‘Informal conversations with influential people’

Gauri Raje, News Editor

 In an interview with The Paisano last week, Student Government Association (SGA) President Jasmin Paquet-Durand Ford reflected on the past year, recounting the organization’s triumphs, changes in its constitution and working to bridge the gap between the university and students.

“I would say overall, the past year has been wonderful. It has been challenging on a personal level [and] it [has] been challenging on an organizational level … but I am really proud of everyone in the organization,” Paquet-Durand Ford said. 

Visibility on Campus

In her interview with The Paisano last year, Paquet-Durand Ford expressed the desire to increase Student Government’s interaction with students.

Having joined SGA during the pandemic, when many of the organization’s operations were conducted online, Paquet-Durand Ford explained that coming back in person benefitted the organization’s visibility and engagement with students.

One of the ways that the organization has worked on increasing engagement under Paquet-Durand Ford’s leadership is through tabling. The organization also co-hosted a watch party for the UT Austin vs. UTSA football game last semester. According to Paquet-Durand Ford, this was a great way to connect with students in a more informal setting. 

“[The watch party] was about creating that sense of community and belonging as we all come together and [saying] ‘Oh, by the way, we are student government,’ as an afternote,” Paquet-Durand Ford said.

The organization’s liaisons have also been beneficial in keeping the organization informed about various departments or organizations at the university while also conveying information from SGA back to their respective departments and organizations. Currently, SGA has several liaisons, including a student veterans association liaison, a student athletics liaison and a student disability liaison.

“They have done a lot in terms of bringing that information to us and keeping us in the loop, and also [sharing what we do] with their colleagues,” Paquet-Durand Ford said. 

Finally, the organization has increased its social media presence over the last year. 

“I think [social media] only goes so far, but for this generation, [in] today’s day and age, that is definitely one of the most effective ways for us to engage with students,” Paquet-Durand Ford said. 

Elections and Student Voter Turnout

Apart from day-to-day engagement, student voter turnout for SGA elections tends to be considerably low compared to the university’s total student population. A total of 744 students — 2.45% of the student body — participated in SGA’s spring elections last year. With the spring 2023 election cycle approaching, Paquet-Durand Ford addressed this low turnout.

“We are always trying to get students to vote during our elections,” Paquet-Durand Ford said. “Every single year [we do] programming to try and increase student turnout in that voting process, and we learn from previous years, so we try [to] take that [and] adapt for the next year.”

A lot of the strategies mentioned above, like tabling and social media campaigns, are utilized to encourage students to vote. SGA also has an election commission, whose primary goals include increasing student turnout. 

Changes to Constitution

The creation of an election commission is one of the changes that was made as a part of SGA’s new constitution, which was adopted in the spring of 2022. The process of drafting the constitution was undertaken by the members of SGA at the time and members of other organizations that SGA works closely with. A committee was formed to rewrite the constitution. What followed was several months of “collaborative, back and forth feedback [and] discussion,” engaging with the committee and members of SGA’s legislative and executive branches. 

In the end, the final draft was signed off on by the Dean of Students — LT Robinson — and President Taylor Eighmy. Furthermore, according to Article XIII, Section 2 of the Constitution, titled “Ratification,” a new constitution is ratified upon approval of the 2/3 majority of the SGA General Assembly, Chief Student Affairs Officer of UTSA, simple majority approval of the UTSA student body and the UTSA President.

Paquet-Durand Ford explained that the reasoning behind the decision to undertake this long and tedious process boiled down to efficiency. 

Under the new constitution, SGA has an expanded team with more positions in an effort to allocate duties that have remained unassigned so far. There was also an effort to equalize obligations and responsibilities allocated to positions. The roles of the Vice President and the Speaker of the Senate also changed under the new Constitution. Furthermore, the organization now has an internal affairs committee for attendance disputes and overseeing in-house elections among other things.

Bridging the Gap

As the SGA President Paquet-Durand Ford is faced with the responsibility of accurately representing students to university officials.

“It is a constantly evolving process,” Paquet-Durand Ford said. “I am constantly re-evaluating how to ger better feedback and to communicate that effectively. One thing that I do not take lightly is the fact that I do have access to these individuals, and a lot of my work is informal conversations with influential people. Just sharing student experiences. I have to have my ear to the ground and have my thumb on the pulse of the student population.”

Given UTSA’s large student body, Paquet-Durand Ford acknowledged the difficulty of the process, adding that she ensures she is available to engage with students and listen to their experiences. 

“I heavily rely on my team and organization also to expand [the] network of feedback that we are getting,” Paquet-Durand Ford said.

One of the most common ways for students to engage and get in touch with Paquet-Durand Ford or any of the other SGA members is through the organization’s general assemblies every other Thursday. Every meeting has an open forum at the beginning, as mandated by the constitution. Other ways include social media and email. Students can also attend legislative committee sessions and office hours held by stipend-eligible members of SGA. 

Stipend-eligible offices

As mentioned above, certain members of SGA are eligible to receive a stipend. The new constitution expanded stipend-eligible officers to include the four legislative chairs to compensate them for their work. Other positions that receive a stipend include the president, the vice president, the treasurer, the speaker of the senate, the deputy speaker, the executive director and the chief of staff.

“If we want people in those positions who represent the UTSA student population, then finance should not be a barrier to that,” Paquet-Durand Ford said. “I do not think that they should be expected to volunteer their time because that limits who can hold those positions.”

Stipends are paid out in two payments — one per semester. The amount that each position holder receives varies and is laid out in the bylaws

If an individual does not carry out their duties, they are not eligible for the full stipend, and a stipend reduction process is put in place. This is a way to ensure that individuals holding stipend-eligible positions carry out their duties and responsibilities as required. 

In the event that an individual does not carry out their duties properly, the executive team, the SGA advisor and the individual are consulted. There are also specific bylaws that are being drafted for situations like this. If there is an egregious neglect of duty, an individual can also be impeached. 

“One of my responsibilities [throughout the entire year] is to make sure that my team and everyone they oversee is doing what they need to do,” Paquet-Durand Ford. “So, if somebody has not fulfilled the duties of their office, I take responsibility in part of that.”

“I hold weekly executive meetings with all of my executive members, and every single one of them has to give me updates,” Paquet-Durand Ford said. “I have weekly meetings with my chairs [to do the same thing] and weekly meetings with the directors [that I attend every other week].”

On the other hand, if an individual feels like they have “gone above and beyond,” they can request an increase in stipend by following the required procedure. 


Funds for stipend-eligible positions make up less than 25% of SGA’s total budget, which comes from the student activities fee. The fee is $16.18 per semester credit hour, with a maximum of $194.16 per semester.

As a part of the new constitution, the financial affairs committee, chaired by the treasurer, and consisting of SGA senators, drafts a budget for the year outlining where funds will be allocated. This includes funding for programming, outreach and legislation. 

The budget is updated by the financial affairs committee as the year progresses. The treasurer is required to give an update on the budget every month. The next update is scheduled for the Feb. 23 general meeting.