Beloit student government undergoes significant changes
Beloit Student Congress will have a new look this coming spring semester. The old system of student government is going through a sort of rebranding and the newest structure, which also changes the system’s name to Beloit Student Government (BSG), was approved on Friday, Dec. 1.
The referendum passed with 70% of voters indicating ‘Yes,’ according to an email sent by Jen Walsh through B-Link, a website that is meant to help students learn about events on campus and current active clubs and organizations. Walsh is the Director of Student Engagement and Leadership at Beloit College and also works as an advisor of BSG.
B-Link has been used in the past for elections and other votes. For this referendum, however, BSG used Google Forms to conduct the vote on the proposed referendum. This route was taken because BSG recognized that B-Link is not “very user friendly” and so they hoped that using Google Forms would increase the student-voter turnout.
Despite the shift in methods, voting had to be extended twice. Voting opened Nov. 17 with a deadline of Nov. 22. 25% of the student body (331 students) did not vote and thus quorum was not reached. Due to the by-laws, the vote was extended five days. After this, the quorum requirement was automatically waived and voting closed on Dec. 1. 10% of students had voted when the vote was closed.
The changes in structure came from student input and from the executive members of Beloit Student Congress. The old system was believed to be “immensely confusing, large, and ineffective,” according to a statement from the student government members directly involved in the restructuring back in early November.
Members and advisors involved in the change were the old BSC executive board: President Willow Wallis’18, Vice President Evan Sepulveda’18, Club and Organization Oversight (COO) Director Gillian Keller’18, Funding Board Director Julia-Dirkes Jacks’20, Student Life/Residential Life Director Gillian McCormick’19, Treasurer Alex Sarantis’19 and Student Policy Director Hoodish Domun’19.
According to Wallis, it has been a “lengthy process” to get to where things are now.
“When I first was elected there were all of these elected seats that weren’t filled,” Wallis explained. The previous president had spent most of his time “focusing on by-law review and…by the time it came for me to run the Congress, there was nobody there.”
Wallis explained that most of the beginning of their presidency was spent trying to deal with empty positions and a lack of attendance, spurring them to create an informal new structure. “Initially it was more of a ‘holy crap, what can we do to get the most essential functions of student government up and running’…so with the group of people we had, along with the advisors, we came up with this new system…and operated that way.”
The ineffectiveness of the old BSC system made it clear that something had to change and Wallis began planning to propose changes at the end of last semester. However, others disagreed with their concept. Lucca Castucci’17, who was BSC treasurer in the Spring 2017 semester, created his own structure that was COO-oriented. This concept was presented to Keller, who was serving as COO director at the time.
It was during the last week of the 2016-2017 academic year that COO voted to almost unanimously break off its affiliation with BSC, essentially creating two separate entities. This controversy was reminiscent of when members of both BSC and COO attacked each other over personal disputes in March 2016.
The issue escalated when pamphlets entitled “The Fresh BSC Bullshit” were found scattered across various locations. They outlined “offenses of the current BSC regime” and generally called into question the legitimacy of the BSC executive board.
Other posts were made on the Beloit College Facebook student group that were similarly accusatory and controversial. By the end of the school year, it was still unclear how the entire debacle would be resolved and whether it would bleed into the 2017-2018 school year.
“So all that happens, it’s terrible, and then summer happens and everyone comes back. No one communicated over the summer,” Wallis explained when going over the controversy. Wallis and all of those involved were meant to have resolved the issue over the summer, but because that didn’t happen, a new task force was created. The task force was designed to think about what student government does, how to design it so as few students as possible could be required because of the lack of participation, and in general suss out the bare bones of what was needed.
What they came up with was a structure with a total of four branches and a five-page document, a stark change from the old 35-page structure. Despite this, Dirkes-Jacks wanted to make clear that “it changes a lot less than people think. Student government was suffering a lot because the old structure required a lot of people to be involved and a lot of positions could only be held by people who already had one position, so it was a lot of commitment for a lot of people…we just restructured so that the commitment was less work for fewer people because we didn’t have the interest to sustain the old structure.”
BSG will now be governed by four branches: Representatives, Funding Board, COO and Student Life Assembly. There is no Judiciary Committee; instead, ad hoc committees will be created if a change needs to occur. With the new structure, there will be two Co-Presidents elected for a full academic year along with a Communications Director. COO remains largely the same except meetings will now occur every two weeks. Funding Board has largely merged to condense the duties of budget committee and funding board. Student Life Assembly is the new name of Residential Life Committee.
BSG is now hopeful that the streamlined and simplified model will increase the access to and general transparency of BSG.
Elections for BSG Co-Presidents, BSG Communications Director and Funding Board Director are now in progress. The election is live on a Google Form and voting closes Friday, Dec. 15 at noon.