Juniors Zach Sturman and Michael Faikes heard these words of guidance from College of Charleston’s President Emeritus Lee Hignon last year and they set out to put them into practice. When they assumed the roles of Student Body President and Vice President last semester, Sturman and Faikes decided to make some major changes in the organization – and they received overwhelmingly positive results. Thus far, this new juggernaut has created a new addition to the campus meal plan, increased the quality of Residence Life, spearheaded a drug amnesty policy across the state and even worked toward providing students with a much needed umbrella rental service.
The political duo seized the opportunity to run last semester after they realized there was a troubling dichotomy between SGA’s purported role and its actual efficiency over the past years. This was the problem they set out to fix. “The reason we ran,” Sturman said, “is [because] we asked the question, ‘What has student government been doing for the student body? What have they done for students?’” According to Faikes, “We’ve both been on SGA for the past two years together, and we could not tell you a great thing that SGA has done for the past two years.” In the eyes of Sturman and Faikes, SGA was simply not operating as a student government should.
The primary difference between the old structure and the new is the role of four of SGA’s six committees. The Allocations Committee and Student Organization Review Board will remain the same, but the other four committees have dropped their specific roles and now share only one operative: initiatives. Each committee will decide upon a timely and relevant problem on campus and set out to fix it as fast as possible. These committees, each motivated by a common initiative, have created greater flexibility and momentum not found in previous years. Even SGA’s finances have been redistributed. “In years prior, the majority of our funds were spent on non-profits in our area and on our personal budgets,” Sturman said. “We’d like to reallocate those resources and pump them right back into our campus for projects.”
In order to accommodate for the loss of previous committee roles, Sturman and Faikes created new SGA positions called “liaisons.” These individuals will represent each former committee ousted by the new structure in order to continue work from previous years. For example, the former committee for SGA Community Outreach has been replaced with one liaison who specifically seeks out community partnerships. In essence, SGA has more people working on more goals than ever before.
“Our new sort-of motto that we adopted is ‘Your vision, our mission,’” Faikes explained. “[We aim to] throw all of our resources, all our time, all our energy at responding to what students need on campus.”
Sturman and Faikes have flipped the system so that the power to bring change rests on the committee members and their executive initiative directors. This power shift has resulted in a sharp increase of involvement. As senators adapt to the new system, seek students’ needs and develop innovative changes, Sturman and Faikes have their campaign platform to complete, which consisted of five key changes they aim to complete by the end of their term.
One change that is well under way is the process of improving the Medical Amnesty Policy on campus. Currently the Amnesty Policy, called the Good Samaritan Policy, allows students on campus to seek medical aid for a friend with an alcohol-related emergency without student disciplinary punishment. Sturman and Faikes are trying to bring drug-related emergencies under the envelope of this policy. They hope this change will promote safety on campus and encourage students to seek medical attention without fear of retribution. Another impending change to the policy is the addition of a Student Recovery Program on campus. This program will assist students who are addicted to alcohol or drugs with their recovery. This addition is the first of its kind in South Carolina among public universities. “That’s going to be something that can quite literally save lives in the coming years,” said Sturman. “So we’re excited…it’s a big change.”
Another change from their campaign platform, one that has already come to fruition, is an improvement in residence hall swipe-ins. When they took office, the dynamic duo saw a need for a newer, more effective system. With their aide, Residence Life was able to produce a new system of digital swipe-ins for students living in dorms on campus.
Perhaps the most notable change from their platform has been the addition of Maroon Meals at the St. Phillip Street Einstein Bros Bagels. Numerous students on campus, particularly those living on the north side of Calhoun Street, were frustrated that City Bistro does not offer breakfast on weekdays. SGA senator Meghan Longtin proposed a solution. “I didn’t really want to walk all the way downtown [to] Liberty to get breakfast in the morning, but I like Einstein’s,” Longtin explained. “So I was like, why can’t we have [a deal] where I can swipe at Einstein’s… to get breakfast in the morning up to a certain amount?” The result was the creation of Maroon Meals, a “predetermined retail combo meal swipe” that allows students to use their dining plan to eat breakfast at Einstein’s.
According to Sturman, Einstein’s has seen a considerable increase in student volume during breakfast hours, which would not have happened without the direct influence of SGA. “It came from the people who matter most in our organization, and that’s our senators,” Sturman said. “Michael and I can sit here all day long, all year and make changes on our end, but if our entire organization isn’t empowered and feeling like they’re making changes, that’s not a sustainable model for student government.”
So what of the future? Each of the four initiative-based committees has already presented ideas and is in the process of completing them. One that might motivate more students to attend athletic events is the sale of beer in TD Arena. Gunnar Burts, the executive initiative director of the committee heading this plan, explained that the idea was the logical next step after beer sales were allowed at Patriot’s Point sports games. He believed that school spirit has been an issue at the College, which has affected sports attendance. Allowing beer at TD Arena may be just the solution to increasing this attendance factor and strengthening a subpar culture of school spirit.
As for the presidential duo, Sturman and Faikes have already shown a drive for progress extending beyond their initial campaign goals. “We have a commitment to the students to make sure that our five things are done on [our] platform,” Sturman explained. “We’ve made sure three of them are, and we’re going to focus intensively for the next semester to get the other two done.” One of the two forthcoming platform goals is to reform printing on campus by adding printers in locations in addition to the library. Sturman emphasized that this was an area that needed a completely new approach. “We realize that’s an area of deficit,” he explained, “but we’re going to have a test case in the Education Center most likely for a printer that’s connected to one’s 300 free prints in the library, and then once that’s successful, we hope to expand it throughout campus.”
The political duo has worked hard to bring their original platform to completion. While senators have begun compiling initiatives for the coming months, Sturman and Faikes have done some research into their own ideas. The latest result, and the final goal on the Sturman-Faikes platform, came in the form of a New York City-based start-up that could revolutionize campus life across the country, and the College could be one of the first to experience it. The start-up’s name: ‘brellaBox.
“It’s essentially Red Box for umbrellas,” explained Sturman. “We’re going to have a low fee for students who want to rent umbrellas from one machine and drop them off at another machine on another part of campus.” Sturman and Faikes have been working in close collaboration with the company’s CEO for a while now, and it appears that logistics and funding are the only obstacles standing in between SGA and a campus-wide umbrella network accessible at the push of a button. If the ‘brellaBox initiative succeeds, the College will be the only school to date that adopted this change through the student government rather than through the administration. “[‘brellaBox’s founder] loves that,” Sturman said. “He loves the story that we bring, and he hopes to use us as a model moving forward around the country.”
The Student Body Government’s newfound functionality has broadened the horizons for campus life at the College. The goal of representatives is to seek innovation through the experiences of students on campus. “I definitely think the best way for senators and even anybody to come up with ideas to change the campus is really just through experience,” said Longtin. “I feel like I can actually accomplish something. I feel like the new leadership that we have this year is so different and supportive than before.” Sturman and Faikes hope that students will recognize this and seek out SGA directly for further change. “I think that the new direction is actually self-reinforcing,” said Sturman, “because if students are being made aware that there are changes that are happening that are successful like Einstein’s, they’re going to say, ‘Wow. Maybe if I have a problem I can actually go to them and see a similar result.’”
As far as one can observe, Sturman and Faikes have lived out Lee Hignon’s advice with great efficacy. In the coming years students on campus may look forward to a higher quality of campus life and a governing body that actively seeks to solve problems on campus.
“Our priorities are effecting change on campus in meaningful ways,” Sturman said, “and we’re going to make sure we accomplish those if it’s the last thing we do.”
*This article first appeared in the October 2015 issue of The Yard