Sitting down to write a column on the Student Association is a frustrating task. Because of a pedestrian publicity effort, most of what I – and other students – learn about the SA comes from the pages of The Hatchet. Looking for some first-hand perspective on the intricacies of SA politics ahead of the impending election season, I ventured to Tuesday’s Senate meeting. Hoping to hear debate about the latest in-house debacle – a standoff over President Woodard’s appointments to the Joint Elections Commission – I was unpleasantly greeted by an hour and a half full of useless debate over a procedural matter. After consulting some other senators, it became abundantly clear that such idiocy controls the chamber on a regular basis.
Private conversations with members of the SA’s executive branch yield similar analyses; the executive works diligently toward addressing student issues and concerns while the Senate wastes time debating bylaws and other absurdities. President Woodard has well articulated goals. And while the degree to which they have been fulfilled is debatable, there is little doubt the executive branch is working toward dealing with student issues in a comprehensive manner. Outside of allocating funds to student groups, there is no quantifiable accomplishment the Senate as a body can claim in their service of students. Individual senators should be lauded for their personal efforts, but the Senate as a whole has been impotent.
Instead of focusing on improving student life, this year the Senate has concentrated mostly on amending its governing documents. While following SA politics I have generally supported such efforts as a means to improve the integrity of student government. Scandal after scandal in the past conditioned me to believe that an effort to use rules to restrict abuse of power by their leaders was in fact serving student interests. I now realize, however, that accepting such a view is an incredibly pessimistic and counterproductive approach to student government. Instead of ensuring there are rules to prevent the abuse of power, students should elect leaders with enough integrity to make such rules obsolete. While President Woodard erred in judgment when he spent $400 on an upscale dinner for his cabinet – for which he admitted responsibility and apologized – integrity has largely returned to the executive branch of the SA. What students should concentrate on in the upcoming election season is fixing the Senate.
In order to begin the process of mending the Senate, students need to support senatorial candidates who are willing to put their own egos aside in the service of students. My brief sojourn to the latest Senate meeting revealed a room with more people caring about their own reputation than those who actually want to help improve the quality of life for students at GW – while some honorable senators do exist. Such arrogance surfaced during a presentation by the Student Activities Center about the need to move quickly to set up institutions to ensure a smooth election season. Instead of heeding these suggestions, certain senators took the opportunity to grill the presenters with self-serving questions intended to prop up their own reputations, while publicly demeaning those who are paid to help them. Students must demand more from their leaders.
There are honorable members in the senate. One individual who deserves commendation – despite my well-documented opposition to the circumstances of her election last year – is Executive Vice President Anyah Dembling. At one point last night, Dembling confronted senators about their self-serving attitude, general rancor toward one another and the need to proceed dutifully with the business at hand. With a room of hotheads, it becomes increasingly important to have a voice of moderation. If Dembling chooses not run again – if she does, she at least has my vote – students must ensure they concentrate on electing an EVP capable of ensuring civil discourse in the Senate.
The SA is on its way to returning to relevance in the lives of GW students. An obstinate Senate incapable of grappling with meaningful student issues instead of mindless debates over bylaws and other in-house minutiae, however, threatens the progress made by the executive branch this year. Hopefully students will throw out such individuals in favor of people desiring to help students in the upcoming elections.
-The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.