Michaela Lumpert, Campus Carrier news editor
Like many organizations on campus, SGA immediately felt the challenges of COVID-19. The organization works as a group of students who serve the Berry community, specifically the needs of the students. But one immediate issue the executive board faced was how they were going to reach their students and remain an active voice on campus.
SGA president David Lindsey, senior, has been working with SGA since his freshman year. But when planning for this year began, Lindsey knew that this year was going to be unlike any other. The executive board, made up of Lindsey, vice president of administration Max von Schmeling, director of finance Asa Owens and secretary Joanna Clarke, spent a majority of the summer working on a plan that solved two of the major problems that SGA was facing: how they can keep student engagement and involvement up and how they can address the changing racial culture at Berry and in society.
The first change came about through adjusting the actual meetings SGA holds. Because of COVID-19, the format of the meetings had to be changed. Lindsey explained that their first meeting for the community was on Zoom, and he was nervous that not enough students would attend. But by the end of the meeting, over 70 students had joined and were actively involved with the meeting,
SGA is now holding in person meetings every Tuesday while still offering a Zoom link as well. Students will sign-up for a spot in the meeting beforehand through Berry Connect. On average, about 20 students attend the in-person meetings as well as about 30 students on Zoom. Students in-person and on Zoom are encouraged to ask questions throughout the meeting.
The meetings themselves have also taken a drastic change. While SGA will still be holding weekly meetings, every other meeting will be a “town hall meeting.”
“A townhall meeting is a new format for SGA that allows us to meet students where they are,” Lindsey said. “Locations for these townhall meetings will change each week as I sit with a different Berry administration member to discuss topics like COVID-19 policies, the changing culture of Berry and specific concerns from students.”
Lindsey went on to explain that the purpose of these meetings are to safely engage with students in a more direct environment that answers their questions and concerns about campus topics. He described these new meetings as “fireside chats” and they are meant to help students through the changing year. While there will still be regular SGA meetings, these “town hall meetings” will happen every other Tuesday and the details for the updated location and meeting topics will be on both their Berry Connect and Instagram pages.
“These are made to be an effort by administration to be more transparent with the student body,” Lindsey said.
Not every meeting will be a town hall meeting as Lindsey explained.
“There will be two town hall meetings a month and two regular business meetings a month,” Lindsey said.
These regular meetings will feature officer updates and clubs and organizations updates like any other SGA meetings. This week’s town hall meeting featured dean of students Lindsey Taylor and assistant dean of students Lindsay Norman. As Lindsey described, the meeting went well and he believes that these meetings will continue to answer students’ questions as well as further connect administration with students.
The second way they decided change their student engagement tactics was by updating their Instagram in order to make the executive board more accessible. Lindsey described that a majority of Clarke’s work this summer was recreating and reorganizing their social media pages.
Clarke explained that one of the main ways to reach students during this time is through social media. Through quarantine, she noticed the importance social media had on students, who were constantly looking to apps like Instagram and Facebook to stay updated on what was happening in the world around them. She, along with Lindsey, decided that it was time to revamp the SGA Instagram account and use that as a tool to connect with students.
“Our highlights page will highlight student resources and things they can go to on campus, what SGA is doing, and getting to know their class officers,” Clarke said. “We also will keep our social media very engaging so that students can always feel like they can ask their questions.”
The other way SGA had to change was how they were going to address the changing culture of campus. According to Lindsey, the executive board members did a “White Allyship training” with Assistant Dean of Students Meredith Johnson. The training involved the board sitting with Johnson to discuss how these students could become mentors to all students on campus regardless of color. Lindsey and Owens explained that the purpose of this training was to help these board members understand the unconscious bias they had.
“It helped us learn more and educate ourselves,” Lindsey said. “The four of us are not the whole campus and the four of us don’t represent the whole campus, but we have been elected to, so we are continuing to learn and educate ourselves and we are open to more conversations about that and continuing conversations like this.”
The program also helped the four members to become more comfortable with starting difficult conversations about race with community members. But most importantly, Lindsey pointed out the real purpose of this program they completed, and why they decided to change the purpose of the SGA meetings.
“This program really helped to better support the entirety of the student body, not just the majority of students but also the minority students,” Lindsey said.
As student leaders, another major area of change for SGA was the status of the executive board members among Berry students. Normally, as Owens described, SGA executive members are role models for students on campus. But with COVID-19, this role was exaggerated. As von Schmeling explained, the executive board members became role models for students for proper adherence to COVID-19 guidelines.
“We had to be very intentional with our work,” von Schmeling said.
The SGA executive board will continue to adjust their rules and regulations as the year progresses, but Lindsey looks forward to the new work as a way to better engage with students than the board has in the past.
“You know this year was so unexpected, but I feel like as a team, we have come together more than ever to serve the community unlike we have ever done before,” Lindsey said. “It’s a challenge that I believe we can face and continue to do excellent work even though [COVID-19] is frustrating for everyone, including us.”
For continuous updates about SGA meetings, rules and guidelines, be sure to check out their page on Berry Connect and follow their Instagram page @berrysga for weekly meeting updates.