D.C. schools face unrest in student government

GW markets its Something Happens Here slogan, hoping to garner a freshman class rich with aspiring politicians and emerging leaders.

That political drive and promotional technique appears to be the hallmark of Washington-area students and schools alike. And local institutions, not limited to GW, savor the fact that students who come here want a piece of the action and are willing to get involved in organizations on and off campus.

The location fosters political activity just because we live in an area where politics is life, said freshman Chris Darmanin, co-freshman representative for the College Republicans.

Yet many are exploring the implications of politics on student university life, considering the recent upheavals in the student associations at GW and Howard University as well as in American University’s Student Confederation.

Former SA President Phil Meisner was removed from office in mid-November for gross negligence of the duties of his office. His removal followed a heated trial and a stormy week of impeachment-related controversy.

Meisner is not alone.

At American, a similar debate engulfed its Student Confederation when then-president Keith Pemrick was accused of vandalizing university buildings by spraying graffiti on them. Though the graffiti allegedly read Go Eagles and AU, the incident still forced his resignation. Pemrick has neither admitted nor denied responsibility, The City Paper reported.

Across town at Howard University, perhaps the most striking of the three incidents, it was revealed that a previous student government rung up $55,000 in long distance phone charges. That episode cost all student organizations long-distance phone privileges, but no alleged callers were reportedly charged for their expenses. Some even attribute the event to Howard’s tuition hike this year, according to The City Paper.

Student government leaders from these three institutions were featured in this week’s issue of The City Paper for their respective difficulties.

The corruption comes about because leadership takes a wrong turn and the allure of power skews what that leader set out to do in the first place, Darmanin said.

Many of the people that I encounter on this campus are infatuated with power because they have been made to think they are powerful, freshman Christina Fanitzi said.

Caity Leu, president of the SA, believes these issues are not isolated to Washington.

There have been scandals in student government in other places, she said. I don’t know if scandals in student government are unique to our area.

Leadership plays a large role, said Mike Gargano, assistant vice president for Student and Academic Support Services.

The good political leaders are the ones who.remember the platform they ran on and their constituents, he said.

Gargano said problems occur when personal issues take precedence.

When elected political officials lose sight of this and put their own desires ahead of their constituency.problems occur, he said.

Many wonder what the next semester will hold with upcoming student elections. Student leaders said they hope the cloud of distrust hanging over three of D.C.’s largest institutions’ student governments will soon pass away and real issues will be addressed.

Gargano said future candidates might have added difficulty in getting elected because students want higher standards of accountability.

I think there’s going to be an outcry for responsibility, he said.

Leu said it is important for student leaders to keep a clear perspective.

It’s important that people don’t take it too seriously, she said. You should do your job and do it well, but don’t let it be your life.

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