Ben Balter: Keeping the Student Association accountable

My brief introduction to student government on campus has taught me one thing: every criticism, every complaint and every snide remark regarding the Student Association is true. The rules committee recently met in an unannounced meeting, with unpublished minutes, to discuss transparency and accountability within the organization. And that’s exactly the problem.

This year’s administration has made vast strides in the right direction. SA President Nicole Capp’s weekly meeting logs serve to inform the student body of the day-by-day operations of the executive, and the consumer issues that her cabinet tackled – from Safeway on GWorld, to GW Reads, to Colonial Invasion’s return – have unequivocally raised the bar for SA presidents to come.

The student senate is made up of well-intentioned, passionate individuals, but at the end of the day the cogs do not come together to drive a well-oiled machine. Student government on our campus has devolved into somewhat of a country club, welcoming to only a select few card-carrying members. Sure, everyone pats Capp and Executive Vice President Brand Kroeger on the back – and deservedly so – but what has the rest of the SA done for Joe Colonial recently?

It’s impossible to know. Meeting minutes, agendas and bills for both senate and committee meetings have not been publicly posted since October, nor has their schedule been made readily available. This is unacceptable. And the sad reality is that the senate-elect has not shown any intention of reversing that trend any time soon.

It begs the question “why not?” If they are working so hard to better our lives, wouldn’t they want us to know about it? The student senate has come to rely on campus media to keep us apprised of their progress and social networking sites to grace us with their contact information, should their privacy settings deem us worthy.

It is not incumbent upon individual students to dig for such documents, but rather the responsibility of those elected to represent us to not only inform the student body, but seek our input as well. A student senator should not vote with his or her best interest in mind, but rather on behalf of Joe Student. And if we, the student body, are not aware of what is being undertaken and thus are relegated to the kid’s table, there is no way of knowing what the adults are talking about, let alone join in on the conversation.

This past February and March, more than four thousand students turned out to elect next year’s leadership. That leadership, our leadership, has already met several times, appointing positions, passing legislation and making decisions that affect you and me. Did you get the sense that your opinion even mattered once they got elected?

I love GW, but we’ve got big problems to tackle on campus, real problems that extend beyond adding a line to one student’s résumé. I call upon the senate-elect to worry about those problems, instead of the internal politics that have stagnated recent attempts to better student life.

From the top down, we need to encourage those in positions of power to grab the reins of reform. Student government needs to embody the motto “we work for you,” sentiments that have recently been pushed to the wayside. Students deserve to have a voice in more than just the SA election process. Making students aware of what goes on during all SA meetings is the first step toward accountability.

We all remember the first time we were invited to sit at the adult table. Did you make a mess? Did you embarrass your parents? I’m sure you did just what that student body is trying to do today: join the student government conversation and get treated like an adult.

The writer is a junior and the chair of Joint Elections Committee.

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