Student government under microscope

With turnouts for even charged initiatives like alcohol at Chili’s, it is unknown why voter participation is still below ten percent. The Student Government Association (SGA) takes on publicizing these issues in order to raise voter turnout, but the process is slow.

“We’re [engineering students] are not on the top of their [SGA] list,” Amanda Saldivar, junior civil engineering major, said.

Some students are unclear what SGA does or who the president is.

“They should try to include the whole student population. We hear about them when they are running for office or when they create a Facebook group,” Sabrina Macal, junior political science major, said.

“We have a significantly smaller budget than many other universities that have a smaller population than ours,” SGA president Derek Trimm said.

SGA is allocated a total of $6,093.00 a year for public relations purposes, including promotional items like t-shirts, tailgating at homecoming, supplies, booth fees for BestFrest and FiestaUTSA, and a total of $2,193.00 under the umbrella of “general PR.”

“We don’t have a lot of resources at our disposal to run big ad campaigns,” Trimm said. “When you look at 30,000 students [ten percent] doesn’t at first seem like a lot, but historically that is a large sample population.”

This year the SGA at University of Central Florida had a budget of over $15,000,000 compared to the UTSA SGA, which has a yearly budget of $47,650.00.

“If we can advertise on Facebook, put up fliers, and use word of mouth, I think it makes our PR budget go a lot further,” Trimm said.

Although it did not equate to a sizeable spike in turnout, Trimm said he saw many students taking up the cause; he was riding the shuttle and someone handed him a flier with information about the issue.

Though Macal does not want to see alcohol on campus she said that if UTSA offers alcohol it should be allowed everywhere.

“If it is okay to sell alcohol on campus, alcohol should also be allowed in dorm rooms,” Macal said.

Other students were more open to the idea of alcohol on campus.

“I’m for it. I’d like to get a beer before class,” Gazel Montazeri, graduate mathematics major, said. Sergio Arredondo, junior electrical engineer, said grades might be affected with the introduction of alcohol.

“People would spend their spare time drinking instead of studying,” Arredondo said.

SGA utilized Facebook in the weeks leading up to the vote, Trimm said it was because he knew it could reach more students while taking pressure off the PR budget, which Trimm said is spent quickly.

“One of my friends goes to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and it might be tempting,” Felicia Vera, sophomore criminal justice major, said.

“You can tell whether something is being accepted by the students from the proportion of text messages people get about it,” Timothy Xavier Johnson, SGA Secretary, said. “If you see students circulating the message around, that’s how you know the initiative is really reaching the students.”

Johnson believes that if SGA continuously promotes the importance of student involvement in the organization—down to voting in the polls, eventually UTSA will see an increase in student participation.

“I would always like to see more people participate in the election process,” Johnson said. “This was one of our larger turnouts.”

There’s no way to tell if this hike is a result of the issue, or if these marginally higher voting numbers will continue to rise.

“We think that’s due in part to word of mouth and students campaigning on their own,” Trimm said.

He continued, because of voting registration for state and federal elections, and other annual projects around finals, the PR budget has to be used sparingly.

“We try to use our public relations budget to get input from students on issues that affect their everyday lives at UTSA,” Trimm said.

This could include handing out promotional items like wrist bands in exchange for student input on issues concerning the campus. SGA also invests in informational brochures to spread the word about SGA and its functions.

“Our Student Government would be able to do more for the student body, if we had a more competitive budget,” SGA treasurer Roger Frigstad said. “We had a great student turnout considering it was fall elections.”

Both Frigstad and Johnson said SGA is doing well considering the size of the budget it must use to serve all 30,000 students.

“Our PR funds are allocated correctly and has been spent conservatively,” Frigstad said.

Junior civil engineering major, Amy Hiefner said that she heard about the alcohol at Chilli’s poll the last day of the vote.

“I heard it from a friend and I heard about the proposed fee increase for the shuttle from one of the [shuttle] drivers,” Hiefner said.

GLBTQ of UTSA President Charles Miles said if SGA wishes to better understand the student population and their wishes is to attend meetings for different groups on campus.

“As for alcohol on campus, I think it would be a good thing if it is regulated,” Miles said.