Recently, SGA has been up to more than a handful of things worth lauding, though there have been some missteps along the way. Let's consider SGA's highs and lows over the past few months.
First, let's get the lows out of the way. While the SGA boosted communication over the summer and through August, it has seen serious lag as of late. SGA has yet to utilize its "SGA Updates" via email/text feature, and it made a meager three Twitter updates over the past month. September was a noteworthy period for both this campus and SGA, and receiving updates twice a week from the elected officials of a campus of 27,500-plus students is not an unreasonable expectation.
Second, UT has seen a handful of (nationally-recognized) eruptions over the past few weeks, and, during that time, SGA has more or less sat idly as a passive fixture on a campus otherwise engulfed in upsurge and controversy. The SGA Senate and, to a lesser extent, the SGA executive boardroom, are places where dramatic changes like this should be vetted. Student opinion should be discussed, student sentiment should be surveyed, and options for SGA's contribution in addressing the situation should be communicated with campus and community.
The best SGAs are those that see it as their job to bring about positive change on campus. Sometimes, that requires going to the problem rather than letting it come to you. As SGA officials become more comfortable in their roles, I hope and expect that we will see SGA as a more active force on campus.
Now that we've got those out of the way, let's take a look at some of the great stuff SGA has been up to. First, SGA Student Services has played a role in voter registration drives on campus and plans to co-host a debate between the College Republicans, College Democrats, and Libertarians on the evening of Oct. 18.
With an eye toward academic welfare, SGA is working with UT Advocacy to determine whether or not the current plus/minus grading system is harming UT students with regard to HOPE eligibility. Considering the fact that other Tennessee schools don't utilize the plus/minus system, and yet are still held to the same GPA requirement, it seems likely that the current system is detrimental to prospects of UT students in keeping their HOPE scholarships.
In addition to selecting the new Freshmen Council through a robust and thorough application and interview process, SGA has been taking steps to see that the SGA website, TN101 included, is totally revitalized. Both the past and current sites have been of little use to students and were rarely, if ever, updated with pertinent content. While we've yet to see much change, the current administration plans to unveil the new website, which will likely be a great resource for students, in the coming weeks. SGA is also in preliminary discussion concerning campus non-smoking policies as well as an athletic ticket function for the UT smartphone app.
Finally, SGA is exploring a survey function with which it could gauge student opinion. The idea would be to poll student opinion on certain issues or topics, the results of which could be utilized as foundations for policy decisions. Though we likely won't see something like this until next semester, it's a fantastic idea and could be a dynamic tool in serving student needs and meeting shifting problems.
When you're elected in April, big changes don't come by fall break. SGA looks much more serious than it has at this point in the past, though it still needs to make some serious improvements as it comes into its own.
— Eric Dixon is a senior in philosophy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.