Behind the Scenes of the Board of Trustees

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Published February 27, 2019
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The Montclarion
Freshman Fathia Balgahoom (left) shadows the position of student trustee currently held by Nikita Williams (right) in Williams' office. Sam Carliner | The Montclarion

A lesser-known position within Montclair State University’s Student Government Association (SGA) gives two students the opportunity to serve as a bridge of communication between the student community and the school’s administration.

The two students currently in this position have been working since the start of the fall 2018 semester to build a stronger bridge between Montclair State students and administrators.

One of the trustees, junior psychology major Nikita Williams, feels the position has been hard work but has been worth it. She explained how she and the other student trustee, Cierra Watts, have pushed themselves to be the better advocates for all students.

“Coming into this position and throughout, I’ve always had the idea that I’m a student trustee and I’m a student first; I represent the students as my primary interest,” Williams said. “I would sleep a lot more if we just showed up to the meetings and called it a day instead of forcing ourselves to learn. I would rather be seen as a student advocate than just that really young face on the board of trustees.”

The board of trustees consists of 13 volunteer members, most of which come from the business world and are in or approaching retirement.

They use their background in business primarily to determine how Montclair State will budget and use its money. State law requires all public universities to have two student members on their board of trustees to ensure student perspectives are considered in financial decisions.

Both Williams and Watts have been making use of their position. Upon learning about issues with how the state government distributes funding for higher education, they created a network of student trustees at various schools throughout the state, such as Ramapo College and The College of New Jersey.

Their goal is to coordinate a collective push from students at many universities that could convince the state government to better fund public universities and offer more support for students with financial disadvantages.

Williams and Watts have also been trying to get more students to come to the board of trustees annual tuition hearing, which will take place on Wednesday, April 11. The hearing is an opportunity for students to voice their concerns about the cost of tuition either in person or by submitting comments in advance to be read at the hearing.

To counteract the routinely low turnout, Williams has been emailing student organizations, primarily advocacy and activism-based ones, like Black Student Union and Femvolution, to encourage more students to speak at the hearing.

Williams explained the importance of having student perspectives at these hearings.

“I think the idea that a lot of students get is that the meetings are just kind of lip service, or that the meetings actually won’t impact anything, and I don’t think that’s true,” Williams said. “The board members are either retired or they are in full-time jobs. They don’t come to campus a lot. They volunteer their time. They’re not paid for this position, so they don’t know the ins and outs of being a Montclair State student.”

A shadowing program allows students interested in a position at the SGA to meet with people like Williams and observe the work they do.

Williams hopes to see more students running for the position of student trustee at the upcoming SGA elections. Fathia Balgahoom, a freshmen studying history, is currently shadowing Williams for the positioning and considering running in the upcoming SGA elections.

Balgahoom explained that shadowing Williams has increased her interest in the position.

“I know that they’re starting to run and do elections, and I’m debating about running for board of trustees,” Balgahoom said. “I absolutely love the position. I love what she’s taught me about what they do.”

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