Last night was the Student Governing Board’s semesterly town hall, a gathering of the leaders of dozens of student groups to elect a new executive board and decide whether to allow new groups to join SGB. The Student Governing Board (SGB) is an important, if largely unknown, institution at Columbia; created in the aftermath of the 1968 riots, the group represents political, religious, and activist groups.

The biggest story last night was the election of a new executive board. There was some drama: the only candidate for chair ran unopposed, one candidate for treasurer started his speech by announcing he was dropping out to run for a representative slot, and one candidate for vice-chair didn’t show since she’s currently studying abroad in London. She did send a written statement, though, which was convincing enough to get her elected. Congratulations to the new board!

  • Chair: David Fine
  • Vice Chair: Maryam Aziz
  • Secretary: Isaiah New
  • Treasurer: Maliha Tariq
  • Rep: Danielle Arje
  • Rep: Kanak Gupta
  • Rep: Shayna Jones
  • Rep: Mel Meder
  • Rep: David Offit
  • Rep: Nita Ponnaganti
  • Rep: Adam Wilson

SGB also voted to allow seven new groups to join:

  • Columbia Faith in Action – a nondenominational Christian fellowship with ties to seminaries
  • Grupo Quisqueyano – a Dominican cultural and activist group;
  • Columbia International Relations Council & Association (CIRCA) – originally a model UN group, it now also tutors New York City school kids in International Affairs and almost went to dinner with Ahmadinejad
  • Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI) – a self-proclaimed black activist group that opposes “the prison-industrial complex”
  • Student Wellness Project – a group devoted to reforming Columbia’s Health Services and ensuring students achieve wellness
  • CU Public Service Initiative – a mentorship program for students in New York
  • Students Promoting Empowerment and Knowledge (SPEAK) – an activist group that discusses and promotes controversial ethnic studies

One group, Styleta, wasn’t admitted. The SGB executive board claimed that the group wouldn’t be a good fit because they were fashion-oriented rather than service-oriented and the rest of the SGB agreed. Another group, the absurdly named “Sickle Cell Teens Raising Awareness, Initiating Change, Voicing Opinions, and Empowering Themselves” (STRIVE) was granted permission to apply for funding. SGB also discussed their new “A/V Co-op,” created by rep Adam Wilson, which will hopefully allow student groups to rent projectors and computers without dealing with the bureaucracy of Lerner tech.

After the elections, we caught up with the new chair, David Fine, who’s served as editor-in-chief of The Current, Columbia’s magazine of Jewish and contemporary affairs. David praised Barry, admitting, “I’ve got big shoes to fill” and (like everyone else that night) reiterated the importance of SGB’s activist heritage, saying that “the organizations in SGB are the heart of student activism on campus, and I jumped at the opportunity to lead them.”

David’s point about SGB and activism is well-taken, as SGB really sees itself as an important protecter of activism on campus. Like the Activities at Board at Columbia (ABC, which governs non-activist student groups), SGB distributes money from the student councils to their various student groups. But SGB sees itself as much more than just a money spigot; as Chair Barry Weinberg said in his closing speech last night, SGB is both “a community…and an experiment in democratic governance to protect freedom of speech and freedom of association.”

Particularly under Barry’s leadership, there’s been a sense, which was very evident in the speeches given by all the candidates last night, that SGB represents the best of Columbia—passionate students with strong and sometimes controversial beliefs that might not be tolerated outside the university coming together to deal with both the Columbia bureaucracy and the outside world. For instance, the NYPD’s illegal spying on Columbia’s MSA (an SGB group) was brought up multiple times throughout the night, and the VP of MSA was elected SGB’s treasurer.

Under its new board, the SGB will hopefully continue to help student groups navigate obstacles both inside and outside Columbia’s gates.