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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

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Greek Life bill opens SGA to more specific groups


Student Government Association College of Natural Science & Mathematics Sen. Tomas Bryan created the Greek Life Standing Committee Bill, which was passed at the end of 2018. | Courtesy of Tomas Bryan

During the last Student Government Association meeting of 2018, the creation of the Greek Life SGA Standing Committee bill was passed, but not without pushback.

When the bill was brought up for discussion, senators began to talk over one another, leading to an unmoderated caucus that allowed senators to talk without raising their placards or waiting for each other to finish speaking.

In the end, the bill passed and the creator, College of Natural Science & Mathematics Sen. Tomas Bryan, hopes his fellow senators can move past the argument it brought on and look to the positives it could lead to within SGA.

“I think that this does actually allow more committees to be formed, and I do actually foresee committees like this entering into the SGA and I think that’s a great thing,” Bryan said. “The ability to pinpoint the fact that this right here is happening, maybe we can help this group or that group in a certain way. I think that’s what it’s really about.”

Critics disagree that this was the best course of action to address the problems at hand. College of Engineering Sen. Aristotle Economon was the most vocal opponent to the bill during the voting process and was one of the four who voted against it.

“The first part of the Greek Life bill, that opens the door to these new types of committees, is quite beneficial — especially down the road when the right cause or group comes up,” Economon said. “However, bundling the creation of these new subcommittees with one specifically for fraternities and sororities, who have no real pressing needs that concern the SGA or can’t be resolved through the Center for Student Life, was a big mistake.”

Economon believes SGA should reach out to groups on campus, demonstrate their willingness to work with them and encourage them to practice their civic involvement with SGA instead.

“The solution to getting people more engaged with SGA is not creating a special committee for every interest group we can think of,” Economon said. “That course only leads to a dilution of serious issues and needless overhead.”

Reason for legislation

The main question that arose from the original debate was, “Why Greek life specifically?”

“What this bill does, by creating an action group just for fraternity and sorority issues and concerns, is overtly signal the Senate’s favoritism for Greek life students over others on campus,” Economon said.

Bryan disagrees. He says he did not pick Greek life out of favoritism, but instead for a three-fold reason. The first reason is because of the established nature and prominence of Greek life on campus, in addition to their involvement in school-sponsored activities and campus life.

“A lot of people come to a college campus and they automatically know, ‘Hey, I want to join Greek life, where do I sign up,'” Bryan said.

The next reason is because of the negative connotation associated with Greek life due to things like hazing, Bryan said. Not all Greek life participates in these events, and he hopes that having this subcommittee will stop these occurrences on campus before they start, Bryan said.

Lastly, Greek life makes up 3 percent of the campus population, roughly 1,300 students, which is a significant portion, Bryan said. He believes these reasons make the group a good starting point to opening up SGA to deal with more specific problems concerning certain facets of the student population.

“We as the Senate should not be needlessly favoring one-twentieth of UH’s students over much larger groups on campus,” Economon said.

Critics of the bill pointed out that on-campus Greek life already has a center solely dedicated to it. The Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life is a major fee-funded organization with a budget of over $350,000 per year that represents the interests of students involved on campus.

“Catering to special interests goes against the SGA’s mandate to improve outcomes for all students at UH,” Economon said.

SGA President Cameron Barrett said he sees all sides of the argument and that critics are fair in their arguments, but he believes that if it does not hurt the student population then it should not be a big deal.

“I try and think of net effect,” Barrett said. “Does having a select committee on Greek life have a net negative effect on students? My answer to that is just no, of course not, it’s just a way to connect to a certain group.”

The subcommittee would be the sixth within SGA and the first tailored toward a specific group. The bill is broad, Bryan said, and he structured it that way on purpose. The subcommittee was not formed for a specific reason outside serving and representing the Greek life community.

“The only way these committees can get dissolved is their purpose has been achieved, so when we’ve achieved our goal or the next Senate decides the goal isn’t reasonable, it could be dissolved, but I don’t foresee that happening,” Bryan said. “I think that with the way the committee is set up right now, we’re going to have it where we have more Greek life representation.”

Bryan worked on the bill with the director of the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life Jason Bergeron and the five Greek council presidents. They agreed that they want the subcommittee to focus on making Greek life a driving force behind student engagement and involvement while keeping Greek life values in mind.

The subcommittee will hopefully be enacted by the end of February, Bryan said.

“This is for Greek life, this is not for the Senate,” Bryan said. “We already have committees, we want to be able to better represent you and your needs, so we’re going to see what they want and kind of mix and match.”

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