The Vision sat down with the presidential and vice presidential candidates for Student Government Association to discuss the upcoming election and their plans for SGA.
Meghan Hickok, a junior political science major, is running for president with junior nursing major Kristin Callahan as her vice president. The other ticket consists of Mia Delamar, a junior commercial voice major, and Jenny O’Brien, a senior economics major.
Can you each talk about your experiences, both in and outside of SGA, that make you qualified for these roles? Hickok: I’ve been in SGA since my freshman year, and I’ve served in numerous capacities, both on the Community Outreach and Events Committee and the Finance Committee. I’ve really enjoyed being a senator and being able to do a little bit of everything. And then outside of SGA, I’ve had lots of experience leading in other groups, like the Belmont Pre-Law Society, Belmont’s Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature group, Mock Trial, a lot of the legal stuff. But I’ve also branched out and been part of the Navigators Bible study group and everything. I’m excited to hopefully add another leadership role to the list.
Callahan: I love SGA with my whole heart. I’ve been in SGA since my sophomore year. My first year I was on the outreach and events committee, where we focus on bringing fun events to students, and this year I actually chair that committee. We brought events like Pancakes and Problems, Waffles and Woes, the Halloween Spookfest event, Winter Ball, all kinds of fun things for students. So that’s where I really put my focus with SGA. I’m also super involved with Greek life, TISL and the Student Nurses Association as well.
Delamar: I joined SGA my freshman year. I became chair my freshman year of Policy Review and then I stayed as chair for my sophomore year. At the end of my sophomore year I became the parliamentarian, and now I’m just a senator in SGA. I was key in rewriting the constitution my freshman year under Chris Dickinson. Outside of SGA, I’m the president of the school’s dance team, 629, and I’m also the president of the Gospel Baptist Community.
O’Brien: I joined SGA my sophomore year and served as the chair of the Finance Committee. My junior year I served as the chair of the Campus Outreach and Events Committee. Finance was more of the grant-focused side, working with student organizations and giving them money for their events or trips for their organizations. And then Campus Outreach and Events last year we did events like Belmont’s Best Day Ever, Belmont Student Appreciation Day and got to engage in the community in different ways. I’m also involved in Greek life at Belmont, and then I’ve just had various leadership roles and volunteer experience that have led me to my SGA election position.
What are some of the biggest concerns you hear from students, and what plans do you have to fix them? Delamar: Some of the biggest plans I’ve heard that we can fix as a student government are things like the caf. So over the past couple of years, the caf has had a push and pull with the students, sometimes they love it and sometimes they don’t. A lot of people don’t know that the caf is open later now because of all the things that SGA did to help get the students voices heard about them wanting to be open later on the weekdays and the caf closing at 8 when they have classes until 8:30 and them not being able to eat, especially for freshmen. And a student came to me about not having turkey bacon in the caf, and so I wrote the piece of legislation to get turkey bacon in the caf. There are other things like they can’t engage with each other, they don’t have enough events that they can come to as a group, something that they’re all interested in. So something that we’re going to try to do if we get elected is make sure that we have events that everybody feels like they can participate in, like we’ve been doing in this past year in SGA.
O’Brien: You might have seen last week Mia and I posted a Google Survey on the Belmont community page. We were asking students to just make one suggestion of something they would change at Belmont if they had the opportunity. What we promised was if we’re elected, we would reach out to them individually and see, ‘can we make steps to achieve those goals of yours?’ So it’s things ranging from parking issues, which Meghan and Kristin have addressed, access to books in the library that are contemporary — things people really want to read — as Mia mentioned the caf options and hours. We genuinely want to hear students’ concerns or their excitements and further those excitements, and we want to engage and serve our students.
