Student Association officials and other student group leaders on campus share similar, general goals. Yet they starkly differ when it comes to the specific purpose of their jobs.
Regardless of the organization, all leaders want to enhance the lives of those they serve. However, while SA officials may recognize the larger needs of the student population (such as quality academics and value for tuition dollar) other student group leaders have a distinct understanding of the specific needs of their individual groups.
The Latinos for Progress celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month serves as a perfect example of this difference. From September to October, LFP holds cultural shows and folklore sessions, also involving Hispanic food and music. SA officials cannot reasonably understand the full social and financial scope of this month-long celebration as well as I did, for instance, when I was president of LFP. And generally, SA leaders neither profess to understand the micro-managing of groups, nor try to step on the toes of student group leaders.
However, this year some overzealous SA senators attempted to blur the line between SA leadership and other student groups’ leadership on campus. They supported a finance bill that mandated exactly how student groups must spend their money. This would have had a profoundly negative impact on many student groups across campus, especially those which hold unique cultural and diversity programming.
Of $8,000 allocated to the Black People’s Union, these SA senators wanted to tell them exactly how to use $7,000. Of the $5,900 allocated to the Muslim Student Association and of the $3,000 allocated to Hillel, these senators told each group specifically how to use $2,000. And of the $1,500 allocated to Womyn’s Issues Now, these senators wanted to mandate that $1,200 be used on one particular project. If organizations did not use all money allotted them in their “contingency funds” for the SA’s earmarked projects, they would lose the remainder of that money.
A smart leader knows where to draw the line. A smart leader knows when to act like an authority on issues and when limited knowledge prohibits that. A smart leader knows when to avoid outraging an entire segment of a population, especially when that leader plans on running for re-election. And when a leader chooses not to act in a smart manner, constituents have every right to hold that leader fully accountable for his/her actions.
Based on this philosophy, it captured my attention when I saw a recent endorsement ad featured in The GW Hatchet and Independence Magazine, sponsored by the College Democrats. In this ad, the CDs strayed from the normal practice of simply listing the names of endorsed SA candidates, and instead listed actual reasons chosen candidates received its endorsement.
The CDs deserve credit for boldly deciding to hold one of the above-mentioned senators accountable for his decision to support the bill containing “contingency funds” for student groups.
I hold no personal grudge against any SA senator who supported that finance bill. But I do believe it is acceptable for a candidate to be held accountable for decisions made while serving in elected office. Shining light on a candidate’s record is healthy and positive.
If a candidate confronted with his own record during a campaign cries “negative,” what does that say about his/her record? Instead, a candidate should take the opportunity to explain his/her decisions, and humbly apologize for them if they were wrong.
When I march across the Ellipse at Commencement this year, I will feel proud my sacrifice as a student leader paid off, and that I was able to preside over a student group that met the needs of a special segment of the GW community. Other student leaders across campus also should walk proud as a result of their work.
Even SA leaders can stride tall because they have done many positive things for students each year. But it must never be forgotten that each group has its own distinct role, and when one group steps on the toes of another, someone will trip and fall.
-The writer is a senior majoring in political science and is a recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. award.