GSA works with Student Senate on representation, constitution changes

GVL / Eric Coulter
Student Senate Vice President Tendo Lukwago

GVL / Eric Coulter Student Senate Vice President Tendo Lukwago

Sarah Hillenbrand

The Grand Valley State University Student Senate is working to revise its current constitution, making changes to include graduate students in Student Senate and helping them be more involved in decision-making processes on campus.

“We feel that changes that will be made in regard to graduate students, and that have been contemplated in the past in regard to graduate students, have always been to make sure that their voice is represented and that their voice is heard in graduate matters as well as undergraduate,” said Tendo Lukwago, the executive vice president of Student Senate.

Lukwago and Jack Iott, president of the senate, have been meeting with the Graduate Student Association president Austin Dean and the executive board to discuss how to best approach implementing changes. They are in the process of outlining what the new governing structure will look like.

Dean said they have brought in faculty and staff to help in the negotiation process to make sure the graduate students are heard and changes are made.

“We’re not intending to change the constitution,” Dean said. “We want representation of graduate students for the Student Senate general assembly, and the best way for Student Senate to actively engage graduate students is to let them know that they can run to be on senate and be in the election process to increase graduate representation.”

GSA has also requested to have a formal, bimonthly meeting between the GSA president and the Student Senate president so they can communicate needs. The graduate governing body wants the meetings to become mandatory and consistent so that the graduate student needs are regularly brought to the senate’s attention.

Although the process is slow, Lukwago said that progress is being made.

“It’s been a patient process because we’ve had to coordinate everything, but I definitely feel we’re making sure that there’s going to be a good outcome at the end of all of these procedural matters,” Lukwago said.

Lindsay Viviano, vice president of the Senate Public Relations Committee, agreed that those involved are trying to provide more diverse representation.

“In regard to graduate students, we are trying to make sure they have the necessary representation of what they deserve,” Viviano said. “In the past, I think there has been the misconception that we only represented undergraduate students, but that is not the case in that we represent the entire student body.”

Dean said that after over seven years of discussing changes with the senate, the GSA is hoping to get the necessary changes made by fall 2013, both in Senate representation and funding. The graduate student programs at GVSU have been growing rapidly in the last decade, and Dean said GVSU President Thomas Haas wants to keep increasing the program.

“With the graduate population growing, there needs to be a way for graduate concerns about issues and student life to be heard, and in the current structure there’s no way for that to happen,” Dean said.

A growth in graduate students also means a growth in the amount of money needed to support the students.

“Of a $1.25 million budget, graduate students are getting about $15,000,” Dean said. “We’re very underfunded, and are putting a lot into the fund but not getting a whole lot out. The new model we’re working on is to make sure that graduate students receive their fair share.”

He added that it’s important for people in the GVSU community to be aware of the issues facing the GSA and advocate for graduate students and the program.

“Change is a good thing and it’s needed here,” Dean said.

In the end, the senators are simply trying to make sure both parties are comfortable with the outcome.

“We are just trying to make sure that everyone is happy with the final outcome of the changes that will be made,” Viviano said. “President Iott along with other senators have been working very closely with GSA and Grand Valley faculty in deciding what needs to be done.”

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