Hickok: Along those same lines, we in SGA have been hosting events like Pancakes and Problems and posting on social media trying to outreach to many different students. And we have three main areas that we’ve kind of compartmentalized a lot of the concerns into. The first one was parking. That’s a huge issue on campus. A lot of commuters, a lot of people like me that still live on campus but have events at night with organizations, there are a lot of parking issues with finding spaces to park their car. And so we’re thinking about increasing signage, getting some electronic spot counters and just some more mirrors.
Callahan: Our second main focus is improving access to student resources that we already have on campus, stuff like counseling, nutrition — a lot of people don’t know that if you have a meal plan at Belmont you can go talk to a dietitian for free and they will customize a plan for you, whether it’s dietary restrictions, food allergies, a certain diet that you have to adhere to for medical reasons, they’ll work with you for free. And if you don’t have a meal plan they’ll still work with you. With Title IX, a lot of people don’t know the resources that Belmont Title IX can provide for you and just highlighting what Belmont can do for you already and then working to improve accessibility. That’s a huge focus for us.
Hickok: And then the last area is just improving campus facilities. That includes study rooms — I know for me I lived in Wright Hall last year which is a little historical, and their study rooms for instance are quite outdated. And so I always thought SGA is the perfect resource to be able to revamp these spaces. And Wright isn’t the only place on campus that could really use that. So we want to revamp study rooms. We want to add some places for students to just be able to lounge, because as Belmont is growing, we have a lot of study spaces but we want to just be able to have that area for students who just want to go and relax and just be in that community with one another.
Once you’ve heard student concerns, what resources does SGA have to be able to address those concerns? Callahan: As the chair of the event planning committee I’ve had a unique experience with student feedback, because so many of our events this semester have focused around student feedback. After every event I sat down and itemized all of the concerns, printed them off and I sat down with the Dean of Students Dr. Delony and went through every single one of them and we made plans for how we can actually implement change and what we can actually do. That’s stuff we’ve been doing this past year, and I hope to take it to the next level in the future.
Hickok: And with that too working on the finance committee I think you really get to see firsthand how SGA’s funds can really help the student body, because we like to help organizations and fund the areas in organizations that are focused on outreach to other students. I think it’s cool because SGA has this way of inviting people in and then also inviting organizations in on campus and fostering opportunity for good to happen through those organizations.
Callahan: We just really want to be a resource for students. They shouldn’t feel scared to talk to us. And they shouldn’t feel sure that we won’t listen to their concerns.
Delamar: As Jenny might have mentioned earlier, SGA handles a $75,000 budget, most of that which goes to student organizations for their events — formals, travel to conventions all around the world, we help them in that capacity. We also just make sure we’re listening to students and make them feel their voices are important. I think the reason why I joined SGA is because I wanted people to know that you can make your Belmont experience the best that it can be and I want to help you with that. I want you to know that at this school we care about how you feel when you walk into each classroom, how you feel when you go to every event and how you feel when something doesn’t happen that you would like to see on your campus. I want to really just make sure that we grasp what the students want and know that whatever area you are in, that your concerns are still heard and your problems are still heard. It’s not just, ‘oh they only focus on these students.’ Every student’s voice is important and we just want to help with that.
O’Brien: And something unique about student government that I think most students don’t know about is the ability to write legislation. So Mia mentioned the turkey bacon legislation, which is funny in and of itself, but who doesn’t want to go to the cafeteria and have turkey bacon on a Saturday or Sunday morning? It’s little things that students want, that they can have if they work with student government. One thing that I remember my sophomore year is that students wanted a flagpole on campus. If you take a second and think about it, there’s no flagpole. That’s a piece of legislation that didn’t get pushed through. How can we work with students to push that through? We are senators on student government, but we are also students. We’re just as much students as everyone else is at this school. So all of our ideas need to come together to make these changes. To make these students feel heard, it’s not necessarily a ‘yeah, sure I hear you, but it’s doing something about it. It’s taking actionable steps to get things done that students want. You might find out in the end that it’s not as hard as it seems.
