I had a chance to speak with incoming Student Government (SGA) president Kyla Engleman, a Western junior studying English with double minors in Biology and Psychology. This is Engleman’s second year with SGA, after serving as secretary for the 2021-22 school year.
Our conversation, edited for clarity and length, is presented below.
Brian Wagenaar: So, is it becoming real? The fact that the fall semester is about to start and you will take the reins as SGA President?
Kyla Engleman: Definitely. I decided to take a step back from my role with Gunnison Valley Health to take some time to work on SGA — my priority right now is definitely SGA.
BW: What does that look like, in terms of the pre-semester prep?
KE: I’ve been meeting with a bunch of different people to get a foot in the door. Recently, I met with SGA’s Executive Board and we just went over how we want the beginning of the year to look, and when we want to do our training with the student government.
We do also have some positions that we need to fill, so we outlined how we want our fall elections to work — what positions are missing so we can make sure we are filling the gaps (editor’s note: see the end of this piece for information on how to apply for SGA).
BW: So, what are the roles SGA needs to fill?
KE: If I’m counting correctly, we have five open senator positions right now. We also have the secretary position, the campus recreation ambassador, and the Honors ambassador. Those last three are appointed positions, so you’ll apply and then we’ll review your resume and conduct an interview and determine who we want to appoint.
The campus recreation and Honors positions are typically more of internal decisions where they determine who they want us to appoint, but they still go through that process.
BW: I remember director of LEAD and Orientation Sara Phillips noting that SGA participation had been on a kind of positive rebound — do you think that’s true from your perspective?
KE: I would say that SGA is on a bit of a positive rebound, we’re starting with more members than we did last year, and I think there’s more interest. I also think that we need to do better about communicating with our students that we’re here for them, and that it’s a place that people can be.
BW: Why did you initially come to SGA?
KE: I didn’t run my freshman year honestly just to give some space to my brother (note: Kyla’s brother is Adam Engleman, who served in SGA four years and became president for the 2021-22 academic year). I also wanted to have a feel for Western before I jumped into a leadership position right away, and I think that was a good call. I came in during 2020 with Covid-19, and it was just a lot.
Last year, I was talking to Dean Gary Pierson, and he mentioned that there was a secretary position open and that I would be really good for it — I went ahead and applied, and they inducted me in the fall of 2021.
BW: Are there accomplishments or things you worked on last year that particularly stand out to you?
KE: In my secretary role, I’m proud of how I organized our internal SGA drives, with access to all the bills we’ve written in the past. Not that it had been done poorly in the past, it just needed a deeper look. I spent a lot of my time on that, and that was really my role.
Last year, we did quite a few events and sponsored quite a few organizations. I feel really proud of SGA’s willingness to get involved with the community, and make sure people are being supported in terms of mental health and supporting SafeRide.
BW: Are there certain things that are top of mind for you regarding priorities for this upcoming year?
KE: I think that a big initiative that we should always be working on is our communication with the student body, and reevaluating what works best and how to ensure everyone knows what’s going on.
BW: Do you think there could be more effort to advertise the openness of SGA meetings?
KE: Absolutely, and that’s something I would like to work with orientation leaders on — letting our incoming students know that we are here, and we are going to be tabling at the upcoming resource fair.
And we will just continue to inform everyone that our general assembly meetings, along with our senate and advisory meetings, are open to the public and the student body — and we want input to come in.
I would love feedback on how to make that a more inclusive and welcoming space, because I know it can be uncomfortable to come to our meetings, and hard to sit there the whole time with how long our meetings can go — it’s a pretty large commitment.
The SGA meetings for 2021 and 2021 were all online, and coming back to in-person we lost a lot of our student participation. Rebuilding that participation will be a focus this year, because we do need more student voices in there.
There was one meeting where we were discussing what amendments we wanted to make to our SGA Constitution and bylaws, and we had a bunch of students in there from the Multicultural Center (MCC), which was super helpful to have an outside perspective. When there isn’t that participation, it can be hard to know how to vote without that feedback.
BW: I wanted to ask you about the topic of that particular session. How do you feel about limiting the ability of clubs who receive SGA funds to charge for student events? (editor’s note: we covered this issue in an SGA recap last year if you’d like to learn more)
KE: Last year we had some good conversations, and I understood where the students from the MCC were coming from regarding how to make their events work logistically and financially.
I think there was some confusion in the wording that SGA presented, particularly around the idea of making it a suggestion to make SGA-sponsored club events free for students.
That’s coming from the perspective that each student is paying a student activities fee and an SGA fee each semester. I know it’s $110.30, and SGA helps designate that money to our various subcommittees, and then those subcommittees (including Interclub Council, the Multicultural Center, and the Council for Creative Expression) determine which clubs then get how much money.
