When someone brings up the topic of SGA, many of UMBC’s students and faculty may immediately think of the heated scandals that have plagued the campus in recent years. This, tied with generally polarizing politics in America, may keep UMBC’s members from really trusting and taking any interesting in SGA and what they do on campus. However, it is important to remember that, despite what has happened in the past few years, the original intent and purpose of SGA is still one that is positive and empowering for its students.
We seem to forget how expansive SGA is and how, at the end of the day, it is still comprised of a group of everyday students with personal interests and ideas working for the good of the campus. This is what Valerie Parks explained as she reminisced about her time serving in SGA.
Parks graduated from UMBC in spring 2015, having majored in financial economics, minored in Spanish and earned certificates in financial accounting and managerial accounting. Parks also spent all four of her years at UMBC in an SGA seat after being inspired to join by her fellow Honors College friends during her second semester as a freshman. That semester, she became an SGA senator. Her sophomore year, she became speaker of the senate. The following year, she became the assistant Prove-It coordinator and during her senior year she was vice president to Ganesh Mysore.
“It was definitely a balancing act,” Parks said when speaking about juggling four years of SGA work and her academic work. She went on to explain that the skills that she had learned in SGA, especially administration systems and balancing different kinds of work, were well worth the stressful days that she experienced.
She claimed that she was never alone when her SGA work became stressful. “There was always someone there who had my back and would be willing to pull some of the weight if I was struggling and I would do the same for them,” she said. She went on to explain that even though there was always some natural friction between members, SGA was always, first and foremost, a cohesive family, despite whatever scandals and drama have gone down in recent years.
“Like anything else, SGA does and will always have room for improvement and change,” Parks stated. When asked if there were specific things that Parks would change about SGA, she quickly responded, “The way elections are run, student integrity and accountability for the way candidates conduct themselves in their campaigns. People who cannot go against these ideals are the reason that people view SGA in such a bad light.”
Comparing election races when she was an underclassman to what they have been in recent years, Parks said, “Over in D-Hall, the last three nights before elections were always extremely intense, but it was never in a negative sense. Election culture shouldn’t be a bad thing, rather, something that people can enjoy.”
Parks looks back on her four years serving in SGA in a redemptive and hopeful light. “SGA really is full of people who care a lot of about UMBC. For example, one of my big projects during my time as senator was working with the Muslim Student Association to get halal in the Commons, but I was only their guide. MSA did all of the work,” she said. “A big philosophy in SGA is that we are there to empower the students do achieve what they want, not what we want.”
When asked if there was one thing she wanted to leave our readers with, Parks said, “It is amazing to come back two years later and see things that I got to help establish. SGA has a lot of potential and it gives the students a lot potential as well. In the past few years, UMBC has seen a very bad side of SGA. Please do not hold on to this bad impression of SGA. They were my community, my supporters and my family.”
Minutes after this remark, Parks scrolled through old election photos, laughing and smiling at every new photo. She came across a particular campaign photo with a Retriever statue, Ganesh and herself. “Yeah,” she said smiling, “we really had some good times.”