Few students attend seating forum

Shawntaye Hopkins

They hoped there would have been more.

Student Government Association held a forum Thursday in Downing University Center to discuss plans for a new seating arrangement in Diddle Arena.

At 4:06 p.m., six minutes after the forum was to begin, SGA President Jamie Sears and SGA Executive Vice President John Bradley knew the show had to go on, although they were faced with a problem they’d seen before.

Only four students showed up.

The students who arrived heard about the new seating plans in Diddle Arena. The proposed seating plan will give students 380 more seats in sections 108, 109, 110, 211, 212, 214, 215 and half of section 300. Students will also have seats under the goals on both sides of the arena.

Sears said this is the first year SGA has held forums since she arrived on the Hill. There were three forums last semester but all had weak crowds.

“Forums were an executive council goal to open up ties of communication between (the) administration and students,” Sears said.

Sears said it may take some time for students to understand that administrators want to hear about their problems and concerns.

She was disappointed in the turnout at the Diddle seating forum but added the forum was set up very quickly. She apologizes to students who may not have had adequate notice.

But low-turnouts won’t keep the organization from holding future forums, Sears said.

Sarah Pequignot, a senior from Herdon, VA., was one of the four students who showed up for the forum. She attended because she’s a huge basketball fan.

“I thought it was something I needed to have a voice in,” she said. “It’s disappointing (SGA) goes through the effort to put forums together for students and students don’t show.”

Pequignot said she doesn’t know why students don’t attend forums but said it could have something to do with the time or location.

“In terms of peaking students interest, I don’t know what SGA could do,” she said.

But Sears and company aren’t alone in their situation. Other student government groups across the state have faced similar problems.

Three years ago, the University of Kentucky’s Student Government stopped having forums due to a lack of student participation. They began using a more direct approach to get students’ ideas instead, said Edwin Orange, assistant to the president of UK’s SGA. SGA members go to students at events or organizations and ask them what they think about certain topics.

Rick Curtsinger, chief of staff for SGA at the University of Louisville, said although it’s a tough task, UofL’s SGA continues to hold forums to get student input.

But rather than counting on fliers and advertisements, members seek out other organizations’ leaders.

“Hit student leaders on campus so they can pass the word along,” Curtsinger said.

He said UofL’s SGA also doesn’t stop with just one forum. They hold an initial forum to spark interests and then hold additional forums. He said word gets around, and the follow-up crowds are usually larger.

He said UofL, which reported 14,475 undergraduate students last semester, typically has about 100 students for each forum.

Western reported 15,234 undergraduate students.

Northern Kentucky University’s SGA president Katie Herschede said her organization doesn’t typically have forums because getting students to participate is rough.

Northern hosted a parking forum last semester, and 50 students attended.

When Western hosted a parking forum in September, only 40 students attended, despite the many parking complaints by students.

Although the reason students don’t show up at forums still isn’t clear, Pequignot said attending them can make students feel more involved and proud of their university.

“It’s hard to have pride in something you feel like you haven’t contributed to,” she said.

Sears said SGA might consider sending out postcards informing students about future forums. SGA will hold at least three more forums this semester.

She said she remains optimistic that forum attendance will improve since the discussions are valuable for everyone involved.

“(Four) students know now what they didn’t know yesterday,” Sears said.

Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]