What is SGA working on?


Sophia Balunek

SGA senator asks a question during a meeting in the Livak Ballroom March 22.

SGA hopes to improve transparency with the student body and further advertise their advocacy for students, said SGA Vice President Olivija Stephens, a junior.

The webpage titled “What Is SGA Working On” references a 2018 survey as a cause for committee action, and quotes the SGA president and vice president of two administrations prior to the current leadership.

Website updates go through SGA Office Coordinator Meg McCormack, said junior Addie Robinson, chair of the public relations committee. The administration largely controls the SGA website and has to approve of the changes, making it frustrating to get things done, said SGA President Sam Pasqualoni, a senior.

“I think part of the holdup is that the University does have pretty strict policies about students not having access to the website,” said senior Sarah Plaut, chair of academic affairs.

Each committee is pursuing different projects this semester that prioritize student well-being including gender equity, sexual violence awareness, club recognition and more, Stephens said.

Committees are responsible for different aspects of the student experience, according to the SGA webpage.

Public Relations Committee

The Public Relations Committee focuses on communicating to students what SGA is currently working on. The committee runs all the SGA social media accounts and handles the bi-semester newsletter, Robinson said.

Senator Eli Smith, a junior, is in the process of making changes to the SGA webpage. Smith plans to update it with information consistent with current SGA projects and initiatives.

The committee plans to table in April and will invite students to take a study break with a snack or drink, Robinson said.

Most of the focus of the Public Relations Committee consists of reaching more students and building trust in the community, Robinson said.

“I feel like people tend to think that SGA is a mouthpiece for the University for administration and that’s not always true,” she said. “I think that a lot of the time we communicate our own opinion.”

The committee received just under $500 in funding for the year, according to a March 23 text message from Robinson to the Cynic.

Academic Affairs Committee

The Academic Affairs Committee addresses matters associated with academic policy, curriculum and faculty-student relations, according to the SGA webpage.

The committee plans to make a pamphlet of academic resources for students, Plaut said.

Additionally, the committee works on advertising the Study Skills campaign in the Tutoring Center after finding a disconnect between students going into entry-level classes and progress in study skills.

Many sophomores who should have been building study skills who are now in upper level classes don’t know how to effectively study, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Plaut said.

Additionally, to strengthen the academic experience among students, the Academic Affairs Committee asks professors and administrators to post their expanded section descriptions for their classes early on in the semester, Plaut said.

The committee sent out a survey to students about their experiences with professors disclosing their section descriptions, which they plan on presenting at the Faculty Senate next month, Plaut said.

The committee also met with lab coordinators and different department heads to create policies for teaching assistants to grade more fairly across the board, Plaut said.

The committee received no funding this year because none of their projects have required it, according to a March 27 email from Plaut.

Committee on Legislative and Community Affairs

The Committee on Legislative and Community Affairs serves as the student link between UVM and the local, state and federal communities, according to the SGA webpage.

Senator Olivia Eisenberg, a sophomore, looks to provide menstrual products in all men and gender-neutral bathrooms across campus as well as working with the Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for Sexual Awareness Month in April, said COLCA Chair Sarah Wood, a junior.

Wood works with the psychedelic science club with the aim of distributing harm reduction practices around Burlington, she said.

“Drug use is unfortunate, it’s going to happen,” Wood said. “So we’re going to try to make it so that people have the resources that they need.”

Senator Luke Michael, a senior, plans to organize a campus clean-up next month during Earth Week.

Senator Troy Kane, a sophomore, collaborates with recreational staff in hopes to advertise better gym etiquette to make the recreational centers a safer space for female-identifying and LGBTQ+ students, she said.

The committee will table April 4 and 6 in the Davis Center atrium to hand out housing resources for juniors and seniors who may struggle to find off-campus housing towards the end of the semester to make sure all students get housing if they need it, Wood said.

Committee on Student Action and Well-Being

The Committee on Student Action and Well-Being helps students navigate campus life by advertising the resources including transportation, residential life, counseling and dining, according to the SGA webpage.

“Our main focus has really been mental health and better publicizing the resources that are already available, and then fixing the ones that are there,” said CSAW Chair Maddie Henson, a senior.

The committee is finalizing a mental health pamphlet specifically for BIPOC students, Henson said.

Additionally, the committee worked with John Paul Grogan, director of public health outreach, on a virtual sign-in form for UVM Counseling and Psychiatry Services for students who get anxious scheduling on the phone, she said.

The committee has a budget of $1,300 for the year to go towards projects like printing pamphlets and Ask an Admin, a program in which administrators and SGA senators sit in high-traffic areas on campus to answer student questions, Henson said.

