On any given day, Student Government Association Executive President Darien Flowers will receive a phone call from the Office of the President requesting a meeting and one from a freshman complaining about a strange smell in Smith residence hall. He’ll respond to the countless emails he receives on a daily basis, he’ll attend meeting after meeting and he’ll spend a few hours in his office in Moseley catching up on SGA-related work. All of this as a full-time student set to graduate in the spring.
Flowers is just one in a long line of SGA leaders who work both in the spotlight and behind the scenes to represent a student body of almost 5,000, direct campus policy and distribute money among student organizations.
“Amongst our peer institutions in the Southern Conference, my counterparts at other schools do not have the same opportunities to provide the kind of counsel that (SGA) does to the administration or to really have the administrative independence that we operate under,” Flowers said.
Since he first became involved with the SGA three and a half years ago as a freshman, Flowers said he has witnessed both a blossoming within the constituency representation and in the appreciation for the organization’s role in student life.
“I think when I first came, the faculty did not really understand what our role was,” Flowers said. “Over the years, with faculty, SGA has become more pervasive in their relationships with the community and I think we’ve done a lot to show faculty what we actually do and show that we’re a resource.”
While SGA does work with a faculty adviser, Jana Lynn Patterson, the decision making is left entirely up to the student-run organization. While Patterson ensures they pay close attention to the governing documents, including a constitution and by-laws, she encourages SGA representatives to pay heed to different perspectives, while not dictating their decisions.
“It’s a student organization, these are their decisions to make and, as long as they’re acting within the university’s guidelines and their own guidelines, my role is to help facilitate their decision making process, not make the decision for them,” Patterson said.
Elon’s SGA includes a total of four councils — Executive, At-Large, Academic and Organizational — all of which include popularly elected seats and carry equal weight in the SGA Senate, with one vote per senator. The Senate meets at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays in Moseley. Elected in February, representatives take office April 1 and hold their positions for one year.
Patterson said her favorite part of working with the more than 50 students on staff has been helping them embrace their role as student leaders on Elon’s campus.
“We talk about the ethics of representation and I’ve seen them do some pretty amazing things,” she said. “It’s helping them look at bigger issues and engaging with them around their concern for their student community.”
Flowers has been involved with SGA in some way since his first semester on Elon’s campus, when he ran for class senator. He said the experience has been crucial in developing his own style of effective leadership.
“That’s the biggest asset to my development,” he said. “The opportunity to see a wide variety of leadership styles and hone them down into what I think is the most effective.”
Matters of money
According to Executive Treasurer Welsford Bishopric, this year SGA had a total of $505, 284 — half of the money collected through student activity fees — to allocate among student organizations. Allocation of funds is a long and intense process, Flowers said, which he compared to testifying before Congress.
“It is an extensive process,” Flowers said. “That week in March is a long week for the executive treasurer and I think it requires the most work out of the four positions, preparing those meetings and then presenting the budget.”
In March, the SGA budget committee has individual meetings with every student organization requesting funds to review their budget and funding requests.
“This is a time for (organizations) to be advocates for themselves and answer, ‘Why do we need these funds?’” Flowers said.
The initial decision reached by the budget committee must then be presented to the Senate for a vote.
“The budget committee is only advisory,” Flowers said. “We make recommendations but there have been times when I have seen the Senate alter both up and down the allocations given to organizations.”
Once the two rounds of budget hearings are complete and the budget approved, the money is available for use by student organizations. There is another route available for the organizations who might have missed budget hearings or require extra funds.
Requests up to $499 require only an executive allocation, which is approved by the executive council and Patterson, without requiring the approval of the Senate. Requests for more than $500 require the advice and counsel of the SGA Senate prior to final approval.
Patterson said she believes there is some confusion about the role of SGA with finances on Elon’s campus.
“This is a critical role,” Patterson said. “I don’t think people understand the care they take to do it and the thinking they put into it.”
Impact on campus
Spend more than 30 or so minutes in Flowers’ office and it’s likely he’ll pause the conversation, at least once, for an incoming phone call or email. In many cases, it’s coming straight from the Office of President Leo Lambert, looking to chat with the SGA president about pertinent issues on campus.
“I can say that both formally and informally, I and my colleagues give advice and counsel to the administration on a wide variety of topics,” Flowers said. “What we say and what we give our advice on is heard with open ears and is given thoughtful consideration.”
Since Patterson arrived at Elon and became involved with SGA almost three decades ago, she said the impact of SGA on the daily decisions of campus often goes unnoticed. She referenced past recommendations — such as price per meal swipe being too high and parking on campus — that have drastically influenced the direction the administration eventually takes.
“I think people feel like they only do it on these big issues that are brought to them externally but they do it every week,” she said. “They really do represent people’s opinions but, unless it’s a salacious issue, people don’t understand.”
One such issue which has recently dominated discussion on campus and among SGA is the future of Chick-fil-A on Elon’s campus. Spectrum, Elon’s queer-straight alliance, has submitted SGA legislation that calls for the removal of the franchise because of donations to anti-gay groups. While approved in a vote of 35-11 by the Senate, Flowers vetoed the legislation in a Sunday press conference. At the time of publication, the Senate had not overturned the veto, which is possible with a two-thirds vote.
While Flowers said the administration has asked for SGA’s input on the matter, he is not sure how much sway SGA will have on the final decision.
“We have given our opinions as the Executive Staff, but this is one of those situations where it will go to the full Senate,” Flowers said. “But even after the outcome, I’m not sure how they’re going to decide.”
While Flowers cannot remember a comparable circumstance involving such tense discussions during the time he’s been on campus, he said the administration takes the input of the Senate and Executive Council seriously.
“I think often, nine out of 10 times, whatever our recommendation is is what the administration goes for,” Flowers said. “Because, they say, ‘You are the duly-elected representatives and, through your proxy, this is what the students want.’”