Inside the minds of SGA execs

What initiatives are Devon & Ariel working on?

  • Land acknowledgement to recognize stolen nature of St. Olaf property, with Taylor
  • Partnering with Wellness Center to offer accessible condoms in all dorms
  • Working with Rolvaag Memorial Library to extend textbook reserve program

Student Government Association (SGA) President Devon Nielsen ’20 and Vice President Ariel Mota Alves ’20 sat down for an interview with the Manitou Messenger to discuss their agenda for the upcoming months. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

For first years and for those who don’t know the ins-and-outs of student government, say a little bit about what you do.

Nielsen: “My role is a little ambiguous to be honest, but in general I mostly oversee SGA that’s sort of the big responsibility. SGA is comprised of branches, initiatives, and the Senate, and I send a lot of emails, run a lot of meetings — that’s like the technical side of my job. We’re also launching a lot of initiatives that we’re spearheading, so we’re holding a lot of meetings for those to get those off the ground. That’s a big part of my job on campus.”

Mota Alves: “Alongside Vice President of SGA, I am also the chair of Senate. Senate is sort of the legislative branch for SGA; it is where issues affecting students are brought, discussed and decided upon by student representatives designated as senators. Senate meets every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the David Johnson Ballroom, and all students are welcome — this is something that all students can be a part of.

What made you interested in applying to this position?

Mota Alves: When I came to St. Olaf freshman year, I struggled a lot — living far away from family and friends and being the only person from my country to be here at St. Olaf. This motivated me to apply to be a JC [junior counselor], so we did JC sophomore year. Then, after a year serving as part of residence life, it gave me a lot of perspective about issues affecting students. Eventually, this lead to our motivation to run for SGA.”

Nielsen: “Just to build off that a little bit, Ariel mentioned that we’ve been roommates since freshman year, and one of our defining things was that we would have our late-night conversations about different changes that we wanted to see in the world, and it ultimately turned into different changes we wanted to see on campus. So these conversations led us to our desire to make some institutional change at St. Olaf. So we met with a bunch of different organizations and branches and came up with a platform that we’re really excited about.”

What initiatives are you working on?

Nielsen: “We’re partnering with the Taylor Center to draft a land acknowledgement to recognize the stolen nature of the lands on which St. Olaf is built. The Taylor Center was working on their own project, and now we’re bridging our efforts. A big part of it is working with local Native communities to make sure that it’s not a process in which we write this land acknowledgement as people who are currently occupying the space, but we make sure that it’s an inclusive process. As far as other departments that we’re partnering with, we’re working with the Wellness Center to put free condoms in dorms across campus.”

Mota Alves: “One thing that is going to change this year is that Senate agendas will be published prior to Senate meetings, so students will know ahead what Senate is going to talk about and who is going to the Senate meeting. Also, now with the restructuring of SGA, [branch] coordinators will no longer attend Senate meetings so we are going to have more space, so one of the things I am going to do is to put more chairs so more students can come and sit and attend Senate meetings.”

What are some of the most pressing issues that need to be addressed that we haven’t spoken about yet, and how might you plan to address them?

Nielsen: “One of the critical conversations that needs to happen on campus surrounds sexual assault and sexual harassment. Ariel and I are really excited to launch some initiatives with Title IX and It’s On Us to increase male involvement in the conversation.”

Mota Alves: “We also realize that mental health is one of the biggest issues on campus. One of the things that Devon and I will do this year is we will raise funding for Greater Than, which is a Senate initiative that works to promote mental health awareness on campus. They have amazing projects, and we want to make sure that they have our support. This goes back to what I said earlier about how we are reallocating money to areas that will directly impact students.”

Large parts of the interview had to be trimmed due to space issues. Watch the full interview with Devon and Ariel on link to multimedia piece.

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