The Georgia State Student Government Association (SGA) has seen an unusual amount of action these past two semesters.
Since May 9, 2016, when the new SGA officers got to work, gender-neutral bathrooms, nap rooms, undocumented student issues, and concerns surrounding Turner Field have been just some of the issues that have circulated the university’s Senate table.
In the early months of the fall semester, SGA was urged by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, students, and members of Freedom University (FU) to pass legislation supporting undocumented students affected by Georgia’s Board of Regents (BOR) policies. SGA’s 2015 president Sebastian Parra kept the Senate actively supportive of undocumented student causes, and this year’s members followed suit by passing their own version of an advocative resolution.
Sen. Sara Moreno Duque was arrested back in November for protesting about the policies during a BOR meeting.
The Oct. 27, 2016 resolution supported the right of DACA students to attend the state’s top public universities, and pay in-state tuition for the institutions they attend and came as an action of support for fellow senator Duque.
But despite sticking to the basic on some aspects, for the first time in years, SGA pushed for mandatory attendance, a bylaw requirement that senators often got away with in past semesters.
Six senators were dismissed from their duties after missing more than three meetings without appropriate notice – a senator obligation brought forth by the association’s legislation. The dismissal came as an effort to incentivize senators to become more active, and promoting senator attendance at both senate meetings and SGA-hosted events, according to SGA Speaker of the House Blessing Akomas.
But, in the same set of bylaws, it states that it is the Speaker’s responsibility to inform senators when they have two absences and are in danger of being dismissed, something that SGA failed to do before detaching the senators from their positions.
In the association’s first meeting of the year, SGA Atlanta Executive Vice President Shamari Southwell broke the news of this year’s graduation venue.
SGA President Fortune Onwuzuruike had then told The Signal the change wasn’t “for sure”, but that they were just looking at their options.
“With the Dome getting knocked down and the Mercedez-Benz [stadium] not ready by that time, we are keeping Georgia Tech an option,” he said. “Turner Field might be ready, but there are all just options for now.”
SGA hears protesters on CBA
But perhaps the most noteworthy meetings came in the spring semester, when SGA came under the spotlight for its handling of Turner Field-related issues, and its lack of action for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) and the groups that have been advocating for one.
The senate invited Georgia State University President Mark Becker to speak on and answer senator questions on the sale as well as commencement.
Asma Elhuni, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) member and CBA advocate, stood up during Becker’s presentation and addressed a question as to why he won’t sign the document.
She was arrested by Georgia State Police and escorted out of a meeting for, “not following protocol” as President Onwuzuruike called it, as Becker was only there to answer senators’ questions, and not take any from the audience.
“Every student that asked a question today, not one student did that today. No one through the entire night, we had several questions over the entire night, but nobody stood up and said ‘can I ask a question,’” he told The Signal.
The following week, on Feb. 3, enraged fellow USAS members and Turner Field residents showed up at SGA’s next meeting, with demands to be heard, and several gave speeches on the displacement issue they’ve proposed the CBA for.
The protesters expressed disappointment in SGA senators for failing to speak out when a student was escorted out for “simply asking a question” and accused them of reading “Dr. Becker’s script” when it came to the Turner Field sale.
“What matters is that no one should ever be treated the way I was, simply for asking a question and posing no physical harm for anyone in the room,” Elhuni said in a speech addressed to the Senate.
But senators say they felt threatened by the way the protesters intruded in the meeting and spoke to them.
Sen. Joy Nwoke said she wouldn’t be able to side with the group’s cause after their “rude” interruption.
“They’re coming here saying, ‘listen to us speak’ but when it came our turn, we were interrupted? No. You can’t answer my question straight-forward? I can’t side with that. For you to be so prideful (..),” she said.
But since then, some senators have taken on a new committee which would bring together SGA, the university’s administration, and USAS members as a resource to help them get their message across to President Becker.
With elections coming up, issues that candidates have vowed to address include strengthening the bond between Atlanta and Perimeter senators, aiding with financial aid and academic concerns, as well as holding Senators and SGA executives accountable. Providing more services and branching out more offices to Perimeter campuses has been included in almost all of the candidate’s platforms.