When a Trinity student enters the spring semester of their senior year, they no longer have voting representation on our student government. The Student Government Association (SGA) works in calendar-year terms, meaning that every fall, students may run for one of the five senator positions to represent their class, starting the following spring semester. However, since second-semester seniors will only be at Trinity for half of that term, they have no voting representative on SGA.
Last year, SGA began an in-depth revision of their constitution in order to clarify and update various SGA processes. Among these updates was the implementation of a previously unused position: the senator emeritus. The Constitutional Review Committee proposed this position as a long-awaited fix to the lack of representation of second-semester seniors. The senator emeritus is appointed by the president and vice president and serves as a non-voting member of SGA. Essentially, the senators emeriti (of which there are three) serve as advisers to the organization, giving input on funding proposals and other topics from a senior student’s perspective. However, this proposal brought up the question: why not just make full-fledged senior class senators with voting rights?
In my view, it didn’t make any sense for seniors to lose voting representation simply because they’re about to graduate. They still paid tuition just the same as the rest of us, and their impending graduation shouldn’t disqualify them from having a voice on student government. Besides, much of the power of SGA comes from the allocation of the Student Activity Fund, to which seniors contribute. Nonetheless, the majority ruled, the senator emeritus position was approved, and we continued on with the other constitutional revisions.
I could never figure out why it would make sense for us to take away voting power from students’ last semester at Trinity. That is, until I talked to Amulya Deva, current president of SGA. Deva pointed out the lack of interest among seniors to participate in SGA.
“The older [students] become, the harder it is to get them to run,” Deva said. “We couldn’t give them voting power because then essentially the president and vice president could just appoint their friends and get three extra votes. We decided not to give them voting power but keep them as advisors advocating for the senior class.”
Indeed, the current senior class (Class of 2019) has previously shown low interest in joining SGA. At the beginning of the semester, Deva sent out an email asking for applications to fill two senator position vacancies. After the first call, SGA received zero applications for the positions. However, this quickly changed after the second call, when 10 seniors applied for the position.
“I think seniors don’t care as much about SGA because they’re not as invested in the future of the school. Most of us are leaving in a semester, which is not enough time to see the benefits of efforts we might put forth for change,” said senior Kate Windsor, who applied for the position. “The reason that no one applied for the position until the second request was because the application requirements were dramatically slashed.”
Is the apathy of seniors towards SGA the real problem behind voting representation? This hardly seems like an adequate reason to abandon the “senior senator” idea altogether. SGA could do much more to engage with seniors, find out what they care about and pursue it. However, David Tuttle, dean of students and adviser to SGA, offers a more nuanced view of the issue.
“I don’t know that seniors are apathetic. I think their priorities are shifting. Seniors are wrapping up capstone projects or research, they are applying for grad schools or jobs and [focusing] on their meaningful friendships before dispersing,” Tuttle said. “I don’t know who came up with the [senator emeritus] position, but I love it. High impact, low energy.”
Tuttle’s comment shifted my perspective on the issue. Apathy seems fixable, and something that the student body’s representatives should work to improve if they truly want to represent all students’ opinions. However, if second-semester seniors feel as though campus issues are no longer their main focus, that is an entirely different situation. Perhaps we should acknowledge that a senior’s role in the campus community changes over time, and as they prepare for the rest of their life, we should allow them to focus on themselves rather than serve the student body. As a junior involved in (arguably too many) student organizations, it may seem absurd to me that we fail to represent an entire class for one semester. But from a senior’s perspective, the emails asking them to add another time-consuming commitment might seem equally absurd.
Perhaps there are seniors out there who would love to serve as a voting member of SGA. The very fact that we even have senator emeriti indicates a lingering interest in campus events. But until the senior class shows that they want a more time-intensive position, it might not make any sense to force it upon them.