NIU’s Student Government Association kicks off spring elections this week with an equity-minded transformation of Senate representation options for Huskies.
Students can run to hold SGA positions in either the Executive or Legislative branches — including president, vice president, treasurer, student trustee and senators. Votes will be cast on HuskieLink between Tuesday, March 30 and Wednesday, March 31.
What’s new this year? As opposed to a district-based model that groups constituencies of students based on where they reside, the Senate has reorganized its seating structure for senators based on academic colleges, students in university housing and Huskies from underrepresented populations.
“I have been involved in SGA since my freshman year at NIU in 2017, and I’ve noticed a trend within the organization that I believe to be detrimental to the potential of this governing body to represent all students of the university,” said Election Commissioner Cassandra Kamp, a psychology and rehabilitation and disability services major. “We have consistently had students from a small set of academic programs and student organizations represented in SGA. We lack the diversity of excellent student leaders from these communities on campus, and it is my goal to change that this year.”
“If you look at the district model, our student representatives didn’t feel they had an attachment to their physical constituent base,” added Senate Speaker Bradley Beyer, an economics major who brought to life a vision to rethink SGA’s structure that he says pre-dates his tenure. “It’s a new day, it’s a new chapter for us, and it’s putting the organization on a better path for success moving forward. I philosophically believe in the saying, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’”
Beyer and Kamp, both seniors, say the new model is based on students’ NIU affiliations — with 13 seats for the academic colleges dictated by enrollment numbers, six seats representing Underserved Student Populations, five seats from University Housing students and six seats for Senators At-Large from other areas of campus. Kamp nominated Beyer for his speaker position in last spring’s elections — and with the college abruptly shifting to a virtual format, COVID-19 became a catalyst to a project that has kept SGA members engaged over a largely remote year.
Like a “typical senior,” Beyer just wishes “I would have gotten involved earlier.” He transferred to NIU in 2018 after a year at an institution in downstate Illinois. His decision to run for an SGA Senate position the following year was inspired by an aunt and uncle who first met through their involvement in the Student Association, as it was known until a name update last year to better reflect NIU’s system of shared governance.
“I don’t know how many other institutions have a student government as robust as ours. We are given leadership opportunities and have a ton of responsibility,” said Beyer. “When I came here, I was searching for my identity. I wasn’t sure if college was for me, I wasn’t sure if I was getting what I should out of it. If this is my footprint, I feel really good about it.”
Kamp has held numerous positions throughout the organization, and has seen the SGA manage a six-figure budget including oversight of student activity fees, while also helping shape such large-scale undertakings as the Holmes Student Center renovations, the consolidation of bus line services between NIU and the City of DeKalb, and the Annie Glidden North Revitalization Plan.
Huskies need not feel daunted by the level of responsibility or a desire pressing them into politics to participate. As Kamp looks for a career at a nonprofit and Beyer eyes the private sector after graduation this spring, their trajectories serve as a reminder that students can take their time serving the NIU community through the SGA anywhere. Members develop skills like leadership and professionalism, community building, networking and social-justice advocacy.
“The biggest thing I learned from Student Government was my passion for advocacy,” said Kamp. “It’s really just an interest in vocalizing the needs for students. If you see something wrong with campus and want it fixed, this is a really great way to do it, whether you’re involved in Student Government or not. Even if you’re not involved, we’re the place to go with your concerns.”
To be a member of the SGA, Huskies must be a full-time undergraduate or graduate student in good academic standing. The first candidate meeting for this spring’s elections is today at noon, and interested students need to attend at least one of these virtual events leading up to the election to run in March.
SGA is located in the OASIS space on the ground floor of the Holmes Student Center. All Huskies are also invited to attend the Senate’s weekly meetings, held virtually on Sundays. Students can learn more about the SGA on HuskieLink, or email [email protected].