During interviews addressing the election process, finances and leadership, The University of Southern Mississippi’s Student Government Association (SGA) executive officers-elect left puzzles unsolved.
One of the missions of SGA is to promote students’ rights and responsibilities, according to the SGA constitution. Recent events bring into question whether or not students’ right to equal opportunities within SGA are being violated.
A few days after the SGA elections Feb. 22 – 24, Jeffrey George, president-elect; Kyle Stoner, vice president-elect; Wilton Jackson, attorney general; Katherine Brewer, Freshmen Associates director; Yolonda Cruz, senator; Ann Marie Chillcut, outgoing president and Gavin Snyder, Southern Miss Activities Council president attended the Conference on Student Government Association (COSGA) which took place at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
George said only certain members of SGA were asked to attend. “The group that was selected to go, we were asked to attend about two months ago, before all of the elections,” he said. “We were asked by our advisor, Wynde Fitts.”
There was no application process open to all SGA members.
“I was not involved in the selection process, so I can’t really comment,” George said when asked more about being selected.
“We stayed at the hotel that was provided by Texas A&M University,” George said. “(Southern Miss) did cover the costs; it was something that was from the Student Government Association.”
George and the other USM attendees stayed at the College Station Hilton. Rooms were $129 per night and registration for each student ranged from $275 to $325. In addition, students traveled via plane.
When asked about whether such a pricey experience should involve a more open selection process allowing an equal opportunity among SGA members, SGA treasurer Benjamin Brewer offered no comment.
Brewer, a junior accounting major, said he had no role within SGA before becoming the treasurer-elect.
“I don’t have previous history working directly with SGA, but I’ve worked with Senate members,” Brewer said.
According to the Constitution of the Student Government Association, Brewer was ineligible to run for candidacy due to his lack of experience within SGA.
Section Two of the SGA Election Code states “all candidates for executive officers must have at least one semester of experience in a branch or auxiliary of Southern Miss Student Government prior to application for candidacy.”
Despite not meeting the requirements of the SGA Election code, Brewer successfully secured the treasurer position unopposed. Brewer said his decision to apply last minute was complicated.
“Wynde (Fitts) had contacted a friend of mine, president of my fraternity, saying that the position was open and she’d like someone with experience to step in,” he said.
According to Vice President Stoner, no one had applied.
“For the treasury position, they had to call (Brewer) 20 minutes before applications were due because nobody had applied for treasurer,” Stoner said.
But in the event no one applies for the position, an entirely different approach is mandated by the SGA constitution.
“In the event that no candidacy application is received for a specific SGA office, position or title, the application deadline will be extended for a period of five days under the same guidelines set forth in this Election Code,” the SGA constitution states.
According to the constitution, the president-elect will appoint an officer if no applications are submitted by the extension date.
In regards to the voting process, Stoner said it is flawed, but it has worked in the past.
“We can’t just stop what we’re doing now and try to change it completely,” he said. “We have to just keep going with it and change it as we go.”
“Do you have any ideas of how it can be done better?” he asked.
Some are concerned that George and Stoner may have difficulty representing the entirety of the student body. As white, male members of the Greek community, the pair only represent a minority of students at Southern Miss. About 80 percent of the student population is not affiliated with Greek life and 62 percent of the population is female, according to Forbes.
According to Stoner, 1,500 of the estimated 15,000 students enrolled at USM actually voted.