Two students said they felt so uncomfortable while attending a Student Government meeting that they walked out after 20 minutes.
Sophomore communication studies majors Haley Adam and Talia Pantano had heard that SG meetings are open to all students. They were even encouraged by some of their friends who are on the SG board to visit the meetings, which are held every Wednesday night at 6 p.m. in the Henry Student Center. The two girls had been assigned a class project where they had to observe a formal meeting setting, so they picked a SG meeting for analysis.
But when Adam and Pantano showed up at the SG meeting, they said members made them feel uneasy. Despite publicity and new efforts this year by SG to create an open setting, the two students said they were disappointed by a negative atmosphere and behavior from some of the SG members.
“We just felt very uncomfortable overall,” Pantano said. “It just wasn’t welcoming or anything like that. It’s a weird feeling.”
Adam said the tone gave her the impression that the meetings aren’t as open as SG promotes them to be.
“I feel like that’s what they’re all about, they talk about how they’re a very welcoming crowd and they lead our school and make all these big decisions and we get in there and it’s like complete opposite,” Adam said.
She said SG members were staring at them and they appeared to be whispering about them behind sheets of paper.
“Everyone kind of just started staring and the board up front, they were whispering and putting papers up,” Adam said.
After 20 minutes of feeling targeted, Pantano said they left the room when one of the presenters was finished.
“They just kept staring the entire time so I just whispered to her, ‘they’re still staring at us,’ and we just kind of got up and left,” Pantano said.
SG President Kris Rivers said he was unaware of any unwelcoming behavior from SG members and that he had not heard any complaints.
“I haven’t ever had anyone come to me with these issues or concerns,” Rivers said. “All meetings are open to the student body and we welcome students to come to them.”
He said it’s important for students to feel like they can walk into these meetings and voice their opinions.
“We really would like as many students as possible to attend these meetings because this is their activities money, this is their representing organization,” Rivers said. “We try to do the best we can to represent people, but we always need to be hearing from our constituents at all times.”
He said he was not sure why meetings don’t get more attendance, but SG has put in place a couple of measures this year to try to change that. Last semester, the meetings were moved from the Miller Room on the second floor of the Henry Student Center to the first floor lounge to be more visible and accessible to students.
However, the location change was unsuccessful, and Rivers said meetings were moved back to the Miller Room because of the noise distraction on the first floor. He said there’s potential to relocated them to the first floor again, but they would be moved farther back in the lounge to avoid too much activity going through the student center.
Another new measure this year was the creation of the SG position sergeant-in-arms. Kyle Wolfe was installed in this role, which Rivers describes as a “familiar face that you can expect to welcome you in and out of SG.” In this position, Wolfe opens the doors to the meetings for all visiting and presenting students.
Rivers said this was a strategy to make students feel comfortable entering the meeting and attract more visitors. He said it has been successful so far.
Besides these measures, Rivers said there is no set policy defining welcoming conduct for members. He also said SG does not directly collect feedback from visitors.
But, he said he has not observed problems. He said conversations that go on during meetings are relevant exchanges on the fund requests made by presenters.
“We do try to keep that discussion to a minimum during the discussion out of respect for the groups and we open it up and have full discussions after the groups have left amongst the SG members to get any concerns out, clarify any questions amongst each other,” Rivers said.
But Adam disagrees, stating that she observed a great deal of unprofessional conduct such as side chatter.
“The people in the crowd, they were eating, they were texting, just having side conversations and it just really seemed complicated and nothing was getting done, I thought,” Adam said.
Adam and Pantano also said they felt SG was overly critical of the presenters, and that they would not feel comfortable coming to the meeting with a fund request.
“I felt that they kind of made sarcastic comments sometimes, when people would be giving their short presentations,” Adam said.
RJ Sperazza, who presented to SG on behalf of the Running Club, said he was nervous to request funds in front of the approximately 40 SG members, but they were very helpful.
“It is a little intimidating in nature, just being surrounded by people … but they were very welcoming,” Sperazza said.
To come off as more welcoming to all students, Pantano suggested SG should try to garner feedback from visitors to engage them in the meeting.
“That involves us as outsiders too so they could have asked the outsiders our opinions or just be more respectful of everyone in the room besides themselves,” Pantano said.
Adam agreed, adding that engaging visitors in discussion and asking SG members to keep side tasks like eating and talking to a minimum would help the meetings reach students’ expectations. She said the current set-up was a disappointment.
“It was eye-opening but it was also a letdown, because we have all these ideas in our head of what our SG should be and then we get there and we were like, ‘Are you serious? This is how it happens?’”