Q&A with the current SGA Executive Board

By on April 5, 2019

Photo courtesy of SGA
President – Ryan Hicks (RH) (middle left)

Vice President – Luke Ahearn (LA) (far left)

VP for Finance – John Khillah (JK) (middle right)

VP for Student Experience – Austin Calvo (AC) (far right)

VP for Public Relations – Victoria Johnson (VJ) (front)

Q: What are the three greatest accomplishments of SGA this year?

AC: Our biggest one was bouncing back from last year. Everyone knows last year wasn’t our greatest year and it was all over in the press. All of the drama that was happening. We were kind of worried about what was going to happen this year and where we were going to go and I think this whole year we as executive board have done a really good job of cultivating a friendly family environment and making people feel more comfortable with each other which makes them feel more comfortable working together and asking for help which makes us as an organization function better. 

RH: The biggest accomplishment internally is the big restructure that we did, we added nine new positions to a new cabinet. These new positions will cover a variety of students on campus. We have multicultural identity senators, international senators, commuter senators, health wellness accessibility senators and academic at large senators. That’s going to allow us to better represent, better advocate for the students on campus. In the past, who our elections represented was just by chance. There was no guarantee they would have an international student in the room. These are now guaranteeing that these groups are being represented and always in the conversation. As our university changes, we needed our student government to change to appropriately advocate for every student on this campus. The new structure we will see next year is going to do that.

LA: I think there’s a clear three things that the students are going to care the most about. One of them would be club sports finally happening, which is something SGA has been pushing for almost 10 years. The second is the university finally taking a strong stance on DACA. For the university to finally make a public statement about that is quite powerful considering in the past the university tip-toed away from that. The third was the smoking policy that went into place. 

Q: What changes are in the works for next year?

AC: One of the big things is the bigger budget. Next year, SGA is finally in a place where we are so stable as an organization we can push administration as a united front. If there are things we know the students feel, we as SGA need to unite, strongly worded, strongly pushing administration to do more things for the student experience.

LA: With the new structure that we have, we have a louder voice, we can say that we are more representative of all these major groups on campus and all of these major groups believe that this should happen.

AC: When we had all our candidates meeting the week before elections, it was the first time I have been in a meeting and I looked around the room and didn’t know every single person there. So that was really nice, to look around and see different people running. They weren’t the career candidates that just run every year. There were new faces and I think that’s huge.

Q: After one semester with the new president, how is the dynamic between SGA and President Olian?

VJ: President Olian came to one SGA meeting. She invited the executive board to meet her new chief of staff when they had a little cocktail hour, dinner-type thing and she then turned to us when there was construction happening to her house. She has included us in many things and she’s been hosting office hours. The fact that she came to our meeting to show us her strategic plan, to ask us for feedback, was unbelievable and in my four years on student government no other president has attended a meeting. She has really been turning to us and wanting our feedback and I think that is so important. We feel as though her door is always open and we can always reach out to her directly and that’s something we’ve never had in the past. Her strategic plan is amazing and student-focused. I’m sad to be leaving when she’s just getting started.

AC: Right at the beginning of the semester I was leading the charge to get DACA approved by the university. I met with President Olian during her office hours and me and her did not get off on the greatest foot. I wrote an op-ed kind of slamming her in The Chronicle. The first week of class I had a bad perception of her and seeing the work she has put in over the past year to gain student approval and actual confidence in her ability to do her job and represent us and give us what we deserve, she has won me over from someone who did not start on a good foot with her.

Q: What are three areas you hope to improve on next year?

LA: Certain administrators are difficult to work with and I think we need to build stronger relationships with them to allow our organization to function in the most efficient way possible.

AC: I don’t think we as SGA actively push administration as much as we should and next year that is something we need to do more of. If we are working on an initiative and they say no, I don’t think it should just be OK, we should be like, “OK, why are you saying no? Students are saying this is important to them.” For example there was a senator working on getting skeletal bones for students in anatomy classes in public spaces so students who can’t afford to buy a bone kit that costs $200 can still go there and study with bones. The two sets would cost under $200 and the university told them no. We should have taken a step back and said, “No, we need this. This is ridiculous.”

Q: How is SGA involved in the strategic plan?

RH: There was five task forces the President Olian had assembly to essentially create recommendations, which went into her office, which went into the strategic plan so it was kind of a funnel forward. To my knowledge, there was three of us that were on those specific task forces that went into the recommendations  that went forward. From there she did a town hall that was open to the entire student body, but she specifically reached out to student government. The majority of SGA went there and was able to have some sort of dialogue with her.

AC: I served on the committee. I felt that my voice was heard on the committee. I felt our voices were reflected in the 13-page proposal that came out. She is student-centered, but it is going to take time for her being student centered to make the university student centered.

