Southeast Missouri State University student publication

SGA drives change throughout decades

Wednesday, March 8, 2023
A photo of the very first student government on campus. Founded in 1946, they held the name Student Council far before they where the SGA of today.
Photo courtesy of SEMO Archives

The Student Government Association may not have been as old as SEMO, but the organization has served as a key player in helping the university tackle social issues. SGA has had a hand in a number of major decisions related to social issues throughout the years.

Two major examples include creating a more politically-correct mascot and establishing a resource center related to sexual identity.

“2005 was kind of a big year for student government and the university,” said Director of Campus Life Michelle Irby. “That year, they passed funding to build the Aquatic Center. It was the time in our history when we became the Redhawks as opposed to the Indians, [and the Student Government Association] also created a fee that was meant to be spent for student events and activities.”

Irby said SGA has always had a good track record of starting necessary conversations around social issues and enacting change.

In 2014, SGA began the conversation about creating a new program for LGBTQ+ students on SEMO's campus. The SGA treasurer at that time was a major driver in that effort.

“He did a lot of research, and because of his position on student government, [he] had access to administration and really encouraged conversations that then led to the resource center and even developed an endowed scholarship to be given in the name of the LGBTQ community.”

Former Board of Governors president Ed Gargas served as SGA president from 1989 to 1990. That year, a new Gay and Lesbian Student Association (GLSA) sought SGA funding, a move Gargas said was controversial.

“Back in the late ‘80s, that was kind of a big deal,” he said. “What we ultimately decided was, ‘Look, there is a process for any and all student organizations, and they followed the procedures, and we cannot Discriminate.’”

Gargas said SGA’s role is to allow organizations to speak for themselves and to give them the resources and platform to do so. By doing this, SGA allowed voices to be heard, voices that formed organizations that have led to multiple identity-related organizations on campus today.

Current SGA president Joel Philpott said part of what SGA is doing now is reaching out to students to provide them the opportunity to make their own mark on SEMO.

“I have the privilege of being part of and helping run University Affairs,” Philpott said. “For us, it's making sure organizations have the resources they need, whether that be through help with registration through Campus Life to funding for events.”

Officers of Student Government pose for a picture taken in 1989. From this point onward, the organization would have and hold the name Student Government, creating what it is today.
Photo courtesy of SEMO Archives

Philpott said even if it's in the background, the role SGA plays in making the lives of students easier is an important one and has helped to make the organization what it is today.

As SEMO celebrates 150 years of history, Philpott said he looks forward to the future and seeing the relationship SGA has share with students growing stronger.