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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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SGA leaders reflect on 74th Session

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Photo by Coby Scudder

Angelina BaltazarTiffany UfodiamaKristina SamuelKatie LesterIman AhmedMathias BrantleyFawaz Syed present during the senate meeting in Koldus on Monday, March 28.

At the final Student Senate meeting on Wednesday, April 27, the door to the 74th Legislative Session of the Student Government Association, or SGA, was closed.

In the first academic year without COVID-19 restrictions, SGA set a number of historical firsts, including the first all-female chief leadership team, including Student Body President Natalie Parks, Speaker of the Student Senate Iman Ahmed and Chief Justice Karrisa McIntosh. 

With the unique times due to many university changes, including the release of the MGT report and issues with university oversight in multiple organizations, the 74th Session held multiple forums to hear student voices and passed multiple resolutions to support a variety of students and professors across campus.

“My favorite part was definitely the leadership team that we have this year — working with [Parks] and [Ahmed] was incredible. They’re incredible women to be surrounded by, [and] to work with them on a weekly basis on so many different things, it was very uplifting,” McIntosh said. “To be the first group where it was an all-female leadership team, I can’t think of a better team to have been surrounded with for that experience to lay that groundwork.”

Executive Branch

Led by SBP Parks, the Executive Branch helped to navigate turbulent changes made at the university level, including the MGT of America Consulting Report and students’ rights issues.

Parks said she would describe the year as unexpected due to the challenges the university has experienced this past year.

“While that traditionally is what happens in student government and while serving as student body president, specifically some of the challenges that we faced … made national news. Those are experiences that I never thought I would be going through, but I grew as a leader, I grew as a friend and an Aggie and hopefully an advocate for what was right,” Parks said. “It felt good to know that multiple times this year, I was doing what was best for the student body; I was fighting for their voices, I was fighting for their rights in public spaces, but also in private ones.”

After partnering with other student leaders and faculty across campus, Parks said she is proud of the camaraderie to protect students’ rights across campus.

“A lot of things have taken place behind the scenes of student leaders meeting with each other to try to figure out what was going on, but we really got to publicly unite for the students,” Parks said. “That was an incredibly special experience that I’ll be talking about for the rest of my life.”

To help fight for students’ rights, Parks issued Executive Order No. 74-01 in February, which created a task force to explore student rights across campus. Parks said she hopes this act showed students that SGA is there to represent them, and if there are concerns, they should reach out to student leaders.

“This year was really, really critical for building the foundation. These are your elected leaders. These are the people that have access to the spaces to advocate for your passions and your concerns, and I think that students know that now, they know who to reach out to or at least one person who’s in student government that they can talk to if there is an issue on campus,” Parks said. “That was a really special result of all the time that we spent in Koldus, just always working for the good of the students and always working to remain visible to the student body.”

With all the time spent in the John J. Koldus building, Parks said her favorite part of serving has been getting to build a community among SGA and students across campus. When she initially began her term, Parks said her two goals were outreach and visibility, which she feels are things SGA has worked toward during the past year.

“Not only outreach within student government itself, whether that was connecting better to our committees or to the different branches, that was also connecting with other student leaders and other student organizations,” Parks said. “We hosted so many roundtables and open forums and things that really brought students outside of student government into our spaces, but also, within the student government space, we really worked on building relationships with each other — those partnerships, both internal and external, were pivotal in helping us accomplish our goals.”

Legislative Branch

Led by Speaker Ahmed, the legislative branch held multiple forums to hear student voices. The Student Senate also passed a resolution in support of The Battalion on Feb. 16 and of Draggieland on March 2, as well as released a report investigating Fish Camp on March 9.

At the final April 28 senate meeting, Ahmed said she would describe the session in three words — transition, innovation and advocacy.

“This session was the first time senate was back fully in person after a year and a half. So this year, we have a lot of learning curves, we had a lot of new senators who had never been in Koldus 144 before,” Ahmed said during the meeting. “With that alongside transitioning this year, you had [COVID-19]. We’re coming back into an in-person school year, [COVID-19] was a really big concern on campus. But through that all of you advocated for your constituents through that.”

