Student Senate seeks new chief of staff, diversity solutions
The 109th SMU student senate went another week without a chief of staff, as the body voted against a motion to find an internal replacement for the role in last Tuesday afternoon’s meeting.
Amid a whirlwind of new student wellness initiatives, diversity and inclusion efforts and outreach programming, Senate President Sydney Castle, cites the awkward mid-semester timing as the reason for being unable to fill the position.
“That was a shock to all of exec as it was to everybody else who did not know [the former chief of staff] would be stepping down,” Castle said. “We decided that it would be best just for this week to delegate, as this [meeting’s agenda] is time sensitive.”
Some High-ranking senate positions such as president and secretary, have an annual salary—paid for with student fees—that is meant to compensate the elect for their role’s hefty list of responsibilities. Chief of staff is currently not a paid position, but legislation was passed last year to provide a stipend for the role in the upcoming year, according to current senators.
Queer Senator Jo Lew, who previously served as chief of staff in the 108th SMU student senate, brought up the motion for an election.
“Typically, the chief of staff helps to handle the senators and the committee chair so they’re really kind of like the oversight of the entire chamber,” Lew said.
SMU Student Senate Vice President Alex Alarcón, presented a recent slew of student concerns, citing parking, safety and facility cleanliness as big issues the student body feels the senate should resolve.
Parliamentarian Tulsi Lohani updated the chamber on the progress of senate committees related to student wellness and diversity as well as equity and inclusion.
One of the more notable updates is Lyle Senator Jonathan Thomas is working on a project that incorporates using SMU’s head architect to allow for a safer, more accessible experience on the Hilltop.
“I’ve created this survey where students who are concerned about the safety or disability or accessibility on campus can file a sort of incident report on there,” Thomas said. “We can send data over to Mr. Molina, the head architect at SMU, and he can take a look at it and start fixing some of these issues.”
The recent deadly effects of the fentanyl epidemic inspired senate’s student wellness committee to bring Narcan to SMU’s campus.
This initiative, along with an upcoming plan to create a campus-wide suicide hotline are some of the student wellness efforts senate plans to complete this spring.
Senate also plans to reinvigorate its outreach efforts by attending dinner meetings over the coming weeks with multiple multicultural and diverse organizations on campus.
Planning and hosting these events is normally the responsibility of the chief of staff, but with the role currently unfilled, outreach efforts require more attention from the senate than usual.
“[Chief of staff is] a role that’s meant to not only help bring together all of the senate but also coordinate the outreach dinners that I created last year to help connect with minority communities that have felt marginalized by senate in the past,” Lew said.
This initiative has the potential to be successful, yet could result in an empty display of feigned advocacy for these organizations.
“I think it’s a fantastic first step, but I would like to see [the student senate executive committee] expand it more to ensure they are hearing as many voices as possible,” African-American Senator Camryn Smith said. “I’m going to fight this semester to make sure that there’s actually something done from those [outreach] dinners.”
SMU student senate needs transparency and intention behind all their actions in order to affect lasting change through their diversity and outreach efforts on campus.
For example, some of the 2020 demands from the SMU Association of Black Students to both the school, as well as student senate, remain unanswered today.
“There have been many generations of Black students at SMU who have requested the same thing as ABS did in 2020,” Smith said. “Students keep coming out and demanding the same things of SMU and ultimately, they wait until those students graduate and nothing gets done.”
While the senate’s progress on diversity and inclusion efforts on campus may need improvement, their work cannot be done alone.
Senators rely on the student body to have a leadership role on this campus because they work to serve the students, not themselves.
“Students need to be seen and feel like they’re heard and respected on campus,” Smith said.
The 109th SMU Student Senate holds meetings every Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center chamber. Meetings are open to all.
UPDATE: The chief of staff role was filled February 14, 2023. The position had been vacant for almost two weeks, according to current senators.