MACOMB – The Western Illinois University Student Government Association held its third annual State of the Student address on Tuesday afternoon on the third floor auditorium of Sherman Hall. The theme of this address is “Why We Stay,” encouraging students towards a commitment of supporting their university above personal goals.
In preparation for this address, pamphlets were circulated chronicling the academic, athletic and social experiences of Western Illinois students. Student Representative to the Board of Trustees Wil Gradle and SGA President and President Elect for 2018-2019 Grant Reed shared their experiences.
In his opening remarks, Gradle said the state of the student address is an event started three years ago with a clear purpose: “To talk directly to students, the university and community about the challenges imposed on the university by the state of Illinois and the budget impasse.”
Gradle said it was clear the problems facing the university are external and were “out of our control,” and that now nearly a year after receiving a reduced state budget “higher education is still reeling from the effects of the impasse.” “But the problems facing our community are no longer completely out of our control,” he said.
Commenting that people are “tired” of the divisiveness and infighting that comes from the uncertain future brought about by the economic impasse, Gradle reminded everyone that the university has changed. This is an opportunity, he said, for the students to “try new things, explore new disciplines, to grow as a community. Higher education is changing, and we must decide to change with it.”
Returning to the theme of this address, Gradle said, “For me personally, it presents an interesting question. When I walked across the commencement stage last night, I had the chance to go off and start a new adventure or stay and continue my studies at WIU. Much of the same challenges that exist today were equally burdensome a year ago. So, the question is: Why did I stay?”
“I can see through the partisanship of campus politics, Western’s potential is as strong as it ever was,” Gradle said. “If we managed to get out of our own way, many of our problems could subside. I could see that most of the faculty and staff didn’t support the most divisive among them, and I could see that most people wanted to create a campus (which) centered itself on the achievements and success of its students, and that’s why I stayed.”
Outlining how progress has been achieved, Gradle noted the faculty members who “stay up late serving on committees, conducting their own research” and the professors who answer e-mail early in the morning because “after a late night of grading papers, they wanted to help a few more students before going to bed.”
Gradle said he stayed for the civil service employees who work tirelessly behind the scenes who “keep campus humming along despite having to continually do more with less” and for the facilities management folks who “donated their time, talent and treasures to restoring the Sherman Hall entry way along Adams Street.”
“I stayed for the administrative leadership that had made difficult choices that keep us moving forward,” he said. “I stayed because as a second generation Leatherneck, I wanted to do my part to make this place better for future students.”
He commented that it is uncomfortable to talk about the “challenges that lay before us, but progress demands it of us.” Gradle went on to say “the problem isn’t the fact that we disagree with one another, but rather those disagreements are voiced with contempt for one another. The simple fact is if you aren’t helping the university move forward and grow, you’re hurting it.”
Reed followed Gradle’s comments stepping behind the lectern to give an update on the initiatives to improve legislative effectiveness of the student government.
Informed by his experiences when he served as chief of staff last year, Reed said, “Going into this year, we desperately needed more structure.” Determined to turn the SGA around from a “fixed mindset to a growth mindset of who we could become on campus,” the president initiated a program of self-assessment structured around “personal and professional growth.”
This led to creation of student core competencies, which are six key areas: relationships and networks; courage and candor; agility; attitude; initiative and foresight; and results orientation.
“Each identified for their foundational value in student government and contribution to functionality and effectiveness as an organization,” Reed said. “From these core competencies, we started mid-semester performance evaluations with each cabinet member.”
Cabinet members were graded on each of the core competencies, Reed said, “We used these to identify individual areas for growth. From the fall to the spring semester, I have seen tremendous growth in each of our cabinet members.”
Based on the feedback from these internal evaluations, Reed said they began conducting end-of-semester goal assessments. In a series of meetings held before winter break, Reed met with each of his cabinet members to identify individual goals in three main areas: developmental, professional and personal.
Reed worked with Graduate Advisor to the SGA Krystal Gomez toward organizing the five most common goals expressed by the cabinet into what Reed called “goal groups.”
“Our five goal groups are: team building and bonding, increase SGA awareness, constitution and job descriptions, the SGA transition process and the diversity of the organization.” Further organizational developments include initiatives such as the SGA Student of the Month program and Lunch Time with Leaders. Reed also highlighted the Mayor’s Roundtable where 10-15 students meet regularly with Mayor Mike Inman to discuss how the city and the university can work together.
Looking towards the upcoming year, Reed said he and the incoming SGA Vice President Madison Lynn have “outlined a few keys areas of improvement that will build on the goals of the cabinet as they’ve laid out this year.” Those goals are: increased campus collaboration, more student-to-student interactions when recruiting and “talking about WIU, partnerships with SGA and other student organizations on campus and providing more information on campus for students seeking resources that we have.”
Reed expressed his hopeful optimism for the future when he said, “I believe that student government and WIU are searching for a new way to stand, and by working together, I believe we can do just that.”

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