Callahan: I have something to add about legislation. This August I was casually scrolling through the Belmont Facebook page, and I saw something about outraged students because Chick-fil-A was charging you for more than one sauce. So I immediately called Gavin and said ‘we’re writing this legislation and we’re going to pass it on our first meeting,’ and it passed and we got the sauce back! So it could be something as trivial as Chick-fil-A sauce, but that’s so important to students.
Hickok: Mia and I last year were part of the whole water fountain legislation deal, getting more water fountains. And also, we all really want SGA to be more accessible to everybody. We want students to know that our meetings are open if you want to attend. Anybody can write legislation, just get with one of the senators. We’re so ready to help you put your problems into action to make them better and to just be heard.
Delamar: And to piggyback off of that, a lot of students don’t know the president of SGA sits down with senior leadership every week. So all of these problems that the students express and things they want to see change around campus, the president and sometimes the vice president will sit down with senior leadership to say ‘Hey, these are the problems that students are having. These are the things they want to see change around campus.’ And that’s every week, it’s not once a month or once a year. Senior leadership is literally sitting down with us every week to get it from the horse’s mouth, to see what they can change about your Belmont experience, because they do care, and we care.
Do you think students know what SGA is able to do for them? If not, how do you plan to fix that? Hickok: I think that they do, or I would hope so at least. We are the people that want to be difference makers on campus, we want to invite you in to be able to make those differences, and I know Kristin and I have worked really hard to help establish us as that kind of organization over the past year and the past couple of years through those events and just through trying to spread the word. I think just being able to have the outreach on campus through conversations and inviting people, as well as on social media saying ‘hey, we’re doing this event, we’re doing this, we want to hear from you.’ I hope that people are able to see what SGA does through examples of what we are doing.
Delamar: For me I don’t believe a lot of students are aware of what the SGA is or what we can do for them. A lot of times I’ll say, ‘I’m apart of the SGA and I’m running for president,’ and they’ll be like ‘what is SGA?’ They don’t know that these changes around campus are things that we’ve done. So one thing I’d really like to do is just connect with students on their platforms. As the policy review chair and parliamentarian, one thing I did for my committee was I made all of them post in their class pages — back when we had class pages — ‘what is one thing you would like to change about Belmont?’ It was similar to what Jenny and I had done with our Google Survey. And it was an onslaught of 800 plus comments of things that they would like to change about Belmont, so I think that just connecting with students on their social media platforms, because everybody always has their phones on them, I think that’s the best way to connect with people.
Hickok: Piggybacking off of that, my class page had like 600 comments. It was unreal just the recognition and the feedback from the students on this SGA post. I think that just having things like that that are making SGA more accessible, following up with those people and showing them what we have done is the key to really raising awareness about who we are and continuing that growth. Callahan: And for people who aren’t big on social media, we have our food and feedback events, so you can show up to the JAAC lobby on Wednesday mornings and get free pancakes if you tell us a concern you have about Belmont, something we’re doing good or something you’d like to see changed. So for people that don’t necessarily communicate well through social media or like that human-to-human interaction, it’s a great way for them to get more involved and feel like they matter.
What would you say to students who are concerned that SGA can’t do much to benefit them? Hickok: I think I would just bring up all the possibilities that you have in our organization as far as getting involved. Having a voice, having a voice to those who get to talk to upper administration on a regular basis. Being able to write legislation. I mean there is endless things you can do through SGA to be heard and make a difference.
Callahan: Everyone in SGA tries their hardest to make sure that students have a resource to talk to and we make sure that we funnel it to to the right channels to where we can make change. So, we just have a huge impact and we would like to keep growing that impact. And we’d like for students to recognize the impact that we do have. Like Mia said earlier, a lot of what we’ve been a huge part of, students don’t realize that it’s SGA that actually does that.
