Auburn’s Student Government Association met for its third fall senate on Monday, Sept. 14, which was unlike the previous virtual-only meetings this semester because it was partially held in person. Around 30 senators gathered in the Student Center Ballroom at 7:30 p.m. to discuss a future vote to revise the ticketing system for SGA elections, while only a few attended via Zoom.
Hays Kassen, senior in accounting and vice president of SGA, said the decision was made because meetings held fully over Zoom reduce senators’ interest in participation.
“Back in the spring when we were moved to fully virtual, we kind of went into a model of not having meetings every Monday [but] sending updates every Monday instead, and we were still able to vote on legislation,” Kassen said. “In that, we felt like we were not experiencing the community you get out of senate meetings, and we weren’t really getting that face-to-face interaction.”
The in-person reconvening of senate came with changes similar to campus events this fall — participants were required to show a green GuideSafe Healthcheck passport screen before entry, and each senator was physically distanced at their own table. Microphones were set up for those who needed to speak, a new addition to the meetings given their usual occurrence in a smaller Student Center room.
In the past few months, SGA reintroduced summer senate meetings by using Zoom, which Kassen said had not occurred for many years. However, it was in these meetings that SGA leadership noticed a change in the interaction between senators, he said.
“We felt like people were not talking as much as they would in person,” Kassen said. “With student senate, there’s an element of being able to talk [and] discuss legislation that you can really only get in person and not so much over a Zoom screen. With that, we felt like there was a need to have in-person meetings for the fall semester.”
Ada Ruth Huntley, senior in global studies and president of SGA, also said the student senate format is more reliant on physical presence for the style of debate that makes up meetings.
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“We’ve definitely been taking the approach of if we can do it online, we want to do it online, but ... the back-and-forth discussion is just so much easier to do in person when there’s not the fear of a roommate walking in and yelling on camera or Wi-Fi dropping unexpectedly in the middle of a presentation,” Huntley said. “It just makes everything function so much smoother, and since we’ve been able to adapt it for a classroom model, we thought we could implement the same thing via senate.”
The first two meetings of the semester had to be held over Zoom only because several senators were under quarantine, according to Kassen. Because of this, senators were not required to physically attend if they felt uncomfortable doing so.
Nonetheless, both Huntley and Kassen said SGA plans to continue this hybrid meeting model each Monday night for the near future. Committee and cabinet meetings, however, will remain solely on Zoom.
“For the time being, I think this is the best move for student senate,” Huntley said. “I’m really proud in the way in which we did it ... ensuring nobody came if they were potentially exposed to someone who might have tested positive. If there is one way to meet in person, I think that we’ve pretty much nailed what that model could look like.”
Kassen mentioned that the number of senators and support staff totals less than the University’s event attendee maximum currently imposed because of the pandemic.
“We only have about 39 normal members, and so we are under that 50-person event limit,” he said. “Given that, we feel like we can be in person safely socially distanced wearing masks.”
Student senate meetings include an open forum segment where non-SGA students, faculty and staff may bring an issue before the senate or promote an event or organization. These will still occur with the hybrid meeting format, but Kassen asks that those arriving in-person communicate with SGA leaders prior to meetings.
“Anybody can come that’s affiliated with the University, but we just want to watch that for number purposes and making sure we’re not breaking that 50-person limit,” Kassen said. “[Monday] night we were well under that. If we get a situation where we have more than 50 people who want to come, we’ll probably have to let certain people in at different times, or they’ll only be able to send one person in if it’s a group.”
Senate participants who wish to use Zoom to speak during open forum or attend for other purposes are asked to contact SGA for the Zoom invite link, which will not be posted publicly as to avoid interruptions.
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