along with its impact on the Ball State community.
This year’s slate, RISE, consisted of Tina Nguyen, who completed her second term as President of SGA and Vice President Monet Lindstrand, who will be returning as vice president in the 2023-24 school year.
RISE ran on the main points of increasing diversity, improving campus transportation, increasing awareness for sexual assault and raising student wages.
When it comes to being the student voice of Ball State University and representing the student body, which is what SGA is, there is a larger commitment and with that a larger responsibility.
When SGA says they are going to do something, that carries more weight than other groups on campus.
It is relevant to acknowledge that Ball State University is a predominately white institution. This creates difficulty for any student organization to have a population that reflects differently than predominately white.
However, SGA has built-in senate spots to represent members from the Big Four organizations on campus — Asian Student Union (ASU), Black Student Association (BSA), Spectrum and Latinx Student Union (LSU). There is already a connection established for RISE, or any other SGA slate, to get involved in the Big Four, or any other organization that provides a space for people of color on campus. It would be as simple as an email, handshake or Instagram direct message.
And yet, RISE never did it with three out of four of the organizations. They did help BSA with their Collegiate Prom, but it was BSA’s event.
While we know SGA does a lot of work to partner with student organizations, we don’t see their name attached to as much as organizations such as ASU, BSA, and many other organizations of this nature.
From the outside eye, it seems that RISE only worked closely with predominantly white Greek life, organizations that both Nguyen and Lindstrand are members of. This doesn’t count as campus engagement when this isn’t targeted to the campus as a whole, but towards off-campus organizations.
SGA, under the STRIVE ticket, held diversity-related events called “Diversity Deep Dives.” However, these events didn’t happen this academic school year. Both Lindstand and Nguyen said this was for a lack of time and interest.
But, instead of creating bills that will ultimately lead to nothing just to say 'We tried,’ consider making time for the things that will make an impact — improving the relationships between SGA and your minority students.
Continuing into the promise of increasing sexual assault awareness, the slate had shared in debates that they wanted to implement the use of “angel shots” on campus, a code word to use in The Village bars when someone feels unsafe and needs an out.
RISE bought T-shirts for an event hosted by other organizations. At the event, SGA had a table with a large piece of paper that students, faculty and other attendants could sign as a message for survivors of sexual assault, according to 2022-23 SGA Chief of Staff Joseph Gassensmith. Gassensmith said that he is "currently working on figuring out how/where to display this sign of support year-round."
From the Daily News' perspective, they didn’t try to "increase awareness" or educate people on sexual assault, but rather they bought tee-shirts, which is arguably a form of promotion rather than participation. There could be more to be done on this topic.
Buying tee-shirts is not the same as providing genuine, quality education and awareness to students. The quality of the education is not there, despite a number of reported tee-shirts purchased.
There was also the promise of establishing a second blue loop, but from the student point-of-view outside SGA, there doesn’t seem like there has been much conversation or forward movement.
There were promises that, from the student body’s perspective, were not fulfilled. Of course, there was probably more going on behind the scenes, but students are removed from that aspect of SGA and instead just see things not getting done.
There seemed to be unfulfilled promises from the RISE slate. However, how much of the unfulfilled promises are not SGA’s fault, but occur after a resolution or ordinance is past them?
Does the association actually govern our student body? Does it make any rules the student body and/or staff have to follow? Is the SGA anything more than a group of people trying to gain experience in “government” or leadership roles?
These are all questions many students, including those in our own newsroom, have come to ask themselves about SGA. The lack of transparency on these questions is likely evident as to why there is a noticeable decrease in the campus involvement in SGA. People simply don’t know what they do.
When it comes to SGA, all that they can truly govern is themselves. Every single amendment they present and vote on only applies to their constitution, not the school body.
The way SGA can make changes that affect students is by making big and ambitious resolutions, such as the increasing minimum wage resolution and gender-inclusive bathrooms resolution. These are likely the resolutions the general student body is most familiar with and have heard the most about.
These resolutions, however, are essentially nicely-worded letters saying students would really like something, and it’d be nice if the University Government (the University Senate and the Board of Trustees) would do something about it.
