The Scarlet & Black

The Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Column: Communication Breakdown

Each semester, SGA bemoans its trouble communicating with the student body. Nevertheless, despite the proliferation of myriad communication tools—including several SGA Plans, “Soapbox” time at Joint Board, and (supposed) weekly senator emails—the communication problem persists. One tool, however, surpasses all of these by far in its dysfunction: the SGA website.

Put simply, the SGA website stands in a deep state of disrepair. Just try it: go to, and take a look around. Rather than being greeted by the latest news about SGA, such as the recent election results, the user is instead greeted by the complete Joint Board minutes for Sept 17, 2008. Why long, outdated minutes should introduce the common student to SGA, I don’t know, but I worry that the mistake merely confirms that all-too-common and misguided student prejudice: “SGA doesn’t do anything.”

Of course, even if misplaced, at least the minutes exist for Sept 17. Try to find the minutes for any other date of this academic year, and you will be sorely disappointed. While there exist “Fall 08” and “Spring 09” tabs under “Minutes and Agendas,” both are devoid of content. And while the Spring tab’s lack of content may be excusable because of how early it is in the semester—though even here I would argue that at least the first Joint Board agenda for the semester could be posted—the Fall’s lack of content is not so excusable. Already minutes are virtually never posted in bathroom stalls, and senator emails are spotty at best, depending on one’s dorm of residence. Without the website, how is a concerned student supposed to know what their student government is doing? There is no way to access the minutes, period, short of personal contact with the administrative coordinator. Transparency is a problem.

I could go on and pick at other aspects of the SGA website here, but the point is clear: even at its most basic functions, the Student Government website frustrates more than it illuminates. Indeed, the website’s dilapidation may just be a symptom of deeper communication issues within our student government. Go to the SGA plan [SGA], on, and the news updates stop on Jan 27, 2008, not 2009. The opening post there, “Next Year’s Cabinet,” is, wouldn’t you have it, this year’s cabinet. And on the Plan [SGA2], the Assistant treasurer is still listed as “Emily Wax,” despite the fact that two Assistant Treasurers have since come and gone. In short, dysfunction pervades SGA’s online tools.

Thus, I have a proposal for the next elected SGA Cabinet—get it right. Empty commitments are not enough. Cabinet elections take place in March, which should give the next administration plenty of time to familiarize itself with the communicative tools of SGA. Moreover, when the SGA President and Vice Presidents make their appointments, those representatives should ensure that their appointees are comfortable with these tools. Sadly, I can easily envision an unsuspecting Administrative Coordinator being thrown the website and then merely told, “figure it out.”

The upcoming Cabinet should also make their expectations clear from the beginning, and contact past Cabinets about how to use the SGA website properly. Or, if the upcoming Cabinet is ambitious, they may consider overhauling entirely, so that it is user friendly enough for future cabinets to use effectively.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the SGA Cabinet currently gets a special training period in August before classes start, designed so that they can hit the ground running when students arrive. This special time is critical for building a culture of communication; it should not be wasted (not to say that it was wasted this year—I have no idea how it was used). In short, if the March to May period does not give the next Cabinet enough time to understand SGA’s website, then the Cabinet’s class-free weeks in August should.

Ultimately, however, perhaps the S&B’s Jan 23 review of SGA put it best: “a general lack of experience continued to be cited as the main problem throughout the remainder of last semester.” In contrast, an experienced Cabinet will not have to learn as much in the critical training periods, and can instead focus on solutions to chronic issues such as poor communication. Moreover, an experienced Cabinet will already be more intimately aware of the intricacies and inner workings of SGA, and as a result of this knowledge will be able to tailor its solutions more quickly. Thankfully, as the staff editorial pointed out last week, this SGA’s experience has grown exponentially since the start of last semester. As it has become more experienced, so too has it become more effective. I am optimistic; the best is probably yet to come from this administration.

That said, we are all still waiting for those minutes.

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