Thursday marks the last day that students will be able to go vote for their elected representatives in GW’s only official outlet for student opinion and representation, the Student Association. There is a contentious – although fairly quiet compared to years past – fight for the Student Association presidency between five well-qualified candidates and two “joke” contenders. The Executive Vice President and Program Board races are much less exciting, since all of those candidates are unopposed. There is a slew of energetic and young candidates for SA Senate who could really work hard next year to prevent the bickering and infighting between the senate and executive branch.
As a former Student Association Senator myself, I understand the bevy of problems plaguing it. I think many of them result from the fact that all too often our elected representatives must answer to no one. I myself was elected with only 140 votes, out of the almost 2,000 students that were in the Elliott School undergraduate division at the time. If anyone thinks that this is a clear mandate to lead, then they probably also think Saddam Hussein had the popular support of his constituents. The SA needs people who are truly elected by the students they are required to serve. While in no way am I advocating for the SA elections to become a strict popularity contest, it is just in the nature of representative democracy that a candidate who is forced to seek out more votes will be forced to hear diverse perspectives and will come into contact with large segments of his or her constituency.
Though most see the SA as a powerless, irrelevant organization they should not concern themselves with, there are aspects of the SA that can seriously impact student life on this campus. First of all, every semester the SA takes one dollar for each credit hour, up to 15, from each and every student on this campus – undergrads and grads alike. This means that this “irrelevant” organization controls about half a million dollars of student funds each year. While some of these funds are spent internally on SA programming, over 80 percent is distributed to student organizations through the Senate finance committee’s allocation process. Elected student representatives make the final decisions on student funds allocations, so the SA elections should be relevant to any student who is involved with a registered student organization, and to all students because they pay into this system of collective student funds.
The second important aspect of the SA is that it is still seen by members of the administration as a representative of the student voice and opinion on this campus. Administrators readily meet with the SA president even when other students can’t get a meeting. SA senators also have better access to and better relationships with many University administrators than the average student. The SA president is the only student – with the exception of a single Hatchet reporter – allowed into the University’s Board of Trustees meeting, and the only student who is allowed to address the Board in a formal setting.
The Student Association has proven time and time again that no matter what kind of “reform” rhetoric comes out of the campaign season, the same bickering, infighting, scandals and lack of vision will prevail during the year. Maybe this is because students don’t really care about what goes on in the SA so they let their president, their very representative to the administration and Board of Trustees, be elected by less than 10 percent of the student body. Last year, current SA President Omar Woodard won his runoff election with about 1,400 votes. That is out of a possible voter pool of over 20,000 students. While Omar clearly had a mandate to lead if you take his percent of the vote out of the total votes, he was really only elected by less than 10 percent of the student body. GW’s students cannot afford to go through another year with an SA that is not elected by students.
Monday’s Hatchet provided a good overview of the candidates for President, EVP, and Senate. The serious candidates all have Web sites describing their platform for the coming year, and each of them are more than happy to share their ideas in person with students. As the campaign season and elections again to come a close, each student at GW should give some consideration to stopping in the Marvin Center as they walk by (while trying to avoid eating at J Street) and vote for whomever they feel would represent them the best.
-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet contributing editor and assistant production manager.