SGA Faces Continuous Criticism After Recent Elections

SGA President Roshanay Tahir

SGA President Roshanay Tahir

Kelly Langevin, Social Media Editor

Central Connecticut’s Student Government Association[SGA] has been continually criticized in the last few months following a low election and weak structure within the student-run democracy. SGA ran an election earlier this year that gave candidates just three days to declare running, resulting in an all-time low voter turnout. The barely visible event is one of several missteps contributing to complaints that SGA is not running properly. 

The 2020 Special Elections seemed to happen in a blink of an eye for former Senator Johanna Zukowski, who had “no idea elections were happening.”

Applications to run were open on Jan. 20, according to SGA president Roshanay Tahir. However, a formal email sent out to the Central community encouraging students to run was not sent out until Jan.23, with a deadline of three days, Jan 26, in the horizon.

The applications to run opened on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which Zukowski called into question.

“They chose a date before school even started, so I didn’t know elections were happening. When I saw it was time to vote I couldn’t believe it,” Zukowski said in an interview with The Recorder.

SGA is facing numerous problems. The chosen dates, which according to section 5-3-Part C of the SGA by-laws states that it has to be passed by the Senate through a majority vote. However, although SGA agreed, the mishandling of information did not perform well and has caused Zukowski and other people to view what was going on as a “secret election.”

Director of Student Activities & Leadership Development Scott Hazan oversees SGA activities and approved of the dates. He did not respond for a follow-up response.

Although it appeared to be a secret election, SGA did not violate any by-laws. Under Title 5- Special Elections the By-Laws state that students shall be given at least 48 hours to declare their candidacy. The candidates shall be given at least one week prior to voting to campaign and voting shall be taken over a 24-hour period.

Last year for the 2019 Special Elections, two people ran for first-year senator, five for at-large senator, three for commuter senator and three ran for resident senator.

This year for the 2020 Special Elections, one person ran for first-year, at-large and commuter senator and two people ran for resident.

Voting numbers itself showed a lacking impact.

According to the SGA Special Elections spring 2019 results, there were a total of 49 votes for first-year senator, 198 for at-large senator, 77 for commuter senator and 113 votes for resident senator.

This year according to the 2020 Special Elections results, resident senator had 13 votes, 24 for at-large, 12 votes for commuter senator and 4 for first-year.

“There is no competition; the Candidate Gallery is not considered a priority for new students and fewer of them are seeing the importance of SGA and its election cycle,” former SGA senator James Angelopoulos said.

SGA’s By-Laws do not require a certain number of votes in order for an election to be valid.

SGA was facing a bigger problem during the Special Elections and still has a lack of structure within the Public Affairs committee. This is partially due to the student-run government’s difficulty holding steady positions leading to what some former senators see as “lack of leadership.”

Advertising for the Special Elections is done by the Public Affairs Committee, which is in charge of running social media and holding events. Therefore, the late email announcing applications were open results back to PA.

Anthony Ortiz who was chair during this time, recently stepped down in executive session during SGA’s meeting on Feb. 26, according to SGA Senate Minute Meetings. No recordings or meeting minutes were allowed during that time.

“I stepped down for various reasons, one being the lack of communication and teamwork SGA had,” Ortiz said.

As far as the Special Elections, Ortiz recognized that SGA ran into problems such as not having the right graphics prepared for advertising as well as a late start to promoting the election itself.

Ortiz said that the committee set up tables in the Student Center and did tabling where people could vote and received a free t-shirt.

“I wish we got the graphics ready before so we could have gotten the filters printed. I also wish SGA could’ve spread the word to their friends about everything,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz was not the first to have problems within SGA. Last fall, Ortiz moved into the Chair position which was formerly held by Caleb Wells, who was forced to step down by the E-Board after heavy criticism over his efforts to build turnout at events.

“There are some toxic political games on campus and let me just say I feel I’ve been wronged. Last night I sent out an email saying I resigned as Chair of PA and I’d like to clarify what happened,” Wells stated during the open floor portion of the Nov. 13 meeting, according to SGA Senate Meeting Minutes.

In the minutes, Well’s stated that after a Public Affairs meeting, he was called into the E-Board office where they confronted him about their disappointments in his performance as chair and asked if he would step down. When Wells asked for time, E-Board declined and told him no and that they would vote him out.

E-Board members at the time included SGA President Roshanay Tahir, Vice President Andrew Pilkons and Treasurer Nicole Elsinger.

Wells later mentioned that he did not believe the E-Board needed to “corner him” into their office and threaten him. He also stated that he felt he was doing a good job at running the Public Affairs committee by having the largest Good Neighbor Campaign that he’s ever seen, as well as contributing to a significant increase in social media followers.

Zukowski, who spoke at the Nov. 13 meeting after Wells, said she thought Public Affairs did a “great job” with Wells’s participation, agreeing that the Good Neighbor Campaign had a higher turnout than previous years. However, SGA President Tahir disagreed and felt that Wells was not doing an “adequate job.”

Tahir said in an interview that she admitted E-Board acted “harsh” towards Wells, and now believes the way they asked him to step down could have been improved.

“I didn’t want to elect a new chair in not knowing what they were doing or going on a winter retreat that was coming up without having anything prepared for the semester.”

Wells declined to answer questions about stepping down.

“I was happy being part of SGA, it did put me closer with the campus community and I am proud of the changes SGA was able to do while I was there and the events we came up with. But as time moved on I realized of other opportunities that I did not wish to miss,” Ortiz said.

Former SGA senator Angelopoulos also did not want to rejoin SGA after serving three years on senate due to the environment surrounding the association.

“I had ran for Vice President but had dropped my candidacy due to a toxic environment in the SGA, which I have since noted has partially dispersed, but nonetheless prevented me from wanting to continue within the SGA,” Angelopoulos said.

Angelopoulos said in an interview that when he first started SGA the climate was very dynamic.

“It was cutthroat on the floor, but incredibly efficient and overall, despite reports of SGA being a toxic environment, it absolutely was not. It was just aggressive,” he said.

Following that term, Angelopoulos stated that SGA became more relaxed and less aggressive and things would get passed more efficiently. However, Angelopoulos also noticed SGA senators might not have been there for the right reasons, only wanting “power” over others, wanting to be popular or did not know what they wanted to do or be on in SGA, or a combination of all three.

This, he said, led to “toxic” and “inefficient” senators.

Angelopoulos, who is about to graduate, said in an interview that he finds the current lack of leadership in the ranks below the E-Board, “horrendous.”

Former SGA Vice President Dante Solano also had concerns during his own experience with the senate and even after he was done serving, stating in an interview that he was approached by multiple students who were concerned about President Tahir’s administration and direction of SGA. Some of these people, he said, were former senators who left SGA due to an “uncomfortable environment.”

Solano stated in an interview that upon his departure from SGA, he left a letter of advice to his successor and the E-Board members so they could have a strong start but felt that they did not listen.

“At the end of the day, it is up to the current administration and senate to find ways to be more transparent and inclusive with the university community as a whole and to repair their current image. I wish them all the luck in the world and in this endeavor, and pray that this is able to be resolved for the sake of our student body,” Solano said.