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SA hosts pizza dinners to connect with student organizations

Tim Biondo | Photographer
SJ Matthews, the SA president-elect, said the dinners are the first step to improve weak relationships between student organizations and the SA.

The Student Association is trying to strengthen its connections with student organizations by sharing meals.

SA leaders are holding three pizza dinners in the Marvin Center this month to provide student organizations with an open forum to air comments and ask questions about how the SA functions and supports student organizations. Student organization members who attended the first dinner Thursday said the dinners show that SA leaders are taking steps to seek student feedback and improve transparency.

“One of the goals of the dinners is that people feel like they have a point of contact for someone in the SA now and that there is a general sense that people do care about the organization and want to hear and advocate for students in the organizations,” Soni Chaturvedi, the SA vice president for student activities who organized the dinners, said.

Nine students at Thursday’s dinner represented more than three student organizations, including Epsilon Sigma Alpha, the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association and the GW Parliamentary Debate Society. Two additional dinners, which are advertised on the SA Facebook page, will be held in the Marvin Center Tuesday and Thursday.

Chaturvedi said the hour-and-a-half-long dinners are hosted to create a casual space where students feel comfortable interacting with members of the SA outside of office hours.

“I think sometimes there’s a disconnect between students and the SA, and maybe that was apparent with our last election,” she said.

The incoming SA president and executive vice president plan to increase transparency between students and the SA after 1,500 voters backed a write-in candidate who ran on a platform to eradicate the organization during SA elections earlier this month.

Chaturvedi said the dinners ensure student organizations are “given credit” for dedicating time and effort to their organizations. Organization members at the dinner Thursday highlighted the work their groups focus on, like community service and fundraising, to inform SA leaders about the purposes of each student organization.

Yannik Omictin, the SA’s chief of cabinet who helped plan the dinners, said the gatherings allow students to familiarize themselves with the SA and inquire and share concerns about issues the SA handles. Students attending Thursday’s dinner asked SA leaders how they tackle matters like funding and passing legislation.

He said offering a place for organizations to form connections with other students groups and the SA will create a “cohesive” community on campus. Omictin said he hopes future SA leaders continue hosting the dinners next academic year.

“Soni and I really wanted to emphasize the fact that we are not some cabal of government nerds in a room in Marvin writing proposals and policies that no one but a select group of people get to see,” Omicitin said. “That’s not us. That’s never been us.”

SJ Matthews, the SA president-elect, said the dinners are the first step to improve weak relationships between students and the SA that surfaced in the last election. She said the events encourage discussion about issues that affect organizations on campus, like budget allocations the SA Senate finance committee will decide later this month and co-sponsorships.

“It is showing that the SA has heard the complaints and that we’re willing to do something about them,” Matthews said.

Mel Mengesha, the president of the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association who attended the dinner Thursday, said the organization previously did not have “any sort of relationship” with the SA but felt the SA “supported” the organization’s goals this academic year, which improved its attitudes toward the SA.

Mengesha said she attended Thursday’s dinner to meet Matthews and ask how elected SA leaders plan to maintain support for her organization’s events, like a benefit dinner raising money for children with autism and an Ethiopian new year celebration.

She said SA leaders’ efforts to acquaint themselves with the students they represent allow student groups to offer feedback about how the SA can best support them. She said EESA hopes the new SA continues to support her organization and the identities the club represents, both with funding and by attending the organization’s events.

“I think it definitely creates and fosters a positive community between the two organizations,” she said.

Gaurav Gawankar, a member of the GW Parliamentary Debate Society who attended the dinner Thursday, said the dinners demonstrate the benefits of maintaining a healthy relationship with student organizations.

“I think it’s pretty easy to demonize the SA, so having the chance to meet with members knowing they are also trying hard to do their jobs just as we are trying hard to do our jobs in our capacity in student organizations, it’s important,” he said.

Lizzie Mintz contributed reporting.

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