SGB reflects, looks ahead


Thomas J. Yang

Under President Max Kneis, SGB has covered major issues from medical amnesty to offering alternatives to the rising costs of textbooks. (Photo by Thomas Yang | Visual Editor)

By Madeline Gavatorta | Staff Writer

As Student Government Board’s incoming president last year, Max Kneis said he wanted to improve collaboration and engagement with SGB. Now as outgoing president one year later, Kneis said the number of applications for SGB positions shows how he’s achieved this.

“I think we continue to have more students involved with our committees than we have in the past. Nothing that we had that was open to applicants went uncontested,” Kneis said. “And I’m excited to see how our committees will engage you and more students next year.”

SGB, a student governing board of nine elected positions and several ad hoc and standing committees, meets publicly every week to discuss current student affairs and address community concerns. The board gets its power from the $80 student activity fee each semester, which it allocates to Pitt clubs and organizations. This year the board allocated $862,854.39 of about $900,000. SGB also passed bills that changed SGB’s internal structure and resolutions to push the University or government toward certain positions.

2017-2018 Student Government Board

In Kneis’ time as president, SGB took stances on major issues including defending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and pushing elected officials to approve the Pennsylvania state budget.

Looking back on the school year, Kneis said one of his favorite events was a phone banking event SGB held for students to call elected officials and urge them to pass a state budget in October. SGB organized it in less than 48 business hours, and students made more than 300 calls over the course of three days.

“The legislators heard directly from the people most impacted by their decision, which are the students, and put some added pressure on them to act and drew some great publicity towards the whole issue of the state not funding the higher education institutions,” Kneis said.

SGB also pressed lawmakers to take action regarding current medical amnesty laws. It passed a resolution calling on the Pennsylvania legislature to increase protection for those experiencing an alcoholic crisis. Under current Pennsylvania law, if an underaged person is experiencing an alcohol-related medical emergency and someone calls for them to get help, the caller is immune from legal consequences but the subject in need is not.

Due to recent incidents in Pennsylvania, such as alleged hazing in the Pitt sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, the Pennsylvania State Senate unanimously passed a bill April 18 making hazing a felony. Kneis noted that there’s a provision in the bill that touches on medical amnesty, but only with hazing.

“But it’s a step in the right direction, and as people are having these conversations, as that bill goes through the house, as that bill gets marked up,” he said.

SGB also spearheaded efforts to expand open educational resources, such as PDF textbooks at Pitt. A resolution, introduced in January, called for the University to prioritize cutting textbooks costs in the coming years.

Executive Vice President Zuri Kent-Smith held three drives in October 2017 inviting students to sign letters of support for DACA, which were then sent to elected officials. He also held the immigrant-focused Human Rights Conference and served as a member of the SGB’s Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, which SGB made a permanent standing committee this year.

Vice President and Chief of Finance Maddie Guido — who also served on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee — worked on an allocations how-to video, a comprehensive student organization manual and Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week.

“I think to have the discussion of sexual and reproductive health is extremely, extremely important,” Guido said. “We want to make sure students are really comfortable asking questions and seeking out seeking out sexual resources.”

Guido invited the Pitt community to join this conversation and organized the University’s second annual Women’s Empowerment Week in March. The initiative brought together Pitt community members and student leaders to promote female empowerment and discuss an intersectional approach to gender rights and equality.

Krish Patel, SGB’s vice president and chief of cabinet, worked on advising for pre-health students and helped with Sustainability Week.

[Sustainability] touches each and every person and every field of work,” Patel said in an email. “There is always a way to improve a concept or technique and make it more efficient and sustainable.

SGB also hosted a Campus Master Plan meeting and made the Rave Guardian app — which allows users to share their location with a friend or guardian when they feel in danger — available to students.

In addition, SGB pushed Pitt to change the finals week rescheduling rule for next school year. Under current rules, Pitt says that if a student has three finals in the same day, they may reschedule one. With the change for next year, if three finals are within 24 hours of each other, a student may reschedule one.

2018-2019 Student Government Board

SGB President-elect Maggie Kennedy — the current SGB wellness chair — campaigned with the Horizon slate. The slate advocated for expanding the Dietrich school requirement that students complete one course promoting diversity to all other schools. It also wants to improve the campus shuttle system and revamp new student orientation to focus on signs of unhealthy relationships and rape culture.

“Things like jokes or comments that really perpetuate dangerous gender roles and make people feel objectified or dehumanized in any way definitely contribute to a larger culture of violence,” Kennedy said.

President-elect Maggie Kennedy plans for SGB push to revamp new-student orientation and improving the shuttle system on campus. (Photo by Thomas Yang | Visual Editor)

Jahari Mercer, executive vice president-elect, said Kennedy is confident and holds true to her principles. He campaigned on a platform of expanding wellness resources during midterms and diversity and inclusion information.

“It’s all about education. It takes time, but the main thing is just kind of explaining to people that there are people that are different,” Mercer said.

Jessa Chong, the current community and government relations chair and next vice president and chief of cabinet, campaigned with the Horizon slate to improve Pitt’s relationship with outside communities and to expand and advertise Career Development and Placement Assistance resources.

Cory Stillman, current allocations committee chair and upcoming vice president and chief of finance, campaigned for the creation of an LGBTQ+ center, a better understanding of the allocations process among student groups, an increase in research and career opportunities in the arts and a food delivery system for students.

“As the [allocations committee] chair, I worked to more consistently communicate dates and deadlines relevant to the Allocations process, and I hope to find more creative ways to promote it next year as the chief of finance,” Stillman said in an email.

Kneis said he is excited to see what next year’s board will do and accomplish — and Kennedy agreed.

“This year has been super busy but super rewarding at the same time,” Kennedy said. “I think it all went well and how I hoped it would, and I’m really excited for the incoming board.”

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