The Pillars: USA

This article is the first of a series, in which The Griffin will examine each of the “pillars” of Canisius. These pillars consist of the five primary clubs on campus that heavily impact the student experience.

The Undergraduate Student Association (USA) is undoubtedly one of the pillars of Canisius, standing firmly alongside other clubs and organizations including the Student Programming Board (SPB), Residence Hall Association (RHA), Commuter Student Association (CSA), and C-Block.

USA is responsible for enabling a large part of the student experience on campus. They provide financial allocations to student clubs, organizations, and societies, as well as have the ability to decide how student tax dollars are spent. They are also the voice of the student body and communicate on our behalf to the administration.

It is worth reminding the student body that none of the members on this academic year’s electoral board of USA were elected to their positions, as each of them ran uncontested in last year’s election. USA is comprised of this e-board, as well as six elected senators from each class.

The minutes from Senate meetings have not been updated since October on Canisius Life, which is the responsibility of the vice president for marketing of USA, Matthew Smardz.

This semester, the most notable events and services that USA has provided have been the continuation of Reddy bikes and Enlight Night, networking events, a tabled discussion of a 24-hour library, and the largest of which being President Amelia Greenan’s ‘Pregnant on Campus’ initiative. While this initiative is meaningful and necessary, the fact that a potential partnership with Sisters of Charity Hospital is arguably the biggest achievement of the year for USA should speak volumes about its current administration.

During the 2016-17 school year alone, this USA’s administration made major moves, such as disbanding the Council of Representatives, or CoR, which existed as representation for student leaders in student government, dissolving the vice president of student organizations USA position, passing several environmental victories including a divestment resolution, styrofoam-free dining services, providing Reddy bikes, and implementing “Today at Canisius,” drastically reducing the number of emails student received daily.  

However, in the last four years, involvement in USA and USA-planned events has decreased, but in addition to this, the level of enthusiasm has drastically decreased too, not only in the student body, but also in the members of USA itself.  

Though there has been some successful initiatives for 2017-18 year, the senate isn’t producing major change as it has been seen in the past. Nicholas Guay, a freshman senator, believes, “In terms of just major, major things that USA does, maybe that’s something that we lack, and maybe that’s why people don’t know us as well.”

The USA has been involved in club events such as Enlight Night and bringing Isis King to campus, but in each case, USA is only co-sponsoring these events. USA is yet to produce a major success independently. “We co-sponsor with clubs, but apart of me feels like it’s just for the sake of sponsoring,” Guay said.

We asked USA President Amelia Greenan about status of current initiatives and about other issues concerning USA. She told us she was not able to respond in time for print due to a “crazy week.”

“There’s less visibility of them on campus,” said Callie Keavey ‘18. “When I was a freshman, I remember waiting outside of a classroom for class and having members come up to you asking you to sign their petition with a passion in their eyes, because they only needed a couple more signatures to complete it. I don’t see as many people with petitions going around trying to make change.”

The senate has lost some of its presence compared to previous years, Dylan Huston, ex-vice speaker, says, “Whether or not people know who their senators are, their representatives are, doubtful.” This presents a major problem, seeing as the senate is supposed to represent the student body and be their voice to higher administration.

This year, however, those who ran for freshman senator ran uncontested, which further indicates the lack of enthusiasm and knowledge in regards to USA and student involvement from the freshman class. In previous years, elections were accompanied by huge posters of each candidate lining the dorm and campus hallways, small gift packages left outside of dorm rooms saying, “vote for [name] for [position],” and there was a competitive atmosphere for the best candidate. There was suspense, passion, and celebration once results were announced.

In addition, the meetings that are held by USA used to be more constructive and focused on more issues and concerns. Four years ago, when one walked into a USA  meeting, chairs were set up for students to come in and listen in on what was being discussed and resolved. The atmosphere was more debate focused and was more welcoming towards the general student body.

