A Seat At the Table: TGG's Editorial Board Interviews SGA President
GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY IN QATAR (Oct. 24, 2022) Near the end of the Fall ‘22 semester, The Georgetown Gazette had a chance to sit down with Student Government Association (SGA) President Benjamin Kurian ‘23, in an interview regarding all that there is to know about the SGA— particularly their roles and responsibilities within the GU-Q community. In this interview, The Gazette asked questions on the organization's internal structure, processes, projects it handled in the past, as well as future plans for the community. Pres. Kurian starts the interview with a brief description of the organization by stating “It's basically the elected representatives for the student body in Georgetown University in Qatar”. He also noted that one feature that sets the GU-Q SGA apart from other student government organizations is that they are able to implement changes and possess a significant voice within the administration. He further highlights this by sharing that the SGA works closely with the university departments for the betterment of student life and that the SGA works to serve as the voice of the student body while also overseeing student concerns. These, along with the implementation of new policies is what the organization revolves around— as Pres. Kurian says, “Everything for the betterment of student life.”
As for the general structure of the SGA, he mentions that the organization currently has 11 members, which are divided into class representatives (composed of two students per class) and an executive board (composed of the president, vice-president, and public relations officer). As per the SGA’s constitution, the president is the sole position that possesses decision-making powers and is responsible for running the organization as a whole. However, with regards to voting on these decisions, he explains that the SGA is presently working on being able to implement this constitutionally— hopefully, once the next semester rolls around, “We would like everyone to have a say in matters [that concern the GU-Q student body]”. As such, for the time being, Pres. Kurian notes that during their weekly Tuesday meetings, the SGA conducts their discussions democratically, opening decision-making to all members of the organization. He also shares that it’s during these meetings that they discuss concerns that may have been raised by each class via their respective representatives and talk about the set agenda. The president also expressed, “Usually, the class representative who raised the issue will be the one to investigate the matter”. Nevertheless, he mentioned that it is still under the discretion of the president to assign members for specific cases if they see fit. As an example of the procedure for developing solutions, he mentioned concerns regarding women’s gym hours, where senior representatives were required to look into the issue since they were the ones to raise it. After their research and findings, the representatives brought it up with the rest of the members and were then referred to Human Resources in order to meet up and collaborate on a policy for the issue. He adds that, regarding decision-making, until the new constitution has taken effect, they do not have a set voting procedure however they rely on what the majority of the organization members stand with— specifically if a concern should be further investigated or what solutions are most efficient.
Besides the division of the executive board and the representatives, Pres. Kurian mentions that the SGA is also separated into the Student Activities Commission (SAC) and the Student Liaison Committee (SLC), the SLC being recently added under the SGA— where SGA members are often asked which organization they wish to participate in.
He continues to explain SLC by stating, “It’s a meeting with all the GU-Q departments, [with the members being] the Dean’s office, Academic Affairs, Office of Academic Services (OAS), the Registrar’s Office, Finance Office, Admissions Office, Office of Student Life, Facilities Management, Office of Information Technology (IT), [and] the Library … that is when we raise concerns.” The president continues by explaining that during meetings of the SLC, students' concerns are directed to the appropriate department, while other members also join the conversation to form solutions. A recent issue that was dealt with in the SLC was parking spaces for students and concerns over the Qatar Foundation (QF) tram. Through the SLC, they are able to reach staff and departments who can directly contact organizations outside of GU-Q (e.g., QF) in order to give solutions or the needed advisory. He adds that the SLC meets every bi-weekly, on Thursdays, and is also chaired by the SGA president while the public relations officer (PRO), Areesha Fatima ‘25, serves as the deputy chair. Pres. Benjamin Kurian and Fatima are the ones who set the agenda and topics to be discussed.
Parallel to the SLC is SAC, which is presently chaired by the SGA vice president, Mohammad Jaski ‘25. Pres. Kurian explains, “there are currently 5 representatives from the SGA in SAC … the SAC receives SAC proposals from clubs if [they] want to fund an event because every [GU-Q] student pays the student activities fee along with the tuition … [and] SAC monitors those fundings to ensure that they’re used in a proper manner”. Every member has a specific task to complete and the organization meets every Monday. There are approximately 50 clubs at present and most of them propose events— all of which go through SAC. In order to accept an event, SAC consults a rubric that asks if it follows the club’s goals and values, or if the event details are acceptable. SAC currently runs under the voting procedure and, under the decision of the SGA vice president, events can either be accepted or tabled for revisions. Pres. Kurian also notes, “At the end of the day, we are catering for the students … and they have the right to host events. If everything is perfect, they should go for it”. Speaking on the gravity of the work, he adds, “Everyone does their very best for the students. We try to get as [many] things done so we don’t fall behind or fall short of expectations”.
