ECO Coalition in SGA

On April 7 and 8, the Student Government Association (SGA) will be electing 37 senate seats, and a single group wants 25 of them.      Calling themselves the Emergent Change Organizers (ECO) Coalition, this group of students seeks to make an environmental difference at UVM.Several weeks ago, current SGA senator, freshman Tyler Wilkinson-Ray, sent out a mass e-mail to students groups with an environmental or social justice focus, encouraging their participation in student government.”Student protests are an important way of making our voice heard, but it is also important to use the avenues for change that have been provided to us,” he said in the e-mail. “If you think UVM is heading in the wrong direction, then let’s do something about it,” he said.Wilkinson-Ray reported a strong positive reaction to the e-mail from the student body.”I wasn’t really sure what the response was going to be. It was one of those things that people were going to write off as nothing or that people would get really into, and people got really into it,” he said.Twenty-five students filled out the senate application and gathered the required 80 student signatures, and the group met last week to write up an official platform.”Guided by a holistic, transdisciplinary approach to addressing issues pertinent to student life at the University of Vermont,” the ECO Coalition’s platform states that they “want to bring renewed perspective and energy to the SGA Senate.” According to the SGA Web site, the organization is “responsible for representing the views and opinions of the entire undergraduate student body to both the University and Burlington communities,” although Wilkinson-Ray believes that this is not being upheld.One of the group’s main goals is to “use the SGA as an umbrella organization to unite student groups on campus,” Wilkinson-Ray said. “We fund them, we are them. Rather than just giving them money, why don’t we try to unite them?”Junior Jeremiah Church, also running for a senate seat under the ECO Coalition’s platform, supported this idea. “All the groups on campus that are working on issues of social justice and environmental justice, diversity, equity—you name it, there’s a UVM group for it. We can connect those groups to each other. We can connect them to faculty that are doing research in their areas get students paired up to do more research more on the ground work in their communities and on UVM’s campus and we can get them connected to the UVM administration that has the levers of funding that can make things happen,”  he said.A second objective is to achieve greater outreach to the student body, Wilkinson-Ray said. “Figuring out what people rather than what we think they want.”The group hopes to make the senate into more of a forum for students and their voices, and into an organization through which they can see their thoughts and opinions put into action. “My impression of the SGA has not been anything terribly powerful,” Wilkinson-Ray said. “I can’t name a hell of a lot of things the SGA’s done. Whether or not the SGA’s doing something, the point is they’re not communicating it broadly enough. Their message isn’t getting trickled down.”While the ECO Coalition is making plans now, they do not plan to act as a single body if elected into the senate. “It’s just a group. Once we get in, I think the group is over,” Wilkinson-Ray said.The ECO Coalition has received official endorsements from the Vermont Student Environmental Program (VSTEP), the Consortium for Ecological Living (CEL), the Slade Garden Club and Campus Kitchens Project, as well as from state representative David Zuckerman.”We definitely started as an environmental group, and we’re environmentally-minded people, but we just want to rejuvenate the SGA,” said Wilkinson-Ray.