A government “for the people and by the people” is an important part a college campus. Students put their trust into their peers to make sure their best interests are carried out within the system. Within The State University of New York, this is known as the Student Association/Assembly or simply SA. Each semester various students rise to the occasion and take on these challenging positions with the hopes of creating new initiatives and opportunities for students on their campuses. SA is also a great platform for students who actually have an interest in government and politics and would like to see and be a part of the behind the scenes work.
SA handles a variety of different matters that affect the students of their respective campuses. These include representing students before university administration, providing resources for students, managing student groups, fighting to ensure a safe campus environment, organizing concerts and events, and generally serving as the unified voice to advocate for student interests.
One step above the regular SA on every SUNY campus is the SUNY SA (Student Assembly), which is “an organization comprised of student leaders elected by their peers from across SUNY’s 64 campuses-committed to student life and ensuring the representation of its members.” Established in 1973, SUNY SA has a few major purposes which include being a forum for the exchange of information between students, the Chancellor, and University board on matters that directly affect students and being a communication network for campus student government leaders. SUNYSA also aims to draw together undergraduate and graduate student representation.
SUNY SA is comprised of an executive board that includes the President Lori Mould, Vice President Thomas Mastro, Treasurer Robert Drumm and Secretary Sarah Lasky. It also contains an Executive Cabinet, Executive committee made up of delegates and representatives from SUNY campuses, advisors and liaisons.
Marc Cohen, Senior Director of External Relations on the Executive Cabinet (and a junior at the Honors College at the University at Albany) spoke with us in-depth about what SUNYSA does for all SUNY students.
How is SUNYSA different from the SA’s on each separate SUNY campus?
SUNYSA is more than just a student government. One of our main goals is to foster system wide consensus and equal representation both internally and externally.
Internally, we focus a great deal of effort on military affairs, equity and inclusion, and sustainability initiatives. These provide the framework for our constant march towards university wide student success. SUNY has a unique strength in numbers that no other university system in the nation can compare to. Therein, we try our best to make sure that we are working toward the utmost level of “systemness”.
Externally, SUNYSA has one of the most prominent student advocacy teams, currently under our office of external relations (comprised of Communications and Government Relations). Each year we develop a legislative agenda that outlines our basic advocacy framework. The issues within this agenda are critical to the continued success within SUNY. Throughout the year, additional items are often added. For example, this year we advocated for restoration funding to vital programs like EOP. Not only did we get the $1.3 million restoration, we also saw an increase in overall EOP funding of more than $4 million.
In short, we are here to represent a broader range of interests; interests cogent to the success of 64 campuses and half a million students. Our constituency is more than 10 times larger than any other student government in the entire system.
One of SUNYSA’s tasks was to work with SUNY System Admin in “creating a passport type program that would allow students to attend events at and around other SUNY campuses”. Can you explain why SUNYSA wants to implement such as program?
Chancellor Zimpher has been very active in promoting a sense of “systemness”. This entails a sense of shared community as a SUNY student whether you attend Delhi or FIT. This is an idea that we in SUNYSA have been very supportive of. The passport system is an opportunity for us to break down the barriers between our campuses and work towards a common identity.
What is SUNYSA doing to fix the gap between undergraduate and graduate student needs?
One of the unique aspects of SUNYSA is that we grant representation to all students, regardless of where they may be in their educational careers. In our full Assembly, we have population based representation. We have several outstanding voting delegates from Graduate Schools who very actively contribute thoughts, ideas, and formal resolutions on behalf of those that they represent. We strongly support a culture of inclusion between graduate and undergraduate students. Many of the members of the Executive Committee are graduate students which helps us as an organization to understand the diverse interests between the two camps.
How does SUNYSA aid the average SUNY student?
SUNYSA is THE voice of SUNY students across the state. Unfortunately, so few people recognize the impact that our organization has or even know that we exist. Some prominent examples of our presence on every campus are as follows:
Understanding how the SUNY Student Government/Assembly works shows us that EVERY SUNY student can potentially benefit from EVERY good idea. Visit sunysa.org to learn more about the Student Assembly of The State University of New York.
Atiba was an intern with SUNY's Office of New Media, who became a University at Albany graduate in English with a minor in Communications.