Understanding that every student is paying into this big pot, and that we have this money set aside for student activities and student events, it’s hard to ask students to then pay more. It adds up — if you go to two events that are $10 or $15, you’re then paying $150 effectively for just one semester.
I would say that student clubs should try to keep student activities free if they are being sponsored by SGA through one of those subcommittees.
With the wording we initially had last year, we were asking these SGA-sponsored groups to come to SGA and propose their event ideas, along with how much they would charge for these events, and how it would work financially. Then SGA could have some oversight and monitoring on how much clubs are charging students for events and activities, so that we could use extra money to help put on these events with no extra cost to students.
When you look at the fees more broadly, there’s also the athletics fee, which is an additional $129. So just to go to campus events, students are actually paying quite a bit.
BW: I wanted to ask about those SGA fees, which are tied to the broader tuition rates. Do you think it might be worth considering raising fees? What would you say if someone were to come and advocate for raising SGA fees?
KE: I think it’s a bit hard to say. In the past, we’ve had clubs and organizations roll over money into the next year. This comes back to the ticketing system. If you’re paying for an event in full with all the money you make from tickets, and you still have — let’s say, $500 — and that rolls into the next few years and then soon you’re sitting on $10,000.
It’s hard to ask students to pay more into SGA fees when clubs’ reserves are high, and that was part of the motivation of limiting how often students pay for events. I think the student activity fees should continue to align with our tuition increases. My fee last semester was $106.80, and this semester it’s $110.30, which I feel is reasonable.
It definitely comes down to your perception of if you’re using your investment in the student activities fee by going to campus events. I don’t see us raising the activity fee, but it really depends on how successful campus events are, and if those events end up requiring more money. It is something that I think will need to be reevaluated year to year.
BW: I wanted to ask you about security cameras, which are being installed in parking lots. Do you have a personal view on where cameras should be on campus — considering privacy concerns? Should they go beyond parking lots into dorms or academic buildings?
KE: I think it’s hard for me to speak from a personal level, just because I had a personal on-campus housing exemption and lived with my parents. I think having the security cameras in parking lots is a good idea, and should be pursued because a lot of the incidents that happen occur in the parking lots.
I think concerns of privacy in the dorms are completely valid, and I think students who live on campus should have an opportunity to voice their concerns. I also think we’re at a point financially where focusing on outside cameras makes sense — where there are less concerns around privacy. That’s the first step, and then this conversation can continue on regarding inside cameras.
BW: Are there any issues on campus that you think don’t receive enough attention?
KE: Again, campus communication is a huge student concern. As a student, I want to know what my options are for events. Even just simple things — like last semester we had some faculty issues — having those notifications be easier to access, and not having everything go to your email. Also, posting events on a centralized calendar, not just in the bathrooms.
Hopefully, we can improve our campus communication, but I would love to hear any student concerns as they come up throughout the year.
BW: Why should students join SGA?
KE: I think that SGA is a great place to find your people. When you’re in student government, you’re talking to every group on campus. Maybe not directly, but you hear about their events and what’s going on from a representative.
Also, you just understand what’s going on regarding campus on a larger note — updates from the Board of Trustees that I will give to members as the student trustee, for example. Really just understanding the climate of discussion outside of the student body.
SGA also talked a lot about the housing crisis, and how that impacts students. Now, being on the Board of Trustees I’m hearing about staffing concerns, and how that relates back to the housing crisis. You really see how different areas of your lives are connected, and how these issues trickle down and impact students.
As a student, I think it’s crucial to understand something as simple as where your money is going for your SGA fees. You also get a lot of enhancement — practicing skills like communication, public speaking, and understanding government. The skills I’ve taken away in communication and planning are really crucial for life.
BW: What’s your favorite part of going to Western?
KE: It’s definitely living in the Gunnison Valley — I’ve lived here my whole life, and it was the reason I chose Western — to stay home and live here. The opportunities that our communities are willing to provide for us is the best part of Western, and I would encourage students to look outside Western and participate in the community.
Everyone in the community wants Western students involved, because we’re young, able, and willing to learn, so nonprofits like Tough Enough to Wear Pink, GVAWL, and the Gunnison Country Food Pantry can really benefit from student involvement.
BW: Is there a particular event or events that you enjoy in the valley, or at Western?
KE: I’m on the Cattlemen’s Days committee, and I love the rodeo and that community. Western wise, I really loved Springfest this year, and helped to plan that event. I also really love Western’s sports games — watching women’s volleyball and our football games.
BW: Is there anything else readers should know about you, or about SGA?
KE: We’re going to be holding elections for senators, and applications for our appointed positions will be open soon. So if you’re interested in applying — or have any questions — don’t hesitate to reach out to the SGA email at email@example.com, which I’m checking every other day.
The SGA applications will be open in late August and early September, and voting will take place likely the second week of September, and Dean Gary Pierson will be sending out an announcement email.
Students can also reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions — I’d love to chat.