There have been a lot of things said about the Student Association lately; not surprisingly, most of them are negative, which in my opinion is extremely unfortunate and not well deserved. Therefore, I am writing this with a novel purpose, namely to defend OUR Student Association.
Yes, contrary to what many seem to believe, the Student Association charter designates its membership as ALL students registered for credit at GW, not just the relative few who choose to be active in its processes. In order for the SA to be at its best, every student should take interest in the advocacy and government of the student body. Even if all one does is get informed and vote in spring elections, that is better than nothing.
This year, I have had the privilege of assisting the Senate as one of its parliamentarians. I do not consider “parliamentarian” to be some over-inflated title, rather merely a job description. However, this position has afforded me the opportunity to work with individual senators and the senate as a body.
It’s easy to say the Senate does not, or even cannot, accomplish anything. But I beg to differ. I have seen things happen because of SA advocacy. Just as an example, Gelman Library has expanded its reading room hours this year. This was due to the joint efforts of senators, the hard work of students and a receptive University administration. Last time I checked, an enlarged copy of the resolution was still posted on the fourth floor of the library.
Our Student Association has been entrusted to do one thing that many student governments are not. Namely, the Senate allocates the granted portion of the student fee to student organizations. Of course, this is also one of the biggest sources of controversy.
The process is a political one, meaning it requires compromise, and needs the influence of students in order to work. To members of student organizations, and especially board members, this is an obvious function that produces tangible results, but it is not the only function.
Some say the allocation process is broken and must be radically overhauled. A recent op-ed in The Hatchet even quoted one student as saying, “I would eliminate the SA and give all the money to student groups.” This is missing part of the point. The SA is the only forum where universal student concerns can be addressed and advocated; it’s more than a bank for student organizations.
Student participation is essential to the Student Association and one can start by voting. Though as I am writing this, I do not know how many or which candidates will be on the ballot, a runoff is scheduled for March 24 and 25.
According to one count, one presidential candidate missed the 40 percent threshold by one vote; this proves that every vote counts. I can vouch that some of our hardest-working senators are among the candidates. These candidates do in fact have differing priorities leading me to conclude that it does matter who wins these elections. I can safely say from my experience that they are genuinely interested in serving the students and advocating their interests.
Just remember that candidates cannot accomplish stated goals on their own. A promise can only be taken as a promise to do one’s best to accomplish a goal. Whether a goal actually is accomplished depends on other factors – many of which may be out of the control of our elected student leaders.
Once we have new officers-elect, don’t be shy about offering your assistance. This can be in a formal position, but by no means has to be. There is no sign on Marvin Center 424 that says, “No average students need apply.”
The perceived problems with our student government are no different than what takes place here in Washington, D.C. Even when the federal government shut down three years ago, no one called for its abolition. The political process was allowed to play itself out and we moved on; we should allow the Student Association to do the same.
However, this spring there will be an opportunity to suggest changes to the SA constitution. We are putting together a commission to pursue splitting the SA into undergraduate and graduate components as recommended by the recent referendum. Meetings will be publicized and open to all students; please consider giving your input.
All this, of course, does not make the Student Association perfect, but criticism should be channeled constructively to the officers rather than as poisonous cynicism.
-The writer is a senior majoring in political science, history and classical humanities.