Student Senate struggles to find footing within college governance structure

Director of Inter-Residence Affairs Zach Barfield (pictured left), Student Association President Kaitlin Pfundstein (pictured middle) and SA Vice President Adam Hansen (pictured right) participate in the SA Executive Committee meeting. Hansen chairs the Student Senate, which fulfills a legislative function to complement the Executive Committee. (Theo Liu/Assoc. Photo Editor

The Geneseo Student Senate has entered its third semester as the legislative arm of the Student Association. Some students and Student Senators have expressed concerns over the body’s effectiveness. 

The SA Vice President position serves as the chair of the Student Senate, which is currently occupied by biology and political science double major sophomore Adam Hansen. Hansen was appointed to the position of Vice President by SA after former SA Vice President Jarred Okosun stepped down at the end of the fall 2017 semester due to personal reasons, according to Hansen.

Student Senator senior William Garone sees the leadership transition as both a challenge and an opportunity.

“It’s hard when you are a new organization to lose, not so much a guiding figure, but the head [of] the organization,” Garone said. “I think the change is positive. We’re going to have a lot of organization, a lot of structure, but it’s just a matter of getting people back into the Senate and getting more students to come.”

Beyond newer obstacles following the leadership transition, the Student Senate has faced difficulties finding its place in the broader college governance, according to Garone.

“We’re often confused with College Senate, so we’re talking about a rebranding with the name and then also figuring out where exactly we fit in the structure,” Garone said. “From what we understand, it’s our responsibility to contact administrators and to work through that. Whether that will be the same in the future, I don’t know, but that’s where we are right now.”

Student Senator freshman Samantha Koch views the Student Senate’s role as the primary voice of the student body. 

“I think Student Senate works very well. We are the voice of the students,” Koch said. “I think that the wide range of diversity that we have [as the] Senate branches us out to all different areas on-campus.”

One of the Student Senate’s current initiatives is to follow up on a Geneseo Speaks petition from a year ago to add sanitary pad and tampon dispensers to campus bathrooms, according to Hansen. Responding to similar Geneseo Speaks petitions has been an important role of the Senate, Garone said. 

While Student Senators have identified positive developments, Koch noted that the organization has also encountered significant problems due to the slow speed of the governance process.

“Student Senate is a lot about trying to go through formalities and trying to work with the faculty and administration in order to get things done,” Koch said. “It moves at a slower pace than what I think people would want, but if you know how to work the system, it gives you time to implement different ideas.” 

Ultimately, Student Senator junior Alexa Rosario believes that not everyone can be pleased when it comes to the Student Senate’s operations.

“Someone is always going to get hurt when it comes to politics, and this is politics in a nutshell,” she said. “There certainly were a lot of people who were disappointed, and those are the people who end up feeling like their work went in vain, and those are the challenges when something doesn’t go your way.”

Rosario cited the response to former adjunct professor of sociology David Sorbello’s presentation, which many students deemed transphobic, as one area of political difficulty. Due to the outcry from people within the college community, student senators struggled with how to provide a nuanced response to the controversy surrounding Sorbello, Rosario said. 

Hansen wants to prioritize working with the administration to implement Student Senate proposals going forward. Much of the Student Senate’s actions have yet to be fully implemented, Hansen said. Additionally, Hansen indicated the possibility for future changes to the Student Senate. 

“We’re still in our infancy almost of developing and being sort of a model set,” Hansen said. “We are definitely in the process or moving toward that direction of being a more concrete, transparent organization.”