SGA presidential elections focus on Greek life, campus safety
Falcon News Service
April 11, 2018
When junior Aaron Mamer took part in rush week for the Theta Chi fraternity his freshman year, he said he only went to try to recruit guys to help start a club baseball team. After the first night, he really liked the people he met and continued to come back for other rush week events. He later received his bid and decided to join the fraternity after finding everyone very welcoming.
Mamer made it clear that the biggest thing that Greek life on campus tries to do when recruiting is tell incoming students that it's not like what you see in the movies.
"It's quite opposite from that lifestyle," Mamer said. "We like to be out there for the community and for the school and students to show what a properly-run Greek organization looks like. We're an international fraternity that can help you better yourself and better the fraternity as a whole."
The former president of Theta Chi is now part of the Interfraternity Council at UWRF, which works with fraternities and sororities to sponsor events like Greek Week and blood drives. Theta Chi also puts on a puppy petting zoo before finals, helps give money to the national philanthropy organization to support the troops and participates in community pickups.
With Greek life including over 200 students at UWRF, greater representation for these students will be a key aspect of the spring SGA elections. Voting is open for all UWRF students next Tuesday through Thursday. Candidates had to sign up by April 4 and receive 10 signatures from other students to get on the ballot. James VandenBergh and Jordan Derby are running for president and vice president against Rosie Pechous and Tate Schlichting. Both sets of candidates have described the addition of a Greek senator on Student Senate as a main priority.
"We kind of get thrown to the wayside sometimes, and people just think (Greek organizations) are another “frat” on campus, and that they’re not really there for students," Mamer said. "I think having an actual voice on student senate (is important), because we have a lot of great ideas, but sometimes it's hard to be heard because we have a Greek label."
Eliminating this stigma through proper representation is a goal for VandenBergh, who first joined the Student Government Association as a freshman senator. Now a junior, VandenBergh has served as an at-large senator, director of the external relations committee and the vice chair of the statewide student governing body for the UW System.
VandenBergh and Derby have five pillars to their campaign: veterans, Greek life, athletics, LGBTQ+ community and sustainability. These five topics break down into their more detailed platform. These include installing a Greek life senator, expanding gender inclusive space in Johnson Hall, updating the veterans lounge and eliminating some of the fees athletes must pay to use the weight room in the Falcon Center.
They aim to work with student government funding, sustainable organizations and members of the diversity and inclusivity office to accomplish these goals.
“I want to keep up with a lot that is going in in SGA,” VandenBergh said. “We’re big supporters of Mental Health Awareness Week and the “It’s on Us” week of action. Two years ago, I helped plan the “It’s On Us” summit with all 26 student government presidents in the UW System, and we had speakers from Washington D.C. It’s something that I want to continue.”
These plans are a positive step toward giving potential voters a true idea of what the candidates stand for, compared to the voting just being a popularity contest. Derby said that she thinks having an improved relationship with the student body can be beneficial for their SGA, because communication is lacking and a lot of students don't realize how much SGA does.
VandenBergh added that improving student outreach is always something that each administration has to deal with. His campaign has included a variety of testimonials and digital advertising in the weeks before the election. If elected, he said he believes social media can play a huge role in reaching out to the study body, whether it be through a powerful tool like Snapchat or Facebook and Twitter.
But beyond interacting with students in a familiar digital environment, VandenBergh and Derby want to meet with the students they represent face-to-face.
“We will be campaigning outside Pete’s Creek in the University Center, and students can approach us,” VandenBergh said. “We want to know what students want and be advocates for the student body. I think we have a platform that a lot of students can identify with, and we can be the voice of the student body.”
He would also like to sit down for an hour a week in the involvement center to give students an opportunity to talk to him about what’s going on around campus. This would be one of many opportunities to learn about and listen to what SGA is doing and listen to the needs and issues of the students they’re representing.
“If elected, I would bring over three years of experience and a proven track record,” VandenBergh said. “I’ve shown I can deliver through the Hump Day Café and Safe Ride Home program, and this would give me a larger platform to have a positive impact on the student body.”
Derby also wants to show that she can bring a new and unique perspective to the role of vice president. Derby currently serves as the Collegiate Panhellenic Council president, which helps work with the different sororities on campus. She's also served on the executive board of the Phi Mu fraternity.
“There was a lot of Greek life on Senate in the past, and that’s something that I can bring back,” Derby said. “We’re running a pretty unique campaign of having a whole ticket behind us, which can provide us with a lot of different perspectives and be very beneficial to our campus.”
Having a ticket behind them means more than just voting on a president and a vice president but having a group of potential senators that they encourage students to also elect. This includes members from different colleges on campus, veterans, Greek life, former athletes and people that haven’t served before, which VandenBergh said can be important for giving a fresh look on SGA. Derby added that they all have the same vision for the university and can create a positive impact if they're elected.
Pechous and Schlichting bring a different perspective to their campaign. While they may not have as extensive experience as Vandenbergh and Derby, they are dedicated to improving their campus.
"Tate and I aren’t doing this for our resumes; we're doing this because we’ve had a lot of experience in different areas of campus and different groups," Pechous said. "We're born advocates and want to change the administration for what it needs to be. We can’t walk away from campus not making the changes we want to make."
Pechous is president of the Resident Hall Association and chief of staff on Student Senate, while Schlichting is a resident assistant and at-large senator this semester. The four main points of their campaign are structure, support, sustainability and safety.
Structure includes rewriting bylaws to give new responsibilities to senators and add a Greek and sustainability senator. Support would be initiating better communication between organizations on campus and helping to co-sponsor events with them. Schlichting added that there are a lot of opportunities on campus to get student organizations involved with each other to create a better campus environment.
"I feel like the campus is very broken up into groups and there's no communication or connections that happens," Pechous said. "What I've noticed from sitting on SGA is that we have no idea what others do on campus, and we want to change that as the mother organization."
Sustainability is also a key to their campaign. They want to create an office in the involvement center for sustainability and become part of the Tree Campus USA program. Pechous and Schlichting said they believe there is still lots of room for improvement in sustainability efforts on campus. This includes keeping the conversation going about the Green Fund and committing to plans for an earth week.
"Even if it wasn't a week, a couple of days where ECOS or resource management could showcase what they have and bring in a speaker to talk about the environment and sustainability," Schlichting said. "I think it's important because a a campus we are still heavily invested in fossil fuels."
Safety is the final pillar of their campaign, which revolves mainly around relocating the blue emergency light posts on campus. The back path near Ames isn't well lit, so they want to install the poles at the beginning and end of the path.
"We firmly believe that we need to keep them," Pechous said. "Smartphones may be dead at night, and especially on a campus where we walk everywhere."
Beyond their initiatives, they want to increase SGA transparency, because they also think that not enough people on campus understand what role they play.
"All of our budget is (student) money," Pechous said. "The purpose of SGA is to advocate for students, and we think that’s been lost in the last few administrations."
This includes doing what's best for the campus community at-large.
"It shouldn't be about what Rosie and I want, but what the students want," Schlichting said. "The past few administrations have been more goal-oriented, where we would like to be more student-oriented. We should really be the foremost campus advocates for student voices."