Hannah Heisler | Senior Staff Photographer
For incoming first-year students, the first few weeks or months on campus can be a bit overwhelming — especially with the amount of student organizations there are. But one student group, Student Government Board, is here to help students in any way possible.
SGB — which consists of nine elected board members, as well as many appointed committee members — is the governing body of the roughly 18,000 undergraduate students at Pitt. But SGB President Eric Macadangdang said, in reality, SGB is much more than that.
“Our entire work is centered around the interests, issues, ideas and overall welfare of the student population. We act as a bridge between students and administration,” Macadangdang, a rising senior, said. “It’s a community that tries to help build more community. It’s made up of everyday students who want to make a difference.”
Macadangdang started on SGB as a member of the First Year Council, where first-year students have the opportunity to learn leadership skills, how the University operates and serve as mentees to committee chairs.
“It really opened my eyes to how leadership works for students at the University,” Macadangdang said.
As chair of the wellness committee his sophomore year, Macadangdang oversaw programs such as Mental Health Awareness Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month and more. Macadangdang then became a board member and, now, the president. His platform included many initiatives, such as mental health awareness and accessibility.
“It’s been quite a busy term so far. I was officially inaugurated in April, but since then it’s been an honor to have this term be so active and to help students in whatever way we can,” Macadangdang said.
With this academic year looking much different than others, some SGB members have changed their goals. Macadangdang said his goals have changed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and fight against racial injustice on campus. One of his focuses for this year will be to ensure that the administration has a strong student perspective in mind when making decisions.
“How can we respond as the representing body of thousands of students here at Pitt? How can we respond proactively to these moments of crises so that we can help students?” Macadangdang said. “Something that’s imperative is creating stronger alliances and communication between students and administration.”
Macadangdang said SGB is working on a number of initiatives for the upcoming year, such as improving the dining experience and continuing to focus on fossil fuel divestment.
Cedric Humphrey, the executive vice president of SGB, said some of his goals, like getting students payment for internships, have remained relatively consistent. Humphrey also said social justice is a big part of his platform — one of his main goals is making sure that Black students feel safe on campus and that the University is hearing their needs.
“If you have any issues, problems or concerns, SGB is gonna listen to you and hear you and do their best to make sure that change happens,” Humphrey, a rising senior, said. “It’s very difficult for just one student to go to an administrator and make a change happen, but if you work with our student government and other student organizations on campus, it’s a lot easier to make some of those changes happen collaboratively.”
Tyler Viljaste, an SGB vice president and the chief of cabinet, said on-campus dining is something he’s working closely on. The University recently switched to Compass Group, a new dining contractor, and Viljaste said he’s working to help the company settle in.
“We’re looking at ways students might help alleviate some stress coming in and not having access to dining rooms, and making sure that Compass is taking students into mind,” Viljaste, a rising junior, said.
He will also focus on bettering Greek life’s reputation across campus and empowering them to do more philanthropy.
Viljaste is not a newcomer to SGB — like Macadangdang, he was once a member of the First Year Council, and served last year as the chair of the community and government relations committee.
“I’ve always been really passionate about civic engagement and encouraging students to be more active citizens and giving them the resources on how to do that,” Viljaste said.
Ben King, an SGB vice president and the chief of finance, is coming up on his fourth year with SGB. He previously served as a liaison for the allocations committee and as the committee’s chair last year.
“I realized that what really inspired me was all of the student organizations on campus that truly make a difference for their members and the community, and that the best way for me to have an impact was to make sure that these organizations have as much support as possible,” King, a rising senior, said.
King said his original plans for his last year on SGB have been changed by COVID-19. Some of his priorities include looking into representation in board of trustees deliberations and improvements to the Student Organization Resource Center, a key resource for clubs on campus.
“Our main goal, as always, is to ensure that students and our needs are heard and respected at the highest levels of this University,” King said.
Victoria Chuah, a rising junior, is another SGB member. When she campaigned back in the spring, her main goal was to help dance teams and clubs find better practice spaces, after the University banned dance teams from practicing in Posvar Hall.
“The dance groups bring a lot to Pitt and are a big part of the community, so they deserve to have more spaces available to them,” Chuah said.
This incident encouraged Chuah to join SGB so she could interact with the administration. But with the major events that have happened over the past months, she said her platform has changed.
“I don’t know how much I can push for that right now when I don’t even know if the dance clubs will be meeting,” Chuah said. “So my main goal is to be involved with the community and let students know we’re there for them.”
Like Chuah, this is Victor So’s first year on SGB. A rising senior, one of his main goals is working to improve communication between students living in the residence halls and the administration.
Supporting students, especially student leaders, is something Kathryn Fleisher, a rising senior, said she is focusing on. She is working on expanding a student leader database to be able to communicate with student leaders from diverse backgrounds.
This is Fleisher’s first year serving as a board member. She previously served as the executive vice chair of SGB’s community and government relations committee, and is the founder of Not My Generation, a gun violence prevention non-profit.
“I think it’s even more critical at this moment to really know what people need and to meet them where they are,” Fleisher said. “My goals haven’t really changed. For a lot of us, I think the path that we thought we were going to take to accomplish our goals is much different.”
Katie Richmond, a rising junior and first-year SGB member, said she is passionate about mental health resources for students.
“In the past two years, I’ve been observing how Pitt handles stuff and I think there’s so many great things that we have but there’s also a lot of room for improvement,” Richmond said. “I really want to make accessibility more of a thing so that people can find things that they need.”
Annalise Abraham, a rising junior, said she wanted to be part of SGB in order to amplify the voices of student groups and focus on sustainability.
“I’m really interested in seeing how we can make Pitt a more sustainable institution, environmentally, socially and economically,” Abraham said.
Fleisher said SGB is a great resource for any undergraduate student, especially first-years.
“We have our own original programming, but ultimately we try to amplify the work that student leaders are doing,” Fleisher said. “For our first-years just coming in and trying to get a handle on what their Pitt experience is going to look like, I would say utilize SGB.”