Additionally, with a new administration through university President M. Katherine Banks, Ahmed said the Student Senate worked to create a relationship between the administration and the student body. The Student Senate called upon Banks for a Feb. 21 special session meeting, where she was questioned by student senators regarding university happenings. Additionally, Vice President for Student Affairs Gen. Joe Ramirez was also called to attend a senate meeting on April 13.

“Through building intentional relationships, I am so glad that we were able to have the opportunity to bring them to senate,” Ahmed said. “The last time the university president had come to senate is very unprecedented — they always sent a proxy or somebody in their place, so that was the first time from what I recall in senate history [the president themself had attended].”

Judicial Branch

Being the first chief justice to lead two sessions back-to-back, McIntosh said she is thankful to have been given the opportunity to serve the student body a second time, especially with an in-person term the second time around. 

“I did not realize last year how much was changed until I got to experience this position full fledged, back in person, going 100% at everything again,” McIntosh said. “I was kind of nervous doing this job again, because no one had ever done it two times in a row. So, I definitely wanted to make the most of that opportunity and make it the best year possible, the best year yet for J-Court, because I had experience and I wanted to be able to take that and build on it.”

Having heard cases before, McIntosh said the court experienced some cases this year, which had never been presented to the court before.

“I always think I’ve seen it all and then something comes in a corner and I’m like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before. I had no idea what to do here, really,’” McIntosh said. “The whole fun of the job [is to] see a lot of different things and issues that [would have] gone unnoticed for a while and [we] got to make some clarifications and take the opportunity to hear out students who wanted to have their voices heard. That’s always rewarding.”

With some turnover in the past few years, McIntosh said she is proud to have gotten to train and work with so many new justices who will continue to represent A&M well.

“I genuinely feel I’ve just been able to pour all of my knowledge into [all of the justices] and everyone throughout the court, so when I leave my knowledge isn’t leaving with me,” McIntosh said. “I’ve been able to invest in so many different people who are going to be here and use my experiences and then make them even better and continue to grow this court. I’m really proud of the court that I’m leaving behind and the great things that I know they’re going to be able to accomplish outside of [the] A&M campus.”

Reflecting on the session overall, McIntosh said it is important to look back at what was accomplished and the work done by student government.

“I’m so proud of all the work that’s been done by everyone across the board. It’s been a phenomenal year coming back from a year that was so different because of COVID[-19], and there were no hiccups along the way. People just hit the ground running and hit it even harder than before,” McIntosh said. “I am so excited to see how that transition over into the 75th Session, there’s great people there, and I’m excited to see all the stuff that they’re going to do, but see it from afar this time.”

Looking forward

Parks said she encourages the 75th Session to remember the importance of communication while being a student leader, with other leaders as well as with administration and the student body.

“I really encourage all leaders across the board to be the bigger person and to reach out to those that we have conflict with to have productive communication and conversation channels to solve problems. That even goes for interacting with university administration, interacting with the higher up authority figures that make really big decisions that impact the student body. Reach out to those people and have conversations if something goes wrong,” Parks said. “Communication is very easy to be overlooked and it’s very easy to feed into drama and rumors and things like that, but just sitting down and having face time with someone is so important for overall working to do what’s best for the student body.”

Beyond all the work student leaders put in, McIntosh said it is also important to take in the fun and remember to enjoy the process and people involved.

“It’s really easy to get caught up in doing your job,” McIntosh said. “My piece of advice would be to cherish it and make the most of every experience that you have, even when you feel incredibly stretched thin, and you feel like if you’re going to take on one more thing, your head’s just going to explode. I found those are always some of the most rewarding experiences when I’ve said ‘yes’ to things that maybe I was on the fence about.”
Taking the helm of the 75th Legislature is Student Body President Case Harris, Speaker of the Student Senate Tyler Smith and Chief Justice John Nesmith.

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