JMU’s Student Government Association hosted a town hall event Tuesday night in Madison Union. SGA senators appeared at six locations around campus and allowed students to send their questions through a questionnaire during the meeting.
The senators addressed topics such as on- and off-campus safety, vegan options at dining halls, ways to address sexual assault, concerns about the bus schedule and environmental sustainability on campus.
Senior psychology major Brianna Rinaldi asked a question about a referendum on the decriminalization of marijuana, which was created by SGA. It asks for student input so it can lobby for the decriminalization of marijuana and the expungement of past convictions for JMU students.
“I think that JMU, before too long, is going to have to change their policies on it, especially since it’s an issue that’s really relevant in higher education,” Rinaldi said. “Kids can lose all of their FAFSA funding because of a marijuana charge, and it disproportionately affects low-income students.”
One of the goals SGA had for this event was to be more transparent to students, Aaliyah McLean, a senior media arts and design major and executive president of SGA, said. Senators said they want the public to know that SGA doesn’t exist to advocate for its own goals, but for the goals of the student body.
“I think that separates our personal interests from what the students actually need and gives us the chance to actually hear that out and do it,” McLean said.
McLean and Mikayla Dukes, a junior political science major and executive vice president of SGA, formed a new program, Listen and Lead. The purpose of this program is to allow members to meet students and form connections with them instead of waiting for students to approach them with their concerns. Even if students can’t attend SGA meetings, they want to hear students’ feedback.
“I think, in the past, we’ve done a lot of internal discussion in regards to student issues, and we haven’t necessarily been as open as we should have been,” Dukes said. “We would make assumptions on what the student body needs.”
Senior sociology major Westley Smith asked a question about environmental sustainability and how JMU is working to address this issue. He asked after a professor posed a question to him about what he can do as an individual to raise awareness about sustainable practices.
“I’m very concerned in general about the environment,” Smith said. “[SGA has] fallen back on their policies, and I wanted to ask if there’s a way we can address that and move forward.”
Many of the questions at the event were asked using the questionnaire that made its way through campus. SGA also made it clear at the event that it wants students to attend its meetings each week so their voices can be heard.
“Our main job is to advocate for students,” McLean said. “If we actually don’t know what students want, how can we do that?”
Contact Matthew Sasser at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.