SGA Co-Presidents Reflect on a Year Unlike Any Other

SGA Co-Presidents Noah Sisk '21 and Victoria Tara '21 on campus in early 2020.

Noah Sisk '21 and Victoria Tara '21 adapted priorities to meet changing student needs in the pandemic

Noah Sisk '21 and Victoria Tara '21 campaigned successfully for co-presidents of the Student Government Association (SGA) with the slogan, "Let’s get real." Fresh off a semester in Washington, DC, through Holy Cross' Semester Away Program, the pair used the slogan to illustrate the tangible programs they hoped to enact on campus, from new plans for dining dollars to creating a student liaison to the Office of Title IX and Equal Opportunity. Then the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything, and they began their term as student leaders during remote learning.

"We really felt at the core of our campaign that we wanted to unify the student body and maintain a sense of community, and that became even more critical for us to do when we were all in various locations throughout the country and the world," Tara says, explaining their shift in focus to communication, both among students and between students and the administration.

At Holy Cross, the SGA serves to amplify student voices and promote their interests through events, campaigns and initiatives. Since they weren't on campus, Sisk, a political science and history major, and Tara, a political science and sociology major, turned to social media to make an impact. They communicate with fellow students through the Student Government Association Instagram account, as well as Facebook, emails and video messages.

"We've really tried to meet students exactly where they are, which is, a lot of times, scrolling through Instagram," Sisk says. "We're proud of the fact that we've gained nearly 1,000 followers since we took office in June, all of whom are current students."

In a campus population of just under 3,000, that increase in followers is significant. On the Instagram account, you'll find everything from holiday messages to event announcements. They also create visually engaging graphics with answers to frequently asked questions, which has become increasingly important as students returned to campus this semester and had questions about safety rules and access to facilities.

Sisk says they encourage students to read all College communications, and that the SGA accounts highlight the most important information. "Sometimes that communication goes over in a much stronger way, student to student," he says.

The Holy Cross administration has been a collaborative partner in all of their communication efforts, Sisk and Tara say. When SGA collected questions about the return to campus via a Google Form, they also shared the students' concerns with the administration.

"In our very first meeting with the Vice President and Dean of Students, Dean Murray, she said, 'The year you expect to have will not be the year that you do have.' I think that is true of every pair of co-presidents, but it has probably been the most true for us," Sisk says. "We were elected about two weeks before we got the news [about remote learning] and within that span of time, everything changed. We have had to readjust our expectations of what the year is going to be and make the best of it."

But Sisk and Tara have done more than make the best of the situation; they have innovated. They created a new position in their student Cabinet, a Director of COVID-19 Response and Reopening, and partnered with other student organizations to support the virtual events they hosted during remote learning. And for Cabinet roles focused on services utilized differently during remote learning, like the Directors of SGA Services and the Director of Residence Life, those students pivoted to new efforts, like an appreciation campaign for essential workers on campus. They sent thank you notes to the Holy Cross Facilities and Dining staff and collected testimonials of gratitude shared on Instagram.

Now that students are back on campus for the Spring 2021 semester, the duo is excited to move forward with in-person programming and activities, including the grand opening of the new synthetic SGA Skate Rink and social space that will allow for safe, socially distanced events now and in the future for students to enjoy. And while their term at the helm of SGA has been different than any co-presidents before them, both Sisk and Tara are still gaining leadership and management skills that will be an asset in their careers after they graduate in May 2021.

"A lot of our skills, gained from public speaking on Zoom rather than in the room with faculty members, have helped me become much more comfortable expressing myself and using technology to our advantage," Tara says. "In our campaign, we always said that while we may not have all of the answers, we're here to advocate for the student body and figure things out alongside them, which is something that I'm going to take with me."