By Sarah Siock
As a tour guide, former orientation leader and longtime Student Government Association (SGA) member, Elizabeth O’Hara is a familiar face on Rider’s campus. O’Hara hopes that her presence on campus as an involved student will help her succeed in her newest role as SGA president. O’Hara plans to rejuvenate SGA by amplifying student voices, promoting accountability and welcoming the campus community back to in-person learning.
“SGA members have established relationships with people that allow us to amplify the student voice and fight for change at almost every level. So I wanted to not only increase the visibility of SGA but have an accessible way for students to share those concerns with us,” said the senior computer science major.
O’Hara was elected president last spring and acknowledged the current SGA administration’s unique challenge of building relationships with students who have spent little time on campus.
“We’re in a weird situation now because we have two full classes of undergrad students that have really never touched campus. Then our junior class was here for maybe three quarters of the year before COVID happened and then were sent home,” said O’Hara, who joined SGA her freshman year.
O’Hara wants to address students’ concerns about returning to campus by promoting the “Rider experience” that was missing through online learning. She explained that since the start of the pandemic, student involvement has declined. O’Hara said upperclassmen will play a role in helping new students become involved.
“SGA has been very intentional of joining all welcome week events to make ourselves visible and approachable to new students. …We want to try and have our student leaders that are about to graduate really take the underclassmen under their wing and show them the ropes and help them feel confident in the new positions that they will be taking on,” said O’Hara.
Senior criminal justice major and SGA Executive Vice President Athena Skirianos added that she ran for a leadership position to help support students’ transition to in-person learning.
“That transition is going to be a lot, and I want to be at the forefront of that. I want students to feel like they can come to us and be comfortable and get their voice heard,” Skirianos said.
Holding the administration accountable
SGA members have the opportunity to speak with administrators more often than the average student, and O’Hara aims to make these conversations more transparent to the student body. She pointed to the previous SGA administration’s attempt to secure student voting rights in committees that control academic governance at the university; O’Hara said this initiative will continue.
“We should have a commitment to students to follow through on what we say we’re going to do. That’s how we are going to build trust with the student body. So just being very transparent on initiative progress. The other side of that would be holding the administration accountable, to keep us informed on projects that are affecting our quality of life here, especially ones that happened behind closed doors …” said O’Hara. “A lot of the times in our SGA roles, we get asked for feedback about the student experience and they want to know what’s happening there. … I think we need SGA to do a better job of following up on what we say and make sure that what we say is actually going to influence the change that happens within whatever area of the university that we had discussed.”
Conversations with the student body
After an emotionally exhausting year and a half, O’Hara explained that students’ mental health will be at the forefront of SGA’s agenda. Currently, SGA is participating in an external review of the counseling center at Rider. O’Hara said in the coming weeks, SGA will be launching a counseling center survey for current students and recent alumni to share their experience with the counseling center.
“I thought that we need more representation, especially when it comes to something like counseling services or mental health,” said O’Hara.
With an SGA administration mixed with both long-standing members and newcomers, O’Hara hopes they will bring a fresh perspective and an open dialogue with students. Both O’Hara and Skirianos encouraged students to attend SGA’s weekly senate meetings every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Sweigart Hall.
“I want our relationship to be as communicative as possible. I would love to hear students’ opinions on anything because I want everyone to be as pleased as possible.” Skirianos said. “College is a major experience in our life. In order to have the best experience, you need to share your opinion as much as you can.”