LIZ MONROE, News Editor—After taking time to reflect on its effectiveness as a student government, the Denison Campus Governance Association (DCGA) is making a variety of internal reforms with the hope of influencing a more engaging student senate.
Max Giarrusso, a senior from Hingham, Massachusetts and the current DCGA president, took the initiative last semester to evaluate the effectiveness of the organization—He began thinking about why people are not engaged in it. Giarrusso ultimately felt that the disengagement came down to an issue of accountability. As a result of these observations, he conducted research on student governments at other small colleges like Denison in order to formulate a reform of DCGA.
“I found that colleges like Oberlin or Kenyon had a mix of small councils, senates and committees. There [was] a variety of different scenarios,” Giarrusso explained.
He also collected data and conducted internal polls to pinpoint problems within DCGA as an organization. Giarrusso asked questions like “do senators know what their responsibilities are?” and “what are some things they want to see changed on campus?” in order to get a better pulse of the members. A majority of the Senate responded in a positive way to Giarrusso’s polls, but he found that students were still not making their ideas happen.
“DCGA has been ineffective to the student body for the past few years, but most prevalently with the involvement of members. Normally there are eight senators elected for each class and every year since my first year in DCGA, less people have wanted to run for the senate,” Giarrusso said.
Giarrusso, a French and communications double major and economics minor, has been involved in DCGA since the spring of his freshman year. When Giarrusso ran for student body president last spring, one of his major campaign goals was to modernize DCGA and make it a more effective organization for the student body. Many of the proposed changes came to fruition during a mini constitutional convention held by DCGA Feb. 20, 2021.
While the changes to DCGA are still in the process of being passed, Giarrusso feels proud to be behind the proposed internal reform. He explained that the overall structure of DCGA will stay the same, but there will be a lot of smaller changes that will make a big difference.
“One of the most important changes, in my opinion, is reducing the size of the senate. This means cutting back from eight to six class senators, which will create more competitive elections where candidates can be held more accountable to the positions. Ultimately, DCGA will be able to function more efficiently as a small group,” Giarrusso explained.
The internal reform will also include changes like managing the reserve fund in a more efficient manner so the money is properly put to use over time, reforming the policy committee to act more as mentors for the rest of the senate rather than taking full responsibility of policy change and collaborating more with other organizations on campus by reworking the PR chair.
“It is important for DCGA to support different organizations on campus and to also be more visible to the student body that it represents,” Giarrusso said.
The proposed internal reforms were deliberated on by the DCGA student advisory board March 15. According to the DCGA Speaker of the Senate, Mayank Kumar, the board generally supports the changes. Kumar is a senior political science and religion double major from Calcutta, India, and has seen the decline of participation in and influence of DCGA since he first joined his freshman year.
“The advisory board is broadly in favor of the internal reforms. They are supportive of streamlining the organization so as to make it more competitive and best able to enact change. However, students did express concern that limiting community senator seats would not be great for representation for cross cultural communities,” Kumar said.
While the general consensus of the student advisory board regarding the changes to DCGA was positive, students brought up broader structural concerns regarding DCGA’s role in student advocacy on campus.
“While changing the internal structure of DCGA is an improvement, there needs to be more clarification from the administration about how they want the organization to best engage in student affairs. Now that there are other groups on campus like the RED Corps and student development interns that share similar responsibilities to the student government, students feel like there needs to be a balance between the organizations so that they can work on tasks that fit their specific purpose,” Mayank said.
According to Giarrusso, once the senate passes the proposed internal reform, it will go to a full student body vote (most likely an email poll). The president hopes to do a lot of PR work to ensure everyone knows what the changes are and the intent behind them before students vote.
Overall, Kumar is excited to be part of the potential changes to DCGA.
“Being in DCGA for almost four years now, it feels good having these reforms go through, hopefully leaving the organization better off than when we joined in terms of how it functions,” Kumar said.
Giarusso urged students to express their concerns to members of DCGA to make it a more effective group. “I encourage the student body to get as involved in the process as they can because at the end of the day it’s for their benefit,” he said.
“We do have a lot of responsibilities and influence on campus so the more effective we are as a organization, the better we can represent the student body,” Giarusso said.