Senate votes to block proposed programming branch

Illustration by Kenzie Todd

The Student Government Association (SGA) held a Senate town hall meeting on Tuesday, March 2 via Zoom. The meeting centered around the proposed  establishment transition of a new student programming body, St. Olaf Activities and Programming (SOAP). Following the town hall, the Senate voted against the proposed branch.

SGA Vice President Imani Mosher ’21 began the meeting with a brief rundown of the agenda. Before discussion opened, Senator Anna Bergstrom ’21 gave an overview of SOAP’s structure.

During the presentation, senators reminded students that SOAP co-coordinators would go through an application and interview process before being hired. General members would also go through the application and interview process, and they would be selected by the co-coordinators of SOAP.

The SOAP model would affect the Music Entertainment Committee (MEC), the After Dark Committee (ADC) and the Student Activities Committee (SAC), as the SOAP model would absorb them into one programming branch.

“Students can float through any committees that they want,” said SAC Coordinator Andy Nelson ’23 during the town hall event. “Marketing for events will be more clear and cohesive.”

Under the current SGA model, MEC, ADC and SAC executive positions are chosen through an election process open to the student body. Many students attending the town hall brought up concerns about removing this election process.

“The purpose of the student government is to represent the student body,” said current Chair of the SGA Textbook Project, Logan Graham ’22. “Elections are the absolute last thing that should be cut in the student government. I wasn’t confident that the problems SOAP is attempting to resolve are ones that need a huge restructuring to happen.”

The Senate convened to discuss and vote on SOAP after the public town hall ended. The results of the vote were seven in favor, five opposed and one abstaining, which did not reach the required two-thirds majority to pass.

“I already had my own reservations about SOAP from the beginning,” said Environmental Senator Clovis Curl ’21. “The actual appointment of the co-coordinators wasn’t my biggest reservation. It was the fact that they would then appoint the chairs and general membership. I didn’t feel it was right to give two people that much power.”

The Senate body seemed to share this sentiment.

“What I don’t like about the SOAP model is I think that the co-coordinators have too much influence over the body as a whole,” said Senior Class Representative Sophia Skinner ’21. “I think there would be a way to dissipate that power and make it more shared.”

Another goal of the SOAP model was to help coordinate events in a more organized manner.

“I think SOAP does do a really good job of streamlining the process of creating activities on campus,” Skinner said. “By unifying all the groups under one body, it makes it so there’s better communication, which I think is beneficial and could lead to a greater frequency of events on campus.”

If SGA were to adopt the SOAP model, it would increase the number of paid positions in SGA. The budgets of MEC, SAC and ADC would all be grouped together under the bylaws.

“I did like SOAP’s increase in paid positions, but that could happen right now without SOAP, and it can certainly happen with SOAP coordinators being elected positions,” said Hanna Liu ’21 in an email to the Messenger. “I want to see greater investment in building connections between SGA and the general student body. I think the hiring process of SOAP is going in the opposite direction of where we need to be.”

The senators met again after the vote to discuss possible amendments. The meeting is archived and currently available on the Oleville website.

One of the biggest concerns discussed in both the town hall and the post-vote Senate meeting was the decreasing student involvement in SGA, which includes voting in elections, participating in events and becoming members of the branches.

“What I’ve been doing this year to try to get more student involvement is reaching out via social media. I want to make SGA as a whole more accessible to people,” Skinner said.

SGA especially struggled with participation in 2020, but it has been a problem in past years as well.

“We have to acknowledge that last year was a bad situation for the election. People weren’t engaged in SGA when they were off campus at the beginning of a pandemic,” Graham said. “The fact that we even got 20% is a testament to the fact that there is more work that can be done and there are people who care.”

The Senate convened on March 9 to discuss amendments and continue the discussion surrounding the proposed model. Senators approved an amendment changing the proposed hiring process of co-coordinators to being elected by the students. The Senate then voted on the proposal as a whole where it did not meet the 2/3 majority. SGA will continue to discuss the SOAP model and its possible amendments, students can join future Senate meetings virtually or watch via the online archives.