However, during a recent meeting on Jan. 30, the meeting started 30 minutes late and there were no chairs set up for students from the general body to be able to sit in on the meeting.

This meeting also held the appointment of the vice speaker position, which consisted of senators and executives asking applicants various questions. Following this, the senators and executives took turns voicing their opinion as to who was best fit for the position.

During this portion of the meeting, about half of the senators and executives gave their opinions. However, when executives, committees, and representatives gave their reports, there were barely any comments or opinions given by senators. The meeting also lacked any conversation on current issues that are occuring on campus, the main focus was liaisons, club representatives, committee chairs, and executives giving general updates about upcoming social and sporting events.

The senate meetings have also failed to weed out issues that were minor and did not belong in a senate discussion. Guay cited a discussion regarding a skunk on campus as a personal issue to him, but one that was less important and should not have been discussed with the entire senate. “I think we have bigger fish to fry as senators,” he said.

These type of problems should not be priority when there are maintenance worker negotiations, decreased enrollment, and problems with community and student body participation. Neil Savoy, graduate assistant in Student Life and USA’s advisor, explained, “It’s not necessarily the place for any formal debate on those issues to occur.” Savoy went on to explain that current issues or “hot topics” on campus may come up in dialogue of the senate meetings due to reports from liaisons or representatives, but that the issues are not purposely brought up for discussion. These issues directly affect students and senators are elected to represent the needs and interests of students, so it would seem appropriate to discuss them.  

Neil Savoy explained that “[Senate meetings] have really shifted more to the committee structure and what can be obtained through the committee structure.”

This major change was made during the summer of 2016 and has been the standard system of senate meetings since.

The new system has changed the actual meetings significantly. As Savoy stated, before these changes, student organizations had to submit their budget on a semesterly basis to the finance board “and [they] would decide what they suggested and what they didn’t suggest allocating funding for, and then it would move on to the senate who would vote to make any amendments to that or to pass it as suggested.”

These budget appeals provided the senate a means of authority over student organizations. “In the past, USA might see a budget appeal and say what you’re describing is just a poor way to spend funds we’re not going to approve it,” added Savoy. “That sort of filtration is no longer occurring.”

The result of these changes is an increase in autonomy among clubs. Now, instead of clubs having to propose their ideas and event plans for funding, they are given an amount based on the club’s typical annual budget and can choose how they spend their money. This decrease in authority may decrease senate meeting times, but takes away control the senate has over clubs.

“I think populating the meetings would be a good thing if people are trying to learn more about the senate, it’s a great way to learn about what senate does” Connor Rosenecker, VP for Business and Finance USA stated.

However, general student attendance has never truly been high, as Huston, highlights.

“Considering how many students that body represents I think that should be more students who go,” he stated.

It is important for students to feel that they have open communication with their student government, especially when one of the largest roles of the student government is to represent their respective class. Many students feel that there have not been many efforts been made by USA to reach out to the students.

A freshman student, choosing to remain anonymous, said, “I have never gotten an email from my senators about problems I may have or issues I want them to bring up. There was never an event that I could go to meet my senators that wasn’t a USA meeting.” They continued, “I was never given any form of information saying this is what the senate is/does and this is who you can talk to if you have a problem. There isn’t a list of senators on a website or wall with contact information. If you say the purpose of the senators is to represent the student body then why is there is absolutely no effort to communicate with the student body.”

Overall, it seems that communication between the students and USA has declined, and is resulting in a lack of student knowledge of what the organization is and what function it serves. While The Griffin recognizes that running an effective USA administration is a tough job, and that student apathy has plagued nearly every club and organization on campus, this should not be an excuse for the school’s most powerful and influential organization.

The Griffin fears that students are not being served in the best way they could be from USA. Although student apathy has been a consistent problem over the course of the past four years, The Griffin is unsure if future elections can improve this situation, given its history.

We encourage students to run for leadership positions and actually be the change they want to see in the institution, preventing this trend from continuing for future Griffs.

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