Hickok: And that’s our whole platform too. We are strong believers in the fact that if we are elected we have a responsibility to be the voice of the students to upper administration. That’s kind of why we are running on the whole ‘Your vote, your voice’ platform because we really do believe that SGA has the ability to make differences. And so we want every student to know that we are the source that you can come to if you want to be able to be heard by who knows who.
O’Brien: Last week, Mia and I were in the JAAC and we were using one of the Bruin Print printers and there were these two girls in the room with us. And we started talking to them because the printer we were having issues. And they explained to us how to use it. However, we asked these girls ‘Oh what are your names, what are your majors?’ And so they were both apart of the accelerated nursing program. Which I have friends who are in accelerated nursing programs at other schools, I didn’t know until Friday that we have one at Belmont. When they started talking to us they were saying that when they came to Belmont they never knew what the food options were on campus, we were mentioning the google survey we put in the Belmont Community page. They didn’t know what the Belmont Community page was. And they had wished that they had had a better orientation process coming to Belmont. Because sure they’re not undergrad students but, they’re Belmont students. And they also have to get convo. So you have to engage with those different opportunities on campus but you don’t really have your footing like we do Freshman year or when you come in as a transfer student. So I think that the biggest thing is just talking to people. We met these two girls who we never would have met otherwise had we not gone to use that Bruin Print printer. And they told us our concerns and we said, ‘well it’s funny so like right now Mia and I are running for student government’ and they said, ‘well what is student government?’ And we told them we wanna engage with you and this is something that we truly care about because we don’t want a student to come to Belmont and feel like they’re not welcome here. And so that’s something we’ve been talking about. Sure it’s not part of our platform but we want those two nursing students to feel like their voices were heard in that five minute conversation when they meet the next years nursing students and they talk about their orientation program. Because every single student has a voice it’s just a matter of finding out how to use that voice. And how can we hear them?
Delamar: Going off of that, I would just like to express that a lot of students do feel like SGA can’t benefit them. But if they just have a simple conversation with us and we just say ‘Hey! You know BruinPrint was SGA!’ and a lot of people don’t know that. That was in the works for a very very long time. I mean so many congressmen at the time but, now we’re all senators, worked to get these printers around campus and now it’s such a convenient thing and a lot of people don’t know that that was something that SGA pushed to upper administration to get done and they did it after a long time. So it’s just really important for them to know that we’re not just blowing smoke. We can’t do everything and that’s the truth about being a student. And we just can’t do everything in our organization. But, the things that we can do, we do our best to get those done. And so what we can do, we will help you with. We will help you curate. We will help you speak to the right people. We’ll speak to the right people for you. And the things that we can’t get done, we will speak to somebody else and see if they can’t get that done for you. So we just won’t leave you in the dirt or dust when you think that we can’t solve one of your problems or help you solve one of your problems. Because there’s so many resources on our campus to get things done. And all that it takes is a simple conversation. There are many things that the upper administration doesn’t know because they don’t go to class with us everyday. They don’t live in our dorms. And so we are the liaison between upper admin and the student body and so it’s just important for them to know that we are their voice and we do care about what they say.
Dr. Delony said one of the first jobs for the new SGA president and vice president will be to lead the senate in rewriting the SGA constitution. Can you talk a little about how you plan to do that and what you want to improve about the current constitution?
Delamar: Okay so, as a person who has already rewritten the constitution, this is when we added the graduate committee, and then we went from having seats. So it went from just open body to having seats. Everybody runs for a seat to represent their college. So that’s what I rewrote the constitution for that time. But now its just to make it more concise. Make it more direct. Fix up grammatical errors. And just line up with what SGA has switched to now. We are no longer on academic year. We are on fiscal year now. So we line up with a lot of organizations at Belmont. So that’s going to help us easily help out other students as well. My plan is just to do what I did before. Which is basically to hunker down with Jenny and anybody else who would like to take on that task as well and just see what we really want and what we want as our governing document. What do we want to follow and what do we think will be best for SGA’s to come so there’s no we have to keep rewriting the constitution. It can just be a great foundation and if things need to be added we do amendments. But, rewriting the whole thing we want to make sure that we have a great foundation so it doesn’t have to be done again by the next presidency.
