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SGA pushes for greater visibility and transparency

Andres Martinez
Members of the Student Government Association pose for a photo during this year’s Minerpalooza.

On a Thursday evening, inside room 304 in Union East, a gavel is loudly struck signifying the commencement of the first Student Government Association senate meeting of the semester. It is here that a series of decisions that affect UTEP students will take place.

The room is packed. Seated around the large, oval wooden table are 23 senators, one for for every 1,000 students. Out of those 23, there’s eight collegiate senators representing each college. Lining the wall are 12 students, but only one of them is there to voice a concern.

Her name is Samantha Stewart, senior biological sciences major, and she has a parking problem.

Stewart can’t find parking space in the lot she paid for. That’s because UTEP Parking and Transportation sells more parking permits than they have spaces. According to Traffic Court Justice Peter Diaz, senior math major, UTEP’s most popular lots are 15 percent overbooked.

“We do have a lot more students than we have parking spaces,” Diaz said. “It’s an issue all students live with.”

Stewart was told that she should park in one of the remote lots, and she is then given Diaz’s contact info so he can further help her out.

“What we do is try to ease the relief students feel when they’ve been treated unfairly,” said Hannan Alkhalifa, SGA vice president of internal affairs and senior psychology major, at the meeting. “We help students, we don’t try and hurt students.”

Stewart’s visit to the SGA meeting is not common. A trend, SGA President Roberto Dominguez senior business administration major, said is on the rise.

“There are times when there aren’t any students at all that come to our meetings, but as of late there’s more students that have been coming,” Dominguez said.

However, SGA minutes for the spring and summer of 2015 reveal no evidence of public comment.

The lack of engagement between students and SGA is also highlighted through low voter turnouts, 2,803 ballots were cast during this year’s election, a decrease from the total of voters in the previous election at 2,986.

Brandon Thomas senior health promotions major, said he didn’t vote in the last election because he felt he did not see any change occurring around campus.

“Ever since that I kind of just view it like a popularity contest and I don’t even bother,” he said.

Something Dominguez is hoping to change this semester. Dominguez said he’s pushing for greater visibility of SGA, which will lead to greater engagement from students.

To do this, Dominguez wants to implement regular town hall meetings called SGA Listens by the end of September. Students would be able to attend these meetings and voice their concerns.

“Students aren’t fully aware of what student government is doing, they see a lot of things, but they don’t associate that with us,” he said. “That’s why this year, during SGA listens, we’re going to have that same type of energy and enthusiasm to show that we’re here.”

Other proposals include regular class presentations similar to the ones that occur during election week where senators will be provide students with status reports.

“I think that’s a step in the right direction,” Thomas said.

Another change is a shift towards greater transparency.

“This year, a lot of our senators including the executive branch want to make sure we’re being as transparent with the student body and administration as we can be,” said Hector Soltero, SGA executive assistant and senior organizational and corporate communication major.

Some proposals for greater transparency include live streaming the senate meetings and uploading video reports to the SGA website that would update students on what SGA is doing.

Other projects proposed by senators include the installment of more tutoring centers around campus, a platform that would allow students to present ideas they have to improve student life on campus and a Fox Fine Arts festival, among others.

“We hope they see SGA as a relevant entity–a helpful organization–that it’s worth voting for their elected officials,” Dominguez said.

Maria Esquinca may be reached at [email protected].

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    paydirt peteSep 5, 2015 at 7:29 PM

    How is Robert Dominguez the Student Government President, if he is not enrolled this fall 2015 semester?

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SGA pushes for greater visibility and transparency