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Student government president sets sights on snow days, food, residence hall

On February 12, 2019

BY GANNON PACIONI / VN NEWS EDITOR

A growing Student Government Association (SGA) plans to push for improvements to dining and residence halls as well as clarity about school cancelations.

A junior education and English major, SGA president Benjamin Westphal has been on a mission with fellow officials to rebuild the Detroit Mercy chapter in hopes of giving students a stronger outlet for their voices.

“It’s one thing to have an opinion, and it is another thing to have that opinion heard,” said Westphal. “We want to rebrand the SGA and make it a place where students can be heard.”

And the SGA is growing in force.

In recent years, the SGA had a senator board populated by just four students.

Fast-forward a year, Westphal and others have helped resurrect participation. SGA now has 21 participating senators.

“This is huge for us as we rebuild,” Westphal said, adding it “is essential before we can offer ourselves out to students.”

SGA is in the process of re-writing its constitution, which Westphal said will be vital to building its new foundation.

These ideas didn’t come over night.

Over summer, Westphal voluntarily attended a leadership conference at St. Louis University.

In attendance were 20 SGA Jesuit presidents from around the country, all with the main goal of improving their respective chapters.

“This summer was a learning experience for me and filled my tool box with new ways to help enhance our organization as a student resource,” he said.

After being involved with student government in high school and then for over a year at Detroit Mercy, Westphal thinks he has come to understand what student leaders need: not more rules, but a place they can enjoy coming to with their issues.

“For instance, we know food and student residential halls are always an issue, so those are things we are going to address – and fix – as we continue to rebuild,” said Westphal.

While rebuilding, SGA plans to push forward with student involvement, Westphal said.

The first issue on the agenda is set to take place this week.

Westphal has reached out to university President Dr. Antoine M. Garibaldi about the most recent snow- and cold-day cancelations – or lack thereof.

More specifically, Westphal hopes to clear up a gray area by asking Garibaldi to put out a policy to the students that will better define what a snow day is and how it will be communicated.

In January, the campus opened despite sub-zero temperatures and the closure of other nearby universities.

 “I know many people were complaining, and I know I wasn’t happy with it,” said Westphal. “I want to reach out and hear the reasoning behind the decision, and in turn see if we can set up some form of better communications system to inform students what’s going on on campus.”

This summer Westphal will be part of a Detroit Mercy group hosting the National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference (NJSLC) to promote student engagement.

The leadership conference will bring representatives from all 28 U.S. Jesuit schools to Detroit Mercy. More than 500 students are expected to step foot on campus.

“This is a huge project,” he said. “We want all the support we can get.”

As the semester develops, so will Westphal’s ambition.

He plans to step down as president of the SGA at the conclusion of this term.

He hopes to take on a role as vice president and continue to contribute building the organization from the inside out before he leaves the university following his senior year.

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