O’Brien: I think that we’re at a unique time now that we’re switching to a calendar year rather than an academic year term and this could set the tone for the next few years for SGA. So rewriting a constitution and already going through a change at the same time. I think this could be something that’s great for Belmont Student Government Association. And I look forward to the opportunity of rewriting the constitution and seeing what current senators have to say about it. And even the senators who are applying right now to join the student government. And just having a collaborative unit create this constitution in such a time of change I think is exciting.
Hickok: I think Mia made a great point. This is our thing. We love the whole constitution, by-laws, everything. I think she had a great point about setting a good foundation for SGA. I personally am a believer in a timeless constitution for SGA. I want to make it super simplified. I want to make it a lot more cohesive than it is right now because I think that as the times have shifted the constitution for SGA has shifted as well. In that shift we’ve come across a lot of grammatical errors, a lot of areas that need to be edited just to reflect what’s happening. And so I think to avoid that because we’re going to be continuously growing and moving around is just to formulate some kind of timeless constitution that just has our core things, what we do, who we are, whos in SGA, all of that good stuff. And then to put everything that can shift and that will shift as our group changes into the by-laws. Because then we don’t have to worry about oh what’s going to happen to the constitution if we put it in the hands of a committee this year and a different one next year. I think just having that timeless constitution that we can just add to in the by-laws is going to be a really important staple to having a very successful organization.
Callahan: I think she hit the nail on the head. I helped Gavin a little bit at the beginning of this August. We shifted the way our committee systems works and I think it has worked out great for SGA but through that process of amending the constitution things did get a little messy. I agree that it does need to be cleaned up and simplified. But also, I don’t think that the constitution is the end all be all for who we are. Because at the end of the day, our constitution doesn’t impact the student body. We and the work we do impacts the student body.
Hickok: Right and we have been working. I mean our constitution right now does need help but we have been successful as an organization regardless of the state of the constitution. So I think that while it is a very important thing to get done I think that our priorities are still just maintaining the success of our organization. While of course giving attention to that if we are elected just to be able to make it that timeless piece.
Can you sum up in one sentence why students should vote for you?
Hickok: I just think that we are so focused on being the voice for students to upper administration. So no matter what happens with issues that come up on campus and what students are passionate about, we are here to represent them in any way that we can and we are so willing to work our hardest to be sure that they are adequately represented.
Callahan: I just love SGA with my whole entire heart. It’s become such an important part of my life. I can honestly say that my time at Belmont would not be the same without SGA. I just can’t wait to pour that love back into the student body. Because I mean when you do what you love, you love doing it.
Delamar: One of my reasons is because I just want students to know that I am just like you. I wake up late for my 8 a.m. I skip sometimes when I’m sick. And I just want you to know that it’s not anything political. It’s literally just a love for people. And a love for human connection. And a love for just trying to make people’s experiences better. And wanting them to enjoy this time of their life that they’re never going to be able to get back. I want them to enjoy it because this is one of the greatest times of our lives. We are starting so many journeys here and we’re going to end one in about four years time. And I want you to remember everything about your experience being great. And yes you had a struggle but what can I do to make one inkling of this four years time that you have here just a little bit better. That you remember it for the rest of your life. And so that’s one of the reasons why.
O’Brien: For me since coming to Belmont I’ve seen so many things that SGA has been able to accomplish and I think that Mia and I are both dedicated so fully to making this the best term for student government that we can. We truly care about Belmont students and we want to do all that we can. As we’re boasting our campaign slogan: “We’re just getting started” But I think there’s so much that can be done especially in this time of change that we’ve mentioned, it’s so exciting to see where Belmont is headed. So we want to ignite that change.