Looking to the future

Three very different SGA members share their ideas on what is happening in SGA right now.

Michael Walther, Leigha Phelps and Nathaniel Burton sat down to discuss what they saw as issues that SGA needed to work through to better represent the student body. These senators were asked to sit down with The Northerner because they each have a unique perspective concerning NKU’s SGA.

Michael Walther has seen how a more established SGA operates. Leigha Phelps has been associated with NKU’s SGA since her freshman year and has seen the organization grow through the years. Nathaniel Burton is experiencing his first taste of SGA this semester. The interviewees were told that this was not to be used as a campaign platform. The Northerner will be running a full centerspread next week with a biography of each candidate and what office they are running for.

Michael Walther

Michael Walther is a graduate student attending NKU. He comes to the university from Miami University where he served on SGA. He was recently appointed to the senate, but has attended meetings since before spring break and was a driving force behind the new Student Concerns Committee. Walther has the unique perspective of how a different university’s student government works. This allows him to compare Miami University’s older, more established SGA to the young SGA of NKU.

“The great opportunity at NKU is with the right leaders — with the honest, up front, really determined and self- sacrificing (leaders) — you could single-handedly drive SGA,” Walther said.

But there are three major issues Walther sees keeping the goal from happening. A lack of leadership development causing disenfranchisement of new senators is one such issue.

“We recruit these dynamic, energetic freshmen, sophomores and even juniors… they want to participate, they want to learn about government. They have a passion for change and this-that-and-the- other, and they get in and see what SGA is and they get disenfranchised because there is no leadership development,” Walther said.

A second issue that presented itself was SGA’s credibility around campus and to the student body.

“SGA doesn’t have credibility here,” Walther said. “You have so many terrible elections, you have appeals, you have dirty politics, you have impeachments.”

But Walther offered a suggestion as to how this situation may be rectified.

“You have to be accountable for what you say and do, you have to be transparent in what you’re doing, and, I think, you have to follow the rules,” Walther said.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that issues will be handled faster, sometimes bureaucracy gets in the way, but Walther said the point is to get things done.

“If you want to go from A to B it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you follow the speed limit, you’re still gonna get there if you drive a Ferrari or a pick-up truck,” Walther said.

The third issue that concerned Walther was how SGA communicates with and then represents students. He said he believes SGA has to be the watchdog for students. They have to be willing to fight for what students want and not necessarily an administrative agenda. Walther said the only way to represent the students accurately is to get down in the muck and the mire and do some good ol’ campaigning.

“The only way to do that is to get out there — and it’s messy and it’s dirty and it sucks, because you’re gonna hear a lot of things you don’t want to hear, because it is not pleasant to deal with complaints all the time — but you have to. And I think the reason it hasn’t (happened) is because it is an unpleasant process,” Walther said.

But not everything is bleak for SGA. Walther has seen growth in the last few meetings and is pleased with the way SGA is going.

“I think they are doing the best that they can,” Walther said. “It’s a shame they couldn’t have started this at the beginning of the year or at the beginning of the academic year, but all’s well that ends well.”

Leigha Phelps

Leigha Phelps has been a member of SGA since her freshman year, has served on multiple committees and currently chairs the University Improvements Committee. Phelps has seen the student government body grow through the years and offered her insight as to what she had seen. Phelps said she has seen political negativity grow and a breakdown in communication occur. But at the same time, she has seen the body become more diverse, which is good, she said.

Increased diversity in the governing student body would presumably help to represent an increasingly diverse campus. But this diversity also brought its fair share of problems. According to Phelps, the more diversity present, the more values present and without a core set of common values in place, progress can be slow.

“There is a lack of values identification on the part of student government,” Phelps said. “As a group you are to determine what your values are going to be and what your goals are to uphold those values — and that discussion never happened in SGA.”

She also agreed with Walther that SGA needs to get out and engage the student body more. Phelps said a major hurdle in accurately representing the student body is a lack of awareness of what student government stands for.

“(The) student body doesn’t know what student government does, and the only way they’re going to find out what student government does and how they can relate to student government is if student government gets out there and talks to students,” Phelps said.

Phelps cited her year-long look at the issues surrounding the Campus Recreation Center as one of the avenues SGA has taken to relate more to the student body. She incorporated student tours, focus groups, passed out surveys in the CRC and is working on a survey that will be sent to every student, faculty and staff on campus before presenting a resolution on the subject to SGA. Phelps hoped this would become more commonplace when SGA is presenting resolutions on behalf of the student body. Phelps also hopes, in the future, SGA would consider different avenues of approach when presenting issues for the student body.

“I would hope the organization would branch out and broaden their horizon and think outside the box,” Phelps said. “When you think outside the box, you can reach more people who might not go about doing things the same way you do.”

Nathaniel Burton

Nathaniel Burton is a sophomore at NKU and was appointed to the senate this semester. Burton thought SGA was just another club to join until one of his friends invited him to go to a meeting. Now that Burton sits on the senate, he too noticed a lack of interaction between senators and students.

“The only time that I see SGA getting their name out is during election time,” Burton said.

Burton also said that he believed some senators only want to be senator for the social status. But Burton sees SGA as a service to the students.

“I don’t think people realize it’s students for students and (they) try to benefit everyone,” Burton said.

So Burton is taking a different approach.

“I try to be personable,” Burton said. He said that while he is talking to people causally on campus, if they bring a concern to him, he educates them about SGA. Burton said he encourages students to come to the meetings and present their issues to the governing body so they can feel the same way he does about SGA.

“I can see that I can actually make a little bit of a difference,” Burton said.

The Long and Short

Even though Walther, Phelps and Burton come from different areas of campus at different times in their college careers, a common thread connects what they have said. Walther summed up the connection when he said that SGA needs more transparent elections, more transparent meetings and a greater avenue for student concerns.

Story by Vern Hockney