Finance Committee

The Finance Committee manages and recommends where to allocate the SGA club’s budget to the Senate, according to the SGA webpage

The finance committee just completed the budgeting season and is now approaching the appeals process. They presented the final budget to SGA’s finance office which they are waiting to be approved, Henson said. 

Judicial Committee 

The Judicial Committee works to ensure that members of SGA follow the SGA Constitution, SGA Operational Documents, Our Common Ground and the Speaker’s Rules of Order, according to the SGA webpage

The committee reviews and edits the SGA constitution to better reflect the working structure of SGA, said senior Cyrus Oswald, chair of the judicial committee and SGA speaker of the senate.

Additionally, the committee runs the flagpole policy which solicits clubs to fly flags on the Davis Center flagpole, Oswald said. 

Committee on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity

The Committee on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity works to ensure that all students at the University are heard and to improve social justice on campus, according to the SGA webpage 

The committee is working on planning for Sexual Violence Awareness Month in April and production of corresponding resources, SGA President Sam Pasqualoni said. 

Committee on the Environment

The Committee on the Environment hopes to make UVM’s campus an environmentally aware and sustainable place through clubs and events, according to the SGA website. 

CoE coordinates Earth Week programming and the rewriting of the Climate Action Plan and listing student opinions about that, Pasqualoni said.

At the beginning of the semester, junior Abigail Berkowitz, chair of the committee of the environment, created a Climate Action Plan ad hoc committee that made a survey for students concerning the University’s commitment to the Climate Action Plan, Berkowitz said. 

The Climate Action Plan devoted the University to achieving carbon neutrality in electricity production by 2015, in thermal energy production by 2020 and in commuting, business and air travel by 2025, according to a March 16 Cynic article. 

The committee presented the survey results to Elizabeth Palchak, appointed director of the office of sustainability, and is now involved in the process of developing the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, Berkowitz said. 

The survey was sent out on Nov. 1 2021 and reached about 760 responses, which was 300 responses under their goal, Berkowitz said. 

The Comprehensive Sustainability Plan will connect the campus community and pique the interest of both internal and external stakeholders. The Plan will identify short and long-term objectives that are attainable and within the University’s financial capabilities, according to the University website. 

“We are currently working on finishing up purchasing carbon offsets for the data center,” Berkowitz said. “We do that every year as a part of the carbon-neutral initiative, which started in 2016. So I’d say that’s kind of the big thing right now.”

A carbon offset refers to the reduction of the increase in carbon storage that is used to rectify emissions that occur somewhere else, according to offsetguide.org

Since 2018, SGA determined their clubs’ energy use and bought carbon offsets to cover the greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Office of Sustainability webpage.

The committee received $5,000 for carbon offsetting, but plans to request more next year, Berkowitz said. 

“We realized that the Davis Center releases a lot more carbon than what was originally accounted for,” Berkowitz said. “So in order to really be able to call the Davis Center carbon neutral we should be able to buy as many offsets as we produce in carbon.”

Additionally, the committee is planning for Earth Week, from April 16 to 22, comprised of six different events. The weeklong event centers around Indigenous people and their importance within the field, Berkowitz said. 

The committee received a budget of $2,500 dedicated to Earth Week matters and $2,000 for a CoE sustainability fund, Berkowitz said. 

Club Affairs Committee

The Club Affairs Committee oversees all SGA-related activities. They review all requests for new club recognitions and present them to SGA Senate approval, according to the SGA webpage.  

Last semester, the committee held a training for clubs regarding sexual violence and assault prevention, which they will continue to improve on in the following years, according to Club Affairs Committee Chair, Ann Wong, a senior. 

On March 3, Wong and Senator Riley O’Hagan, a sophomore, teamed up with the Women and Gender Equity Center to host the Celebration of Gender Equity and welcome keynote speakers and hold an award ceremony, Wong said. 

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Larner College spread awareness about the importance of the role of data in gender equity advocacy and acknowledged gender equity leaders across the UVM community, according to the Larner College of Medicine webpage.

Wong partners with HOPE Works to have a few advocates come into rooms in the Davis Center to have discussions about sexual violence victim advocacy, Wong said. 

HOPE Works is a 24-hour crisis counseling and advocacy service for victims of sexual violence. HOPE Works hotline is available at (802) 863-1236 or (800) 489-7273, according to the UVM Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity webpage

Additionally, the Club Affairs Committee has set up a UVM Clubs Instagram account, which has accumulated 1,001 followers, to keep in closer contact with the student body, Wong said.