Saturday, May 25, 2024

Beginner’s guide to the Student Association

College President George Angell looks at Martin Mannix, the first president of the Student Association, as he unveils Hudson Hall’s year plaque, 1963.

By Aleksandra Sidorova

A part of every SUNY Plattsburgh student’s bill — undergraduate or graduate — is the $80 Student Association fee. This fraction of the bill funds much of the things essential to campus life.

Why should I care?

Coordinator for the Arts Alexander Finkey, SA Liaison Tyler Hargraves and Coordinator for Academic Affairs Jakira Barrett all said that one of the most important reasons you, as a student, should care about Student Association activities is because your money is in their hands. This year, the SA’s budget is $1.1 million, according to Jacob Avery, director of the Center for Student Involvement and adviser to the Executive Council of the SA.

The SA is an entity that represents the student body and funds most things essential to student life, such as clubs, the shuttle, buses to New York City and Long Island, to name a few. Barrett said it is also the SA’s responsibility to advocate for students and help them with anything they might need. 

Finkey mentioned the newly adopted Cardinal Link platform that serves as a campus event calendar for student clubs and organizations is a product of a former SA legislation recognizing the difficulties organizations face in event planning and making themselves more visible to students. Finkey also said bringing the campus community together is another one of his goals within his position.

“We’re here to provide for the students,” Barrett said. “We’re not here to provide for anybody else but the students.”

Student feedback is especially important to the SA.

“We can do a lot for the students,” Finkey said. “It’s only when we hear things that the students have problems with, we can get that work done.”

 

Who is in the SA?

Technically, every student who pays this fee is considered part of the SA, but the student body does elect a handful of officials to make executive decisions: eight to serve in the Executive Council, in charge of planning, and 16 to serve in the Senate, in charge of checks and balances. There are two other branches to the Student Association — the Board of Elections and the Judicial Branch, or SA Court. 

Every member of the Executive Council focuses on a unique area of campus life, as do the senators. Additionally, there are several boards that meet weekly: the Academic Affairs Board, the Activities Coordination Board, the Art Acquisition Board, the Finance Board, the Legislative Review Board, the Student Diversity Board and the Student Affairs Board. As part of the SA’s work, members tend to collaborate with other departments on campus, such as Fraternity and Sorority Life, Campus Housing and Community Living, College Auxiliary Services, the Learning Center, the Career Development Center and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Barrett said.

“It’s like any government,” Hargraves said.

Cardinal Yearbook, 1964

A photo of the first ever Student Association Senate in 1963.

How can I get involved?

“It’s incredibly easy to get involved [in SA], and you should get involved,” Avery said. “We need more strong student leaders. Without them, the SA is nothing.”

 

Ask someone.

The easiest way to get started in the SA’s activities is to ask someone about it: Avery, Matthews, Hargraves, Student Activities Coordinator Sarah McCarty, a former SA member or a currently serving one. However, it is important to learn exactly what kind of responsibilities a certain position entails, Avery said.

Stop by the SA’s office.

When you enter the Angell College Center through the main entrance, the SA office will be to your left. It is open to anyone, and no special privileges or appointments are needed to come in. Inside, you will usually find Hargraves and McCarty, who advises the Clubs and Organizations Affairs Board. You might also see an Executive Council member or a senator hosting their office hours.

Attend board meetings.

All the boards meet on a weekly basis. If you tell the board you’re interested in that you want to get involved, and consistently attend meetings, you may be voted in to serve as a member of the board and thereafter participate in their decision-making process.

Take advantage of elections. 

In a previous interview, SA President Carter Mosher shared that his SA career began in his first semester at SUNY Plattsburgh, when he ran for a senator position in a special election. As a student, Hargraves, ‘17 SUNY Plattsburgh alumnus, joined the SA during a special election as well, which he said was a “defining moment” for him.

“I was involved until I graduated, basically — in one way or another,” Hargraves said. “And now, this [SA Liaison] position popped up a year ago, and I was like, ‘Yes, this is me.’ I totally jumped on the opportunity.”

Hargraves and Barrett said involvement in the SA helps build leadership skills and confidence. Barrett, a law and justice major, sees her position within the SA as a “stepping stone” in her career. Some former SA members went on to pursue careers in politics, like ‘03 and ‘06 alumnus Michael Cashman, who is now the Town of Plattsburgh’s supervisor. 

Hargraves said the SA’s work is meaningful to him because it means helping students make the most out of their college experience: helping them make friends, find clubs and organizations that best suit their interests and overall have fun.

Besides special elections, which are held whenever there are vacant positions during the semester, there are also general elections held every April.

Cardinal Yearbook, 1964

A photo of the first ever Student Association Executive Council in 1963.

How did the SA come to be? 

The first SA Senate meeting was held Oct. 3, 1963 — almost exactly 60 years ago, Hargraves said. Before the SA, there was the House of Delegates — a student government organization that Feinberg Library’s Special Collections’ records show existed from 1935 to 1964. 

The House of Delegates consisted of both students and faculty. But eventually, Douglas Skopp wrote in his book “Bright with Promise,” the House of Delegates could no longer serve students’ needs. Students and faculty felt a “mutual distrust — whether justifiable or not — of the highest levels of the College’s authorities.”

The 1960s were a time of change, both on the campus and outside of it. According to SUNY Plattsburgh Alumni & Friends, George Angell’s term as president transformed the college from an institution that trained teachers into a “multi-faceted college of arts and sciences.” Dean of Students Steve Matthews explained the students’ decision to come together as a product of the 1960s — a tumultuous time characterized by civil rights movements and heated political debate that inspired students to be “more politically active.”

Since then, the SA has continued to grow. It now plays a central role in campus life.

“The campus thrives with a strong Student Association,” Avery said. “We need leaders that are willing to step up and make change in the area, not just sit back and hope someone else is going to.”

 

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