Kip Lynch ’22
The student government convened virtually on Apr. 5 in order to discuss COVID-19 and upcoming student elections. SGA announced the decision to continue to hold meetings virtually on Sunday to continue business and has opened those meetings to the public in the interest of “maintaining transparency with the student body.” Participation by members of the public and the Tripod, however, was limited to a period which began an hour after the meeting’s 5:30 p.m. start time.
The Student Government Association has previously met virtually in response to the COVID-19 situation. SGA met on Mar. 29, according to minutes distributed by SGA President Trinna Larsen ’20 on Sunday. Members of the student body have, historically, been sent an agenda by Larsen and invited to attend the meetings when they occur on campus. For the Mar. 29 meeting, students were not invited nor notified of its occurrence via email.
The public portion of the Apr. 5 meeting focused on comments for SGA’s revised constitution. Daniel Nesbitt ’22,* one of two non-SGA members to speak, addressed numerous concerns over amendments and provisions within the final draft of SGA’s revised constitution, which was circulated to the student body Sunday afternoon.
Jederick Estrella ’22 also spoke briefly about the timing of student government elections, with SGA adding in response that they are still deciding whether to hold elections this spring or postpone to the fall.
Nesbitt, speaking to the SGA, took issue with article 7, section 10, which pertains to student organizations. In clause 5 of the proposed constitution, the student government states that it will abide by the Trinity College Recognition Process for SGA Organizations Policy. The policy was approved in Oct. 2019. In response to Nesbitt’s concerns about public availability, SGA Senator Joshua Jacoves ’23 stated that the policy would be made available online. Upon request, SGA later provided a copy of the policy to the Tripod.
He was also concerned with article 8’s lack of detail when describing the new ranked-choice voting process for student elections. Members of SGA stated that these details were available in SGA’s bylaws. The Tripod requested a copy of the bylaws and later spoke with SGA Vice President for Communications Jack Stone ’22. Stone indicated that the bylaws cited in the meeting are unapproved, as the COVID emergency “obviously caused us [SGA] to temporarily adjust our priorities.” Stone also stated that SGA fully intends “on returning to the drafting process and approving the new bylaws, which will of course be public.”
Further, Nesbitt expressed concern over the provisions pertaining to the emergency declarations and powers, specifically that there was no provision requiring the SGA to inform the student body when making an emergency declaration. SGA members maintained that members of the student body should be aware of this, while Nesbitt asserted that any official change in status and any changes in acting positions should be communicated clearly to the student body at large.
With the removal of the position of Parliamentarian in the proposed constitution, Nesbitt also questioned whether there were any positions or structures in place to ensure that constitutional procedures are followed correctly. SGA President Trinna Larsen ’20 declined to answer the question, stating that “discussions around that provision had already taken place last semester,” but did offer to discuss the topic with Nesbitt in private at a later time. Other members of the student government maintained that since the SGA votes on the constitution every year, everyone is knowledgeable about the constitution. The Parliamentarian has, historically, been charged with the power of advising and ensuring that SGA decisions comport with its mandates, according to its extant constitution available here.
Nesbitt also questioned the language regarding SGA’s right to hold a closed vote in article 9, calling it “simplistic” and asking for specifics over what circumstances would warrant a closed vote. He asserted that, with no publicly available voting records for members of SGA, there were very few mechanisms for accountability with respect to elected SGA representatives. Stone described how this policy was the result of SGA members feeling threatened last year during the Churchill Club controversy in spring 2019. He further described the importance of flexibility and not being cornered into specific language regarding closed voting, while adding that SGA takes the issue seriously.
SGA has addressed the matter before, voting unanimously in 2019 under the administration of then-President Kristina Miele to make voting records public. At the time, SGA voted to “change [the] SGA voting policy,” conducted via the messaging application GroupMe, to using “likes” rather than “polls” with the stated purpose of being able to keep a “log of votes” for the Tripod, according to their GroupMe poll. The Tripod also reported this change in an SGA update last January. There is no record in the SGA minutes of that resolution being rescinded.
Nesbitt’s last concern was with the proposed SGA constitution’s article 5, section 1, clause C, which grants SGA “the power to: …Take steps deemed necessary and proper for the Student Body’s general welfare.” Nesbitt was concerned with the openness of the clause, believing that it could be used to justify almost any action. He advocated for limitations on SGA power, while members of SGA made clear that the clause would not be changed. Stone pointed to the “necessary and proper” term’s existence in the United States Constitution as justification for its placement within the SGA constitution. Both Jacoves and Stone emphasized the need for explicitly vague language that allows for flexibility, especially in times of crisis, as without this power SGA would not have been able to organize the emergency fund.
The Tripod reached out to Stone to clarify SGA’s position on the fund’s creation. Stone added that SGA “initiated the equity fund while we were on-campus and began soliciting financial donations from our student organizations immediately thereafter.” Stone added that the efforts “have been very successful.” The SGA did start a mutual aid system, however, the Student Emergency and Equity Fund, while recently supported by the SGA, was not initiated by them and has been in existence for several years as the Tripod reported last October.
With the SGA referencing the U.S. Constitution as a model to be followed, Nesbitt also queried if there were any checks and balances on SGA power that existed within the proposed constitution. SGA members responded to this question by indicating that they limit their own power by voting on all matters, and that the Senate can override decisions by a 2/3 majority vote.
*Daniel Nesbitt ‘22 is the News Editor of the Trinity Tripod and was not involved in the drafting or publication of this article. Nesbitt made clear at the SGA meeting that he was speaking as a member of the student body and not as a member of the Tripod.