Democracy needed in RHA elections

Picture it. The computers in your residence hall malfunction. The washers and dryers in your hall simply do not work. A policy implemented within your hall seems unfair or outdated. If your RA cannot help, who can you turn to? Who the heck can do anything about it?

These are questions faced by all on-campus residents at some point. A decision to be made soon by GW’s Residence Hall Association will dramatically affect the answer.

RHA is one of the few groups written into the University’s charter. Like the Program Board, writers of the GW charter meant for RHA to play a prominent, and indeed vital, role on campus.

However, while PB has proven itself a dominant event-planning steamroller, the engine which was supposed to drive RHA down the road to being a dominant resident advocate has stalled. Most residents do not know RHA even exists. Those who do know of RHA do not know what issues are on top of RHA’s advocacy agenda, or if it even has one.

That is why RHA must take a look at itself and pass a constitutional amendment designed to allow the organization to grow into its proper role. The open elections amendment calls for every on-campus resident to have the right to vote for RHA’s two top agenda setters – the president and vice president for programming.

Candidates for these two positions have gone unopposed for the past two years. This was because of an understanding between voting RHA insiders (including myself) of the chosen “leaders to be.” Since there was zero competition, candidates for these positions had no need to rally student support behind solid ideas. Consequently, they were elected into office with no mandate or dominant agenda to fulfill.

Open elections will take the air of inevitability out of RHA’s leadership ranks, and make elections a competitive battle of ideas. Winners will be the ones able to talk to the most residents, tell them about the positive purpose of RHA, get residents’ input on issues and convince residents that they are most qualified to do the job.

This idea is not original. It is called democracy. It operates on the premise that a resident who lives in a given hall, day in and day out, is not ignorant to the issues and concerns of that hall – as some opponents of open elections would purport. It also operates on the assumption that once RHA has committed its leaders to taking a real stance on issues, more students will care about RHA’s agenda and will vote in an election.

An unfortunate “residents-will-never-care” position has been adopted by some opponents of open elections, but the real leaders within RHA are those ready to try something new to fix RHA’s current mediocrity.

Two out of every three halls must vote to change the RHA constitution. When put to an initial vote last Wednesday, seven halls voted for the open elections amendment and six voted against it. Though a majority of halls supported the amendment, it failed anyway. Those RHA presidents and representatives who voted to give up a little bit of personal power in order for their residents to have a stronger voice, deserve a lot of credit.

But they also deserve your help. In upcoming weeks, RHA will consider the amendment again. At that time, the question of whether on-campus residents will have a real advocate for their concerns will be addressed. This question only can be answered correctly if students support the RHA open elections amendment and if those halls who did not originally vote for it decide to make the democratic difference in the future.

-The writer is the JBKO RHA representative.

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