Story by Sarah Brewer
Video by Pascal Garoute
Members of the Student Government Associations (SGA) across Oklahoma convened from Feb. 22 to Feb. 23 at Cameron University to discuss issues in higher education and appoint students to leadership positions during the 32nd Oklahoma Student Government Association (OSGA) Spring Congress.
Designed by students, staffed by students and funded by students, OSGA is a nonpartisan student advocacy association. Because the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education recognizes and works closely with OSGA, the decisions and policies put forward through Spring Congress have the potential to affect change.
Colten Kennedy, a senior double-majoring in History and Mathematics and serving as the president of the CU SGA, was responsible for applying to make CU the host for Spring Congress. Kennedy said OSGA serves as a vehicle to voice the concerns of the constituents each student leader represents.
“What we try to do here is basically be a sounding board for students — if we see something that we want, or if we approve of something, we can pass legislation that says, ‘we agree with this,’ or ‘no, we don’t agree with this’ or ‘we’d like to change this,’” Kennedy said. “If we can effectively communicate their perspective on critical issues, then we’re doing a really good job, and so that’s what we’re striving for.”
In addition to committee meetings and elections, the OSGA itinerary also featured Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon (R), former State Regent of Higher Education Bill Burgess, Jr., and former Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins as guest speakers.
Bill W. Burgess, Jr. is the senior partner of Burgess & Hightower Law Firm, the owner and publisher of The Lawton Constitution and the civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army. He also serves as chairman of the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce. He graduated from Cameron University with a Bachelor of Arts, and while studying at CU, he served as SGA President for two years.[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/61022683/[/vimeo]
Burgess spoke to students during dinner on the evening of Feb. 23. He said OSGA provides students the opportunity to work with others that have opposing perspectives and teaches aspiring leaders how to build fervor for their ideas.
“I think that in any kind of collaborative effort where you get to work with a lot of different people, you learn how to take your ideas or ideas that you think are good ideas for the future of either Cameron or for southwest Oklahoma or Oklahoma, you try to figure out a way to create enthusiasm in other people for those ideas — because that is really what government is all about,” Burgess said.
The next speaker — Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon (R) — discussed the role of government and politics during a fireside chat with students on the same evening. Speaker Shannon earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from CU and holds a Juris Doctorate from Oklahoma City University Law School. In 2006, he was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Seven years later, on Jan. 8, he took the oath of office to be Oklahoma’s Speaker of the House.
Speaker Shannon urged students to keep their egos in check, as well as focus on maintaining relationships with others.
“When you see someone excel above you, it’s very easy to allow that green bean of envy to start creeping its head up,” Speaker Shannon said. “If you figure out what you’re good at, it helps you to celebrate other people’s gifts and talents. Figure out what you’re good at — it helps everything else and the things you’re not good at — accept and hone that, too.”
Jari Askins stressed the importance of offering guidance to students during the OSGA luncheon. Askins was the 15th Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma. She was the second female to govern the state and the first Democratic female to hold that position.
“I think it is incumbent on you to be aware of opportunities to mentor others so that they will understand that they are capable of doing what they want,” Askins said. “It may not be running for SGA; it may just be getting through day.”
Justin Barrick, a Business Management senior currently handles CU SGA proceedings as its Sergeant of Arms. Barrick was elected the Southwest Regional Director of OSGA — a position on the board of directors where he will communicate and be responsible for a quarter of the schools in Oklahoma Barrick also participated in a session where students proposed a resolution calling for the banishment all firearms on Oklahoma colleges and universities.
Though the resolution did not pass, Barrick said the debate that ensued showed that students were engrossed in making changes for the betterment of their respective schools.
“It was a very heated debate – it actually got turned down; it did not pass. There was opposing sides, and it went back and forth,” Barrick said. “I think it proved well for OSGA to have a bill that had that much f lame in it that got everybody involved — passionately debating and expressing both sides on the bill.”
Barrick said that students was enjoyed their Spring Congress experience at CU.
“We welcomed them and we got excellent speakers that came to speak to us that were just outstanding, and I am proud that Cameron was able to host such a warm and welcoming event for not only the speakers, but for everybody who was able to come and participate in OSGA.”