Q: Does SGA have access to budget reports regarding the strategic plan and the inauguration and would you be willing to share them with the student body?

JK: No, we don’t. The only budget we have access to as the finance committee is our own. We really only oversee the budget, now which is over $800,000 for next academic year. Outside of that, we do not have much access to other offices or department’s budgets to see what the university spends money on. It’s something that we really should in terms of SGA knowing what other budgets look like. It’s more just focused on what our budget really is. But in terms of how much money it would take for the strategic plan to take place or where that money would really go to, we don’t have much access. 

RH: We have a meeting tentatively scheduled for April 24 to meet with Dr. Thompson to talk about specific budget stuff which we will be able to turn around and explain to the student body. We have been in conversation with them throughout the whole semester about having more transparency. 

Q: What do you think is the single greatest problem facing QU?

VJ: I think there is a space issue on campus. We don’t have programming space, the classrooms are too small, parking is kind of a nightmare. The lines at the cafe during rush hours are insane. There’s too many students and we don’t have enough space for them.

AC: I think it’s just the fact that our student experience does not match the price tag. We are having those space issues. There is what seven rooms in the student center? Students are taking sociology 101 as their senior capstone. Our university is not at the level that it should be for a university that costs $65,000, our student experience is not at the level that it should be. The five year strategic plan is great and it’s amazing, but I’m graduating next year. I now paid all this money for students in five years to have a great experience. While that’s great, I do think there need to be more concrete plans about what is happening and when it is happening and this is how it is going to benefit us in the here and now.

VJ: I am going to go a little against that because it is hard for students to realize that technically QU costs $65,000 and that’s the price tag but very few pay that. There’s $150,000 given out in financial aid and a lot of students do receive a scholarship. I think that the student experience does not match a $65,000 price tag, but I don’t believe anyone in this room is paying that much to my knowledge.

JK: Students aren’t falling in love with Quinnipiac in the same ways that they are falling in love with other universities outside these walls. Our alumni donation percentage is 4 percent of alumni give back to Quinnipiac University so whether that’s because tuition is already high enough and people feel like they’ve already given their due diligence back to Quinnipiac University or there’s just a lack of student pride being a part of the QU community, not having that prideful resemblance of being part of the QU community, that’s part of what I would like to see tackled in the next few years.

Q: What do you envision for the Spruce Bank property?

LA: President Olian wasn’t even responsible for the decision to improve that property. Ideally, that property gives us tons of new acres to develop on, so a new dorm on there because we need to see more dorms on main campus for sophomores at least to be able to live on main and the space that they renovated to be able to host students and alumni receptions to get that 4 percent higher, to host potential investor. That is a great opportunity for President Olian to  have a better understanding of not just the students here but the other investors.

AC: It’s an investment. She is very well-known for her fundraising abilities. If people feel like they are in a nice environment, donors are more likely to give.

Q: Who is a new member of SGA who has really stood out this year and why?

LA: The freshman president and vice president have both done phenomenal work as well as Caroline Mello. She just finished up her initiative getting CPR clinics available for all students and there was an overwhelming number of students wanting to get certified in CPR so potentially that has the effect to save someone’s life someday.

RH: I am unbelievably proud of this entire organization from the top down, the way we have gotten things done this year. In the past four years, this has been the most productive student government. Those that have been here in the past hit the ground running and helped those who were new transition in and it was the perfect collision of two different worlds. 

Q: Provost Mark Thompson has been a huge advocate for the student body by helping allow SGA to fund more clubs and conferences to enhance the student experience at QU. How will his departure from the university at the end of May affect SGA?

VJ: We will miss him. Dr. Thompson has been great. With that being said, we are happy for him. Moving to a bigger position, he deserves it. He has worked so hard. He’s always heard the SGA voice. He has always done everything he can to help us. But with that being said, President Olian has been really great too and has made our voices heard as well. We are really happy for Dr. Thompson. He deserves this move. We wish him nothing but the best. 

Q: This year SGA added a judicial branch. Can you please explain what that is and how it worked this year?

RH: The judicial branch is pretty much made up of seven members and a chief justice. There are three justices that are student government members and there are three justices that were elected by the student body but don’t serve on student government association. The don’t come to every meeting, they don’t vote on motions. The judicial board as a whole overlook our constitution and bylaws. They did a lot of work with the revamping of those documents to make sure they were up to par with our practices. They provided constitutional interpretation if something was unclear and they would also hear grievances and conduct interviews. For our first year, the chief justice, Jack, did an unbelievable job. All six justices did a really great job paving the way for that role. The goal is to hold Student Government accountable and to have that checks and balances and I think that body is going to continue to grow and develop and make sure that candidates who are then elected make sure that they do what they promised during the campaign trail. I think there is nothing but room for growth for that body and it will really benefit student government and the work that we do and how members conduct themselves and the amount of accountability.

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