In the grand scheme of things at Ball State, SGA has little to no power to do anything on the campus level.
Take the fair wages' resolution; it passed SGA and got sent to the University Senate. The resolution then passed the Senate and went up to the Board of Trustees, where it failed.
Despite its failure, the board did change its student wages policy, leaving it up to the department to choose its pay.
The Daily News reached out to Kristen McCauliff, associate provost for faculty affairs and professional development, who University Senate reports updates, to get more information on how university governance works and the power structure.
McCauliff said the Senate has 47 elected and appointed members, of those 47, seven are student representatives. The Senate also has three councils, one of which is SGA. The other two are for faculty and professionals. Both councils have student representation opportunities.
Despite knowing the makeup of representation, McCauliff said she does not know how SGA picks representation for these councils and for Senate, but she does know not all of these seats get filled.
“We have so many students that sometimes it's hard to get enough students to serve like there are many committees that never received their student representative, or their student representative never attended the meetings,” she said.
If there is a surplus of student representation opportunities within the University Senate, why is SGA not advertising this or making this known?
It took the Ball State Daily News reaching out to McCauliff to understand student representation within administrative government.
Though SGA is mostly independent when it comes to their internal government, they do have to send resolutions up to the Senate, where they still have a voice in voting. By the time it goes to the Board of Trustees, the board is only making a yes or no decision. The revisions happen in SGA and the Senate.
The argument can be made that SGA is necessary, so students are represented, and the board can hear students’ voices. But this argument doesn’t check out, as there is a student trustee who serves for two years. That trustee is the voice of the students for the board. So the question still stands — What is SGA for and what do they really do?
These tight confines on what can actually be done in SGA creates the appearance that SGA can’t do much at all. But that is incorrect. They can do many things that can be seen the campus level, such as their involvement in partnership events, providing funds to other organizations, giving back to the campus community, and creating lasting and impactful changes within the SGA constitution.
This slate did have a hand in creating the minimum wage resolution, which created conversations for change on campus.
This academic year, SGA passed the creation of the secretary of transportation, secured representation of College Democrats and College Republicans in SGA and moved the Resident Hall Association from the On-Campus Caucus to Organizational Caucus within their own constitution.
Despite their unfulfilled promises and the limited power SGA has, they have maintained and furthered progress on the Community Garden, the Dining Student Advisory Committee, feminine hygiene products in the L.A. Pittenger Student Center bathrooms, increased voter turnout and updated Charlie’s Charter appearance (one of their original goals established in early debates).
However, students wouldn’t know about these things because beyond our publication, there is no way students would know that SGA completed these things due to the lack of publicity SGA has.
Followers aren't important, but how can SGA educate the Ball State student population of over 20,000 when only 2 percent of the campus population follows them?
The Instagram issue is only one minor problem, and it’s easily solved. Have one account and make that account known. Plaster that account everywhere. Post regularly about upcoming events, what changes were made in SGA, etc. Let students in on what is happening.
When it comes to the final grade to be given to SGA, we are awarding them a C.
RISE did not go above and beyond. They did not do anything that hadn’t been done before, they didn’t create anything spectacular. They even went as far as to give up a few good things they had going for them. They didn’t engage with the campus at large, and there was little follow-through with the promises made in debates.
However, we recognize they checked off the boxes of their required tasks, they got a few things done in the confines of a busy year and complicated power structure. They did begin meaningful conversations that can hopefully lead to lasting impacts for next year’s slate. Under their leadership, SGA was able to create long-lasting legislation that will have a lasting impact in SGA.
In the perspective of a college student: C’s get degrees. In the terms of SGA: C’s get reelected for another term.
Looking forward to the next year, the slate of Gassensmith & Lindstrand is following in the footsteps of RISE with ambitious goals and promising ideas students are able to get behind.
We hope that the reelected vice president and the long-time member of SGA that was voted into the presidency are able to navigate the complicated system of governing leadership at Ball State and create actual change for the campus at large.
Our editorial board hopes that this slate is able to follow through on these goals, but more importantly, we hope to see SGA cement itself as part of the Ball State campus community beyond Greek life and engage more with students — both on social media and in person.