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Following elections, Student Senate centers in on new agenda and goals

The student body that controls a half-million-dollar budget has a slightly different look this year. The new faces of the Student Government Association SGA Senate were unveiled following last week’s elections, as candidates were selected for all hall council positions in addition to six senatorial posts. A total of 1,324 students voted in an election that included a number of competitive races. In the end, Caryn McKinney ’13 was chosen as Faculty Governance senator, Thomas Freeman ’14 as intercampus liaison, Guttu Maskalo ’14 as multicultural senator and Love Odetola ’14 as international senator. Rounding out the group are Anna Theis ’13 as off-campus senator and Molly McDermott ’13 as honor house senator. Complete results of hall council elections, in addition to candidate biographies, can be found on the Oleville webpage.

The entire Senate, which includes 38 senators, convened for the first time Saturday, Sept. 29 at an opening retreat. During that time, the group began preparations for the upcoming year. According to SGA Vice President and Senate Chair Matt Alveshere ’13, the goals for the year are wide-ranging, addressing issues from stress to student participation. Bolstering the student voice within the organization is of special importance to Alveshere and the Executive Board.

“Many students don’t come to Senate meetings, and that’s one of the things we want to change this year,” he said. To that end, the Senate is debuting a new student comment portion at the beginning of its weekly meetings. Similar to a city council meeting, Senate meetings will begin with a brief period during which any student in attendance can speak.

“This will be a time for students to come and directly address the Senate, whether it’s with a new idea they have, or something they want to be brought up in the meeting,” Alveshere said.

He also encourages students to come hear the guest speakers who are frequently featured at meetings. These often include members of the administration, such as Vice President Greg Kneser and Dean Rosalyn Eaton-Neeb. Alveshere sees this as a unique avenue of communication between students and the administration.

“The speakers tell us what they’re working on in their office, and they are also able to get student feedback via the Senate,” he said.

To further engage students, Senate is also adding a new social media component to meetings. The SGA webpage will now be posting tweets during meetings, enabling students to access a live feed online.

Also high on the Senate agenda is the issue of student stress. Alveshere notes that St. Olaf students are typically more stressed than their counterparts at other colleges.

“We want to look at how we can re-evaluate the causes of stress, and see what can be done institutionally to reduce it,” he said.

In addition to these preliminary goals, Alveshere also anticipates new priorities to arise throughout the year, especially within subcommittees. The Senate includes seven of these smaller groups, and each focuses on single issue ranging from student wellness to transportation. The subcommittees are often the venue for work on specific issues, and senators serving on them are responsible for dealing with problems falling within the domain of their subcommittee.

Individual senators are also bringing their personal goals to the table. Newly elected International Sen. Odetola, who will serve as a liaison between Senate and the international student community, seeks to bring a global perspective to the Senate. “My main goal as international senator is to be the voice of the international community in student government,” she said. She is hoping to initiate and maintain an ongoing dialogue between the two groups. “I plan on attending International Student Organization meetings and getting the personal ideas and opinions of my peers, and then relating them back to SGA,” she said.

Odetola and her fellow senators convened for their first meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the David E. Johnson Boardroom. Alveshere explained that this first gathering marked the beginning of a year of student involvement in what he sees as a vitally important organization on campus. Operating with a sizable budget and debating matters from parking options to student work, Senate has a great degree of influence within the college.

“St. Olaf is lucky,” Alveshere said. “The administration really values our opinions, and we’re one of the most highly-respected student governments around.”

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