Ollie Gratzinger | opinions editor
As the era of the Student Government Association (SGA)’s 47th Senate comes to a close, President Eric Chatterjee paused to reflect on his accomplishments and struggles over a cup of coffee.
Chatterjee, having campaigned with the People’s Party, was democratically elected last March, defeating United Party’s Ben Long and earning 51.78 percent of the vote. Now, as the election cycle is set to begin anew, Chatterjee will be handing over his gavel to a new president-elect. Overall, he was proud of the things his Senate was able to accomplish.
“The SGA has spent the past year nurturing powerful partnerships with student organizations, the student press, faculty, staff and university administrators to achieve numerous unprecedented accomplishments on behalf of the student body,” Chatterjee said, reading from a statement he’d prepared ahead of time. “From providing start-up funding for a food pantry and promoting well-being on campus to working with faculty and administration to redesign the core curriculum for the 21st century, SGA has proven once again that the student voice is indispensable in foraging relationships that embody the mission statement of the university and the vision of our Spiritan founders.”
The redesigning of Duquesne’s UCOR curriculum is a recent step the SGA has taken to ensure that the university will “stand apart as an innovative, 21st-century institution,” according to Chatterjee. It was one of many projects taken on by SGA with the intention of putting students at the forefront of decision making.
“In addition to that, we had a dean search for the Liberal Arts school, and we reached out to the chairs of different departments in the Liberal Arts school to recommend students to interview those dean candidates,” Chatterjee continued. “In the past, there hasn’t been a lot of student involvement in things like a dean search or the curriculum review, so this is really a powerful statement that speaks to the university’s dedication to putting students first.”
The key, he said, is to “surround yourself with people who believe in you.”
However, the term of the 47th Senate has not been without its flaws. As Chatterjee pointed out, “every student organization has its challenges.”
At a Feb. 10 Student Government meeting, Adviser Trisha Scarcia-King reprimanded members of the organization for alleged misconduct, including bullying and vaping in the SGA office, which is located in the Student Union. The office has been temporarily closed as a result.
Scarcia-King could not divulge specific information regarding student names or exact conduct violations, but in an e-mail statement to The Duke, she said the closure of the SGA office is “the result of discussion with colleagues.”
“Dr. Frizzell, myself and Adam Wasilko have met with all the incoming executive leaders and those serving in elected roles in SGA as well as RHA, Commuter Council, et cetera. During that formal meeting we talked about the role of building effective communication and relationships between students and administrators,” Scarcia-King said. “We are all in student life to help students be successful both at Duquesne University and beyond. As such we also need to ensure that we are providing an effective environment where positive discourse, civility and effective communication will thrive. When this is not taking place, it is up to us as administrators to provide opportunities to improve. When this also does not happen, we need to look at alternative measures, which is what was done in this case.”
Chatterjee said that he “stands by the decision” to close the office.
“SGA leaders are expected to be upholding the university mission statement to the fullest at all times. As I said, every student organization has its struggles but what this did is it sent a very clear message,” he continued. “It is so core to our values as an institution that everybody on campus is expected to respect the dignity of people at all times. In the past, I felt like what that meant was not made clear enough. But going forward, I believe that it will be crystal clear.”
Chatterjee also remarked that he sees a silver lining amid the office’s closure. In place of the office hours that SGA members are typically required to complete, service hours are being implemented in lieu of an office space.
“[SGA members] are actually out in the campus community doing things on behalf of the SGA and the student body instead of being in the office. In some ways, there’s actually a positive to take out of this. SGA members are engaging with the student body more, now,” he said.
In regards to allegations about vaping in the office, Chatterjee says that he recognizes “that there could be medical issues associated with students being exposed to it,” and agrees that “in retrospect, it is not best practice.” He also stated that he believes there “was no malicious intent behind it” and that “there are more important things to put our minds to than a debate over vaping.”
He cites vitriolic national discourse for a catalyst in misbehavior among student leaders.
“Student leaders watch Fox News, they watch CNN, they watch MSNBC and they see the viciousness of our political discourse, and unfortunately, I think that that does have an impact.”
Scarcia-King has hope that the SGA members can and will learn from their mistakes.
“I believe moving forward that the student leaders will create effective communication and avenues for enhanced civility,” she said.
Chatterjee echoed similar sentiments. Now that SGA members have been made well aware of what is expected of them, Chatterjee believes they can better adhere to those expectations in the future.
“I really do believe that this has been a successful year, and that going forward, the new generation of leaders are going to have a sense of optimism and what is possible that is more expansive than we’ve seen in a long time,” he said. “I am confident, looking forward, that the future of the SGA and the student body is going to be a bright one.”
As for when the office will reopen, an exact time has not been set.
“That’s an ongoing conversation right now,” Chatterjee said.
Despite the negatives, Chatterjee wants the 47th Senate to be remembered for its positive impact and involvement, which teamwork and cooperation made possible.
“I want to make it very clear that the SGA this year is so thankful to student organizations, the student press, faculty, staff and administrators for their graciousness in partnering with us to really achieve a better future for Duquesne and to really further the mission statement of the university,” Chatterjee said. “Despite the challenges that we’ve faced, I really do believe that we’re going to continue to nurture those partnerships and that the future of the organization and the student voice is going to be strong.”