In response to a question regarding how the SGA functions as a whole, Pres. Kurian explains that the SGA offers careful consideration of the relevance of what is discussed in meetings while noting that SAC members are expected to sign confidentiality agreements. The President goes on to state that some of the questions which frame the SGA’s objectives include, “How can we move forward? How can we bring the community together? How can we reach out to the wider EC community?”.
Pres. Kurian further emphasized the role of GU-Q Deans such as Dean Brendan Hill and Dean Safwan M. Masri in developing the SGA’s goals and efforts. He states, “Dean Masri, Dean Vicky Kynourgiopoulou, Dean Hill, Dr. John Wright— all these people, they are here for the students … and as the SGA President if I have been able to do anything —till this point, it is because of them.”
In regards to whether the SGA receives external advisory or if it is entirely student-run, Pres. Kurian responds by explaining that the SGA does have a Student Development Officer (SDO), currently Uday Rosario, whom they may consult on certain matters from time to time. An example of a matter on which the SGA recently turned to the SDO for consultation included policies concerning Red Square.
In the final weeks of the Fall ‘22 semester, representatives from the SGA, including those of SAC and SLC, sat outside Red Square to receive complaints and concerns raised by the students. This particular initiative was attributed by Pres. Kurian to Rep. Rodolfo Munoz Carnedas and Rep. Ilgar Gapagov who represent the Class of 2023 and Class of 2024 respectively. The initiative was successful, claims the President, as multiple students and even professors came forth to share their concerns and openly communicate with the SGA about how it may help improve student life.
SGA Pres. Kurian proceeds to acknowledge GUQ SGA’s initiative in hosting the Education City (EC) SGA Meeting at the GU-Q campus, inviting student government leaders from across all of the EC universities to discuss cross-university student concerns. Pres. Kurian acknowledges the contribution of the meeting in resulting in productive plans on the events-side and the changes on the policy-side. Besides the EC-wide collaboration, Pres. Kurian also mentioned connecting with the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA), the student government in GU Main Campus, saying that “Bridging the gap between Main Campus and Qatar Campus [contributes to] bringing the community together.” Adding onto the ‘One Georgetown’ collaboration, the president also mentions connecting with the GU-Q-based graduate students, who are currently continuing their studies at Main Campus, about assisting GU-Q students in preparing and applying for graduate school. “We’ve established a base over here. We’ve established the connections, we just have to build on it,” the president adds.
In addition to the projects in progress and the significance of such plans to the student body, the importance of incorporating the student body in such discussions was emphasized. To this, Pres. Kurian says that if there are concerns that students might have about the SGA, “Students have the ultimate power if you feel like you are not being represented or you are not being heard.” He says that if a concern extends to a majority of the students in a certain batch, then they can send an email communicating the issue with him. The concerns will be shared during the SGA meeting, where the individual-in-question will be placed in a “trial” where they can have the ability to speak on the issue before proceeding into a vote on whether the member will be removed from the SGA or not. On the other hand, if there are issues with the SGA president, then the issue must be resolved through the SGA adviser. Consequently, if the gravity of the complaint is serious, then the board will not go into a voting process and the member will immediately be impeached.
This information reflects the sentiments of the SGA to be more transparent about its decisions and actions to the student body. Pres. Kurian says that in order to promote constant communication with the student body on updates on certain SGA projects and student-raised issues, the SGA is currently working on making a website where all the minutes of SGA meetings will be published for accessibility to the student body.
In addition to all of these initiatives, the SGA is also working alongside the GU-Q Sustainability Committee on a focus group aiming to create more sustainability-focused projects around campus.
“One thing that differentiates Georgetown students from other university students is the way we behave with each other –the way we treat the service providers and other members in a kind manner… helps us grow as a community,” says Pres. Kurian. He reminds the student body of the role of the SGA stating, “We are here to listen to you. We are here to represent you. What I need the students to do is to come to us freely,” he adds, “...We are not solely based on academics –academics is a part of it– but there’s something else that Georgetown students gain by the time they graduate, the Georgetown values… all these values are incorporated into us with or without us knowing it. If there is one way we can improve campus life or cut down the barriers that we